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cia torture

The CIA, employing a rather scholastic appellation, used to call them "enhanced interrogation techniques". They were presented as nothing more than codified, regulated procedures that could be employed because the rulebooks stated so. There were about 10 interrogation techniques, introduced in August 2002, while four more were added in May 2005. All of them had received the green light from the US Department of Justice, that set out their legal framework and assured they did not amount to torture.

A disputable record

Those that were supposed to use these techniques, be they CIA, military or contractors, never posed themselves the question of whether what they were doing was permitted or lawful. Someone had already provided them with a reply. Therefore, the war on terrorism was waged without the slightest moral dilemma. If the politicians asked that these techniques be employed, all the CIA men had to do was to evaluate whether the results they obtained were satisfactory or not. What mattered was that the prisoner confess, regardless of the truthfulness of his statements, as pointed out in the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report. And, as in some cases highlighted in the US Senators' report, the detainees were subject to these techniques despite the fact that they had already confessed and provided valuable information. Some probably thought that by doing so they could have obtained even more.

Were there steps in the application of these techniques based on the level of collaboration of the prisoners? The CIA said yes, but the Senate Committee came to a different conclusion.

Did these techniques used during interrogations produce any valuable result? The CIA claims they were effective, but the Senate Committee disputes this claim.
Could the same information have been obtained by other means, that did not amount to torture? There is no way, of course, to prove this assertion.

The interrogations were brutal? The detainees suffered? The prisoners were not collaborative? This was not an issue for those that had ordered the use of these techniques and for those who used them.

It was up to those in charge of the interrogations to decide which technique would suit better, how long they would use it for and for how many times in order to extort the information they sought. And it was up to the interrogators to decide on whether to employ more techniques at once.

The medieval technique of 'waterboarding'

The techniques

The US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report lists and describes a number of techniques used by the CIA and the US military. In some cases they are referred to specific detainees (Abu Zubaydah, Sheykh Khaled Mohammed, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, Ramzi bin al Shibh and others).

In detail, there was a wide array of options to choose from.

• "Waterboarding" is a technique in which water is poured over a cloth covering the face and breathing passages of an immobilized captive, causing the individual to experience the sensation of drowning. It can last from 20 to 40 seconds. The prisoner can't breathe, gulps down water, feels pain on his arms and legs, sometimes goes unconscious, panics fearing for his own life, has a nervous break down, convulsions and vomiting. The US Senate Committee has found that a detainee suffered this treatment 183 times over one year, in same cases up to four times during the same day. Both the Committee and the men that used it on the ground agree it was one of the most effective and feared techniques.

• "Sleep deprivation" forces the captive to stay awake for several hours. The Committee has found this techniques to have been used during interrogations lasting as long as 180 consecutive hours, more than a week. The detainee is left standing up or in a stress position, with his arms chained over his head. He can only move within a half a meter range. The victim begins suffering from hallucinations, loses time perception. This technique is often combined with loud music and light control.

• "Cramped confinement" is a technique whereby a prisoner is left in the dark inside a "coffin-like box" that leaves him with no room to move, or turn around. This causes claustrophobia and muscular pain. In the case of Saudi detainee Abu Zubaydah, he was held with his handcuffs on, inside a coffin, with his hands over his head for 11 days.

• "Total isolation" in solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time causes both psychiatric and psychological problems in the detainees. Hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, self-inflicted bruises or mutilations are among the direct consequences of this technique. The captive is kept in the dark, in chains or with his handcuffs on, a single bucket for his physical needs. The Committee has identified a detainee that was held in one of the CIA-run interrogation centers (the report has not identified them, nor have they revealed any names of CIA personnel) and that perished of hypothermia while in solitary confinement.

• "Rectal rehydration" provides that the detainee be forcefully injected water from his anus. Despite the fact that this could also be a medical treatment, the technique was used without any medical supervision or authorization. At least 5 CIA detainees have been subject to this treatment. A similar technique is the rectal feeding of the prisoners, employed when inmates carry out hunger strikes. Both the rehydration and the feeding cause high levels of humiliation and frustration in the victims.

• "Rough takedown" techniques include having the detainee walking naked with his hands chained above his head. The enhanced version of this technique includes having five CIA operatives yelling in your face, tearing your clothes to bits and dragging you with your hood on up and down the prison's corridor, while swiping the floor with your naked skin they would continue beating you.

• "Nudity" forces a prisoner to be constantly naked. This technique aims at humiliating the detainees and to make them feel vulnerable. Its effects are enhanced when it is a female interrogator that carries out the questionings. Nudity also increases sufferings and hypothermia.

• "Walling" involves pushing a prisoner against a wall while his neck is encircled by a collar made up of a rolled towel. The collar is meant to protect the detainee from bruises. This technique causes frustration and depression in the prisoners.

• "Wall standing" forces the prisoner to stand facing a wall with his arms stretched forward and his fingers touching the wall. It causes extreme muscular pain. The Senate report includes the case of an inmate that was chained in this position for 17 consecutive days.

• "Stress positions" cause pain in detainees that are obliged to hold an uncomfortable position for several hours. It is a variation of both the "coffin" and "wall standing" techniques.

• "Cold bath" is when ice-cold water is splashed over a prisoner. The US Department of Justice that licensed this technique required that the water used be potable and that it hit not the prisoner's nose, mouth or eyes. The "shower" usually lasted around 20 minutes. In some detention centers the inmates where plunged into ice-cold baths. An additional torture was added when the captive was brushed with a hard brush that caused a series of abrasions.

• "Abdomen strikes" and "Insult slaps" were among the initiatives authorized by the DOJ. The only requirement being the interrogator not wearing any rings on his hands. Both can be combined with other, more stressing techniques.

• "Cramped confinement with insects" is the enhanced version of the coffin-like reclusion. Aby Zubayadah was among the first ones to experience this technique.

• "Facial Hold" includes the interrogator holding the prisoner's face with both hands and keeping it immobile. The Department of Justice recommended that the interrogator not poke the inmate's eyes.

• "Attention grasp" instead provides for the interrogator to hold the captive's face, but with his hands around the prisoner's neck.

• "Diet manipulation" included feeding the prisoners with just liquids, in order to weaken them and cause them to loose weight. Both the quality and quantity of food fed to the inmates are affected. This technique postulates that a physical weakening will also have a phycological effect. Some prisoners assumed their food contained drugs or poison.

• "Use of diapers". The CIA forced detainees to wear diapers "to cause humiliation" and "induce a sense of helplessness". A bucket was promised if the prisoner began to collaborate. This technique was usually combined with sleep deprivation and, according to the DOJ, should not exceed 72 hours. Each transfer of prisoners by plane included having the inmates chained to the floor, hoods on their heads, diapers on their arses.


If the above are the main techniques that were used to inflict physical and psychological harm on the detainees, the US Senate Committee report includes other, devious forms of violence. The prisoners were told they would have never left the detention centers alive, their children and relatives were threatened with death, their mothers and wives menaced with rape. Mock executions were also staged, as were attempts to choke the prisoners. And if a detainee required a doctor, any medical aid was simply denied.

The cells in which the prisoners were confined had no windows, were cramped and were either left in the dark or flashed with blinding light. Squalid and dirty, the cells were meant to convey a feeling of desolation; prisoners were usually held with a hood over their heads and in chains. In some cases their hands were tied to a bar over their head. The prison's corridors were also left dirty, and that's where the detainees were often dragged. The temperature in the detention centers was always low, between 5 to 7 degrees Celsius.

The prison guards wore dark clothes, boots, gloves and balaclava. They never spoke to the inmates and used signs to communicate with one another. A light was always lit above their heads: to instill fear, to enhance the prisoner's feeling of isolation and, of course, to avoid being recognized.

The US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report highlights how each interrogator was free to put his fantasies and, in some cases, sadism to good use while torturing the prisoners. Despite the rulebooks included in the "Detention and Interrogation Program", the men and women working for the CIA knew their agency would have always sanctioned their behaviours and shielded them from prosecution. Both were aware of the fact that what they were doing was illegal.

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