As more pieces of a very ugly mosaic fall into place – including new details from a confidential 2007 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross about interrogations at CIA “black sites” – any remaining doubt that the Bush administration engaged in a conscious policy of torture is disappearing.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney may continue to say, as he did on Sunday, that the interrogation of “war on terror” suspects was “done legally; it was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles.” But those assurances ring hollow.
The true story is coming into ever-sharper focus: high-ranking U.S. officials turning to what Cheney called “the dark side” after the 9/11 attacks and ordering the CIA to create a network of secret prisons. Determined to extract information from suspected terrorists, the White House then collaborated with Justice Department lawyers to find ways around anti-torture laws and American traditions.
“In addition, many other elements of the ill treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” according to the ICRC report cited by Danner. Since the ICRC’s responsibilities involve ensuring compliance with the Geneva Conventions and supervising the treatment of prisoners of war, the organization’s findings carry legal weight.
The ICRC report also found that there was a consistency in many details from the detainees who were interviewed separately and that the first “high-value” detainee to be captured, Abu Zubaydah, appeared to have been used as something of a test case by his interrogators. According to various accounts, he was transferred to a secret prison in Thailand and possibly elsewhere to be brutally questioned.
“Two black wooden boxes were brought into the room outside my cell. One was tall, slightly higher than me and narrow. Measuring perhaps in area [3 1/2 by 2 1/2 feet by 6 1/2 feet high]. The other was shorter, perhaps only [3 1/2 feet] in height. I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck, they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room. I was also repeatedly slapped in the face....
“I was then put into the tall black box for what I think was about one and a half to two hours. The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside.... They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe.
“When I was let out of the box I saw that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury."
Zubaydah told the ICRC that CIA interrogators told him he was the first prisoner to be tortured in this way, "so no rules applied. It felt like they were experimenting and trying out techniques to be used later on other people."
Zubaydah also told the ICRC representatives that he was subjected to the drowning sensation of waterboarding, a practice that has been considered torture since the Inquisition. Zubaydah and other detainees added that they were kept naked, placed in frigid rooms and forced to spend long hours in painful “stress” positions.
Danner said the chapter headings of the ICRC report listed some of the torture techniques reported by the detainees to ICRC personnel: “suffocation by water,” “prolonged stress standing,” “beatings by use of a collar,” “confinement in a box.”
Some of these techniques, such as the use of waterboarding on three detainees, have been acknowledged by senior Bush administration officials, including Cheney who has said he approved of specific harsh tactics applied during the interrogations.
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