Editor's Note: The disclosure that Army Pvt. Bradley Manning was subjected to seven hours of forced nudity on Wednesday -- amid new pressures aimed at getting him to identify others involved in the WikiLeaks case -- recalled how the Bush administration used nudity and other abusive tactics to break down "war on terror" detainees.
In 2004, the CIA told President
George W. Bush's lawyers how useful forced nudity was for instilling
"learned helplessness" in prisoners, though the repeated emphasis on
nudity took on a lewd and sadistic quality, as Robert Parry reported in
this article from the archives: (Originally published September 12, 2009)
The CIA shared with George W. Bush's Justice Department the details of how an interrogation strategy -- with an emphasis on forced nudity and physical abuse -- could train prisoners in "learned helplessness" and demonstrate "the complete control of Americans."
The 19-page document, entitled "Background Paper on CIA's Combined Use of Interrogation Techniques" and dated Dec. 30, 2004, contains repeated references to keeping suspected al-Qaeda captives -- called "high-value detainees" or HVDs -- naked as part of the strategy for breaking down their resistance.
The first of several "specific conditioning interrogation techniques" lists "Nudity. The HVD's clothes are taken and he remains nude until the interrogators provide clothes to him." [Underline in original.]
The CIA said the prisoner is kept nude (or occasionally dressed in a diaper) while being subjected to other "conditioning techniques," sleep deprivation and a bland diet of Ensure. Nudity continues while interrogators apply other more aggressive techniques designed to emphasize a prisoner's helplessness.
The background paper, which was prepared for the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel and released in August 2009 in response to an ACLU lawsuit, described in bureaucratic wording the process used to interrogate a suspected terrorist after his capture and "rendition" to a CIA-run "black site."
"During the flight, the detainee is securely shackled and is deprived of sight and sound through the use of blindfolds, earmuffs, and hoods," the report said. "There is no interaction with the HVD during this rendition movement except for periodic, discreet assessments by the on-board medical officer."
From the start, the goal was to dramatize the prisoner's vulnerability.
"The HVD is subjected to administrative procedures and medical assessment upon arrival at the Black Site," the report said. "The HVD finds himself in the complete control of Americans."
Initially, that control is underscored by an ominous coldness of the reception.
The report said: "The procedures he is subjected to are precise, quiet, and almost clinical; and no one is mistreating him. While each HVD is different, the rendition and reception process generally creates significant apprehension in the HVD because of the enormity and suddenness of the change in environment, the uncertainty about what will happen next, and the potential dread an HVD might have in US custody."
The prisoner is next subjected to a dehumanizing process in preparation for the interrogations.
"The HVD's head and face are shaved," the CIA report says. "A series of photographs are taken of the HVD while nude to document the physical condition of the HVD upon arrival. A Medical Officer interviews the HVD and a medical evaluation is conducted to assess the physical condition of the HVD. ... A Psychologist interviews the HVD to assess his mental state."
Then, if no "contraindications" are found, the interrogations begin, with continued emphasis on stripping the prisoner of his clothing, his self-respect and his ability to resist.
"Effective interrogation is based on the concept of using both physical and psychological pressures in a comprehensive, systematic, and cumulative manner to influence HVD behavior, to overcome a detainee's resistance posture," the CIA report said.