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Life in a CIA torture center

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Late last week the Council of Europe released a report on the CIA's secret prisons in Eastern Europe. The report concluded that, contrary to those government's claims, that prisons existed in both Poland and Romania. Perhaps most importantly for opponents of torture, the report gives a detailed account inside one of these torture facilities. In this description we can see the results of decades of CIA study, aided by many psychologists and psychiatrists, of how to destroy human beings, the fruits of its MKULTRA program and the detailed implementation of the in the KUBARK and other torture manuals.

One of the problems the CIA faced in conducting their research on soul-destruction was the lack of available research subjects who could be subject to the full panoply of techniques or what they called "terminal experiments." It is thus likely that the CIA's psychologists, like Scott Shumate (who, according to his biographical statement "has been with several of the key apprehended terrorists"), were not involved solely in the construction of this hell, but also in studying its effects so as to better refine the techniques.

Since most will not read the entire report, I have extracted key Sections from the Report on life inside these American Torture Centers. Now, for a vision of life in hell:
ii. Reconstructing the conditions in a CIA secret detention cell

38. We must try to visualise the ordeal of secret detention in order to be able to appreciate fully the physical and psychological plight of its victims. For this purpose, I am attempting in this section to reconstruct as many aspects as possible of the conditions in a CIA secret detention cell.

239. A reconstruction of this nature is the first step towards regaining respect for fundamental human rights, because it forces us to ask ourselves the question: "what if the tables were turned?" This is the root of the Geneva Conventions and the military's traditional reluctance to mistreat prisoners of war.

240. In this context, the policy debate in the United States around detainee treatment has given rise to interesting contributions, many of which rightly assert that "issues of detainee treatment raise profound questions of American values".212 In the US political sphere, the McCain Amendment213 to he Detainee Treatment Act seems to offer us a threshold for the specific acts that we should and should not allow with regard to the detention, transfer and interrogation of foreign captives. This threshold can be summarised as follows: If even one single American captive were to be held under these conditions or treated in this manner, and the American population would find it abhorrent or unacceptable, then America should not be practising the acts in question against detainees whom it holds from other countries

241. The fact of being detained outside any judicial or ICRC control in an unknown location is already a form of torture, as Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has said. All the member states of the Council of Europe have a duty not to tolerate such treatment either on their territory or elsewhere.

242. In the following paragraphs I seek to convey the most intimate, always undeniably human experiences of being held and interrogated in such conditions. I have grouped these conditions under the following five thematic headings: confinement, isolation and insufficient provision; careful physical
conditioning of detainee and cell; permanent surveillance; mondane routine becomes unforgettable memories; and exertion of physical and psychological stress.

243. The descriptive testimonies on which the text is based have been kept strictly anonymous – largely upon the request of those who provided them – in order to protect the sources from which they emanate. These sources are mostly former or current detainees, human rights advocates, or people who have worked in the establishment or operations of CIA secret prisons.

244. The persons who endured these ordeals have also been granted anonymity. The following conditions and characteristics applied to several persons in every case, not specifically to any one individual.

iii. Confinement, isolation and insufficient provision

245. Detainees were taken to their cells by strong people who wore black outfits, masks that covered their whole faces, and dark visors over their eyes. Clothes were cut up and torn off; many detainees were then kept naked for several weeks.

246. Detainees were only a bucket to urinate into, a bowl from which to eat breakfast and dinner (delivered at intervals, in silence) and a blanket.

247. Detainees went through months of solitary confinement and extreme sensory deprivation in cramped cells, shackled and handcuffed at all times.

248. Detainees were given old, black blankets that were too small to lie upon at the same time as attempting to cover oneself.

249. Detainees received unfamiliar food, like canned beef and rice, many only ate in order to give some warmth against cruel cold weather.

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Stephen Soldz is psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and is President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. He was a psychological consultant on two of (more...)
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