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June 2002: Zubaida Subjected to Intensive Interrogations by CIA Agents

Accused al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida, having been tortured for months in a secret CIA prison in Thailand (see April - June 2002), has had a respite from the intensive interrogations he was initially subjected to. Now, though, the interrogations begin again, being what Zubaida will later recall as “more intens[e] than before.”
Intensified Interrogations - Zubaida will later tell officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC): “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.”
In the Box - Zubaida will give detailed recollections of his time in the box: “After the beating I was then placed in the small box. They placed a cloth or cover over the box to cut out all light and restrict my air supply. As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds. The stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful. I think this occurred about three months after my last operation. It was always cold in the room, but when the cover was placed over the box it made it hot and sweaty inside. The wound on my leg began to open and started to bleed. I don’t know how long I remained in the small box, I think I may have slept or maybe fainted. I was then dragged from the small box, unable to walk properly and put on what looked like a hospital bed, and strapped down very tightly with belts. A black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe. After a few minutes the cloth was removed and the bed was rotated into an upright position. The pressure of the straps on my wounds was very painful. I vomited. The bed was then again lowered to horizontal position and the same torture carried out again with the black cloth over my face and water poured on from a bottle. On this occasion my head was in a more backward, downwards position and the water was poured on for a longer time. I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless. I thought I was going to die. I lost control of my urine. Since then I still lose control of my urine when under stress. I was then placed again in the tall box. While I was inside the box loud music was played again and somebody kept banging repeatedly on the box from the outside. I tried to sit down on the floor, but because of the small space the bucket with urine tipped over and spilt over me.… I was then taken out and again a towel was wrapped around my neck and I was smashed into the wall with the plywood covering and repeatedly slapped in the face by the same two interrogators as before. I was then made to sit on the floor with a black hood over my head until the next session of torture began. The room was always kept very cold. This went on for approximately one week. During this time the whole procedure was repeated five times. On each occasion, apart from one, I was suffocated once or twice and was put in the vertical position on the bed in between. On one occasion the suffocation was repeated three times. I vomited each time I was put in the vertical position between the suffocation. During that week I was not given any solid food. I was only given Ensure to drink. My head and beard were shaved everyday. I collapsed and lost consciousness on several occasions. Eventually the torture was stopped by the intervention of the doctor. I was told during this period that I was one of the first to receive these interrogation techniques, so no rules applied. It felt like they were experimenting and trying out techniques to be used later on other people.” Author Mark Danner will note that, according to the ICRC report, Zubaida’s impression of being a “guinea pig” is accurate. Some of the techniques used on him will not be reported again—the weeks of sitting in shackles, the coffin-sized boxes. Other techniques, such as the waterboarding, the permanent shackling, the “cold cell,” the incessant loud music and noise, will be used frequently on later captives, as will the constant light and the repeated beatings and physical abuse.
Everything Authorized by Senior CIA, White House Officials - Danner will remind readers that the CIA interrogators never acted alone or with any degree of independence. Everything that is done and said to Zubaida is monitored by other officials on-site—guards, interrogators, doctors—and by senior CIA officials in Washington. CIA interrogator John Kiriakou will later tell a reporter: “It wasn’t up to individual interrogators to decide, ‘Well, I’m gonna slap him. Or I’m going to shake him. Or I’m gonna make him stay up for 48 hours.’ Each one of these steps… had to have the approval of the deputy director for operations. So before you laid a hand on him, you had to send in the cable saying, ‘He’s uncooperative. Request permission to do X.’ And that permission would come.… The cable traffic back and forth was extremely specific. And the bottom line was these were very unusual authorities that the agency got after 9/11. No one wanted to mess them up. No one wanted to get in trouble by going overboard.… No one wanted to be the guy who accidentally did lasting damage to a prisoner.” Danner also notes that shortly after Zubaida’s capture, the CIA briefed top White House officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, who, ABC News will later report, “then signed off on the [interrogation] plan” (see April 2002 and After and July 2002). During this time the White House is working with Justice Department officials to produce the so-called “golden shield” memo (see August 1, 2002) that will, supposedly, protect the White House and CIA from criminal charges. Even after the memo’s adoption, CIA Director George Tenet continues to tell top White House officials about the specific procedures being used on Zubaida and other prisoners, including techniques such as waterboarding, to ensure that the White House considered them legal. As ABC will later report, the briefings of principals were so detailed and frequent that “some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]

Entity Tags: John Kiriakou, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, International Committee of the Red Cross, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Mark Danner

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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