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Torture, Rendition, and other Abuses against Captives in US Custody

Dangerous Conditions

Project: Prisoner Abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and Elsewhere
Open-Content project managed by Derek, KJF, mtuck

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The New York Times will later report that in 2002 and 2003, Michael Chertoff repeatedly advises the CIA about legality of some aggressive interrogation procedures. Chertoff is head of the Justice Department’s criminal division at the time, and will later become the homeland security secretary. Chertoff advises that the CIA can use waterboarding. And the Times will claim he approves techniques “that did not involve the infliction of pain, like tricking a subject into believing he was being questioned by a member of a security service from another country.” [New York Times, 1/29/2005] It will later be reported that the CIA tricked al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida into believing he was in the custody of the Saudis when in fact several US officials were merely pretending to be Saudis (see Early April 2002). Furthermore, Chertoff seems to have been advising on the legality of techniques used against Zubaida, strengthening allegations that ‘false flag’ trickery was used on him. “In interviews, former senior intelligence officials said CIA lawyers went to extraordinary lengths beginning in March 2002 to get a clear answer from the Justice Department about which interrogation techniques were permissible in questioning Abu Zubaida and other important detainees. ‘Nothing that was done was not explicitly authorized,’ a former senior intelligence said. ‘These guys were extraordinarily careful.’” Chertoff also opposed one technique that “appeared to violate a ban in the law against using a ‘threat of imminent death.’” [New York Times, 1/29/2005] This appears to match claims that the CIA proposed but did not implement a plan to place Zubaida into a coffin to convince him he was about to die (see Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Abu Zubaida, Michael Chertoff

Timeline Tags: Alleged Use of False Flag Attacks, Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Abu Zubaida, High-level Decisions and Actions, Dangerous Conditions, Waterboarding, Destruction of CIA Tapes

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

Category Tags: Criticisms of US, Detainments, High-level Decisions and Actions, Statements/Writings about Torture, Rendition after 9/11, Extraordinary Rendition, Dangerous Conditions, Extreme Temperatures, Intimidation/Threats, Isolation, Physical Assault, Sleep Deprivation, Stress Positions, Waterboarding, US Base (Thailand), Abu Zubaida

Terror suspect Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001) is flown from Pakistan to Morocco as part of a joint British-American attempt to force him to divulge information about possible nuclear devices owned by Islamist militants (see May 17 - July 21, 2002). He is flown—trussed, gagged, blindfolded, and diapered (see October 4, 2001)—to Rabat, Morocco, a flight later confirmed by the CIA’s own flight logs. He remains in Moroccan custody for 15 months.
Beaten, Slashed with Scalpels - As he will later recall, he is introduced to Moroccan detention practices by an interrogator named Marwan, who gives him thorough and repeated beatings. When Mohamed has been softened up: “[T]hey cut off my clothes with some kind of doctor’s scalpel. I was totally naked.… They took the scalpel to my right chest. It was only a small cut. Maybe an inch. Then they cut my left chest. One of them took my penis in his hand and began to make cuts. He did it once, and they stood still for maybe a minute, watching my reaction. I was in agony, crying, trying desperately to suppress myself, but I was screaming. I remember Marwan seemed to smoke half a cigarette, throw it down, and start another. They must have done this 20 to 30 times in maybe two hours. There was blood all over. They cut all over my private parts. One of them said it would be better just to cut it off, as I would only breed terrorists.” This happens time and again over the next 15 months.
British Complicity in CIA, Moroccan Interrogations - Documents disclosed for Mohamed’s later lawsuit against the US (see February 4, 2009) show that British MI5 agents are aware of the entirety of Mohamed’s treatment, and are in collusion with the Moroccans and the US in Mohamed’s treatment; on September 30, MI5 and CIA officials hold a conference where Mohamed’s treatment and interrogation are discussed. During much of Mohamed’s detention in Morocco, MI5 passes questions and photographs to the CIA for use in Mohamed’s interrogations (see February 24, 2009). Mohamed will later recall: “They started bringing British files to the interrogations—thick binders, some of them containing sheaves of photos of people who lived in London and places there like mosques. It was obvious the British were feeding them questions about people in London. When I realized that the British were co-operating with the people torturing me, I felt completely naked. It was when they started asking the questions supplied by the British that my situation worsened. They sold me out.”
Elaborate Confessions - By this time, as Mohamed will recall, he is willing to confess to anything to make the torture stop. “They had fed me enough through their questions for me to make up what they wanted to hear,” he will recall. “I confessed to it all. There was the plot to build a dirty nuclear bomb, and another to blow up apartments in New York with their gas pipes.” The “gas pipe” plot connects Mohamed to 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who supposedly conceived of the idea. “I said Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had given me a false passport after I was stopped the first time in Karachi and that I had met Osama bin Laden 30 times,” Mohamed will recall. “None of it was true. The British could have stopped the torture because they knew I had tried to use the same passport at Karachi both times (see September 2001 - April 9, 2002). That should have told them that what I was saying under torture wasn’t true. But so far as I know, they did nothing.”
'Rendered' to Afghanistan - Fifteen months after being “rendered” to Morocco, Mohamed is “rendered” to Afghanistan by the CIA (see January-September 2004). [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, “Marwan” (Moroccan interrogator), Binyam Mohamed, UK Security Service (MI5)

Category Tags: Detainments, Rendition after 9/11, Abrogation of Rights, Dangerous Conditions, Forced Confessions, Intimidation/Threats, Physical Assault, Sexual Humiliation, Sleep Deprivation, Stress Positions, Binyam Mohamed

The interrogation and abuse of suspect Mohamed al-Khatani (sometimes spelled “al-Qahtani”—see February 11, 2008) at Guantanamo Bay begins. He is alleged to have tried to enter the US to participate in the 9/11 plot as the twentieth hijacker. He is classified as “Detainee 063.” He is subjected to 160 days of isolation in a pen flooded 24 hours a day with bright artificial light, that treatment starting well before harsher interrogation tactics begin six weeks later (see November 23, 2002). The tactics include:
bullet He is interrogated for 48 of 54 days, for 18 to 20 hours at a stretch.
bullet He is stripped naked and straddled by taunting female guards, in an exercise called “invasion of space by a female.”
bullet He is forced to wear women’s underwear on his head and to put on a bra.
bullet He is threatened by dogs, placed on a leash, and told that his mother was a whore.
bullet He is stripped naked, shaved, and forced to bark like a dog.
bullet He is forced to listen to American pop music at ear-splitting volume. He is subjected to a phony kidnapping (see Mid-2003).
bullet He is forced to live in a cell deprived of heat
bullet He is given large quantities of intravenous liquids and denied access to a toilet
bullet He is deprived of sleep for days on end.
bullet He is forcibly given enemas, and is hospitalized multiple time for hypothermia.
Impact - Towards the end of the extended interrogation session, Al-Khatani’s heart rate drops so precipitously (to 35 beats a minute) that he is placed under cardiac monitoring. Interrogators meticulously note his reactions to his treatment, and make the following notes at various times: “Detainee began to cry. Visibly shaken. Very emotional. Detainee cried. Disturbed. Detainee began to cry. Detainee bit the IV tube completely in two. Started moaning. Uncomfortable. Moaning. Began crying hard spontaneously. Crying and praying. Very agitated. Yelled. Agitated and violent. Detainee spat. Detainee proclaimed his innocence. Whining. Dizzy. Forgetting things. Angry. Upset. Yelled for Allah. Urinated on himself. Began to cry. Asked God for forgiveness. Cried. Cried. Became violent. Began to cry. Broke down and cried. Began to pray and openly cried. Cried out to Allah several times. Trembled uncontrollably.” In November 2002, an FBI agent describes al-Khatani’s condition, writing that he “was talking to non-existent people, reporting hearing voices, [and] crouching in a corner of the cell covered with a sheet for hours on end.” Al-Khatani confesses to an array of terrorist activities and then recants them; he begs his interrogators to be allowed to commit suicide. The last days of al-Khatani’s interrogation session is particularly intense, since interrogators know that their authorization to use harsh techniques may be rescinded at any time. They get no useful information from him. By the end of the last interrogation, an Army investigator observes that al-Khatani has “black coals for eyes.” [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Vanity Fair, 5/2008]
Reaching the Threshold - In the summer of 2007, Dr. Abigail Seltzer, a psychiatrist who specializes in trauma victims, reviews the logs of al-Khatani’s interrogations. Seltzer notes that while torture is not a medical concept: “[O]ver the period of 54 days there is enough evidence of distress to indicate that it would be very surprising indeed if it had not reached the threshold of severe mental pain…. If you put 12 clinicians in a room and asked them about this interrogation log, you might get different views about the effect and long-term consequences of these interrogation techniques. But I doubt that any one of them would claim that this individual had not suffered severe mental distress at the time of his interrogation, and possibly also severe physical distress.” Everything that is done to al-Khatani is part of the repertoire of interrogation techniques approved by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (see December 2, 2002).
Fundamental Violation of Human Rights - In 2008, law professor Phillippe Sands will write: “Whatever he may have done, Mohammed al-Khatani was entitled to the protections afforded by international law, including Geneva and the torture convention. His interrogation violated those conventions. There can be no doubt that he was treated cruelly and degraded, that the standards of Common Article 3 were violated, and that his treatment amounts to a war crime. If he suffered the degree of severe mental distress prohibited by the torture convention, then his treatment crosses the line into outright torture. These acts resulted from a policy decision made right at the top, not simply from ground-level requests in Guantanamo, and they were supported by legal advice from the president’s own circle.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Geneva Conventions, Mohamed al-Khatani, Donald Rumsfeld, Abigail Seltzer, Phillippe Sands

Category Tags: Detainments, High-level Decisions and Actions, Indications of Abuse, Dangerous Conditions, Extreme Temperatures, Forced Confessions, Isolation, Medical Services Denied, Mental Abuse, Physical Assault, Poor Conditions, Sexual Humiliation, Sleep Deprivation, Stress Positions, Suppression of Religious Expression, Guantanamo (US Base in Cuba), Mohamed al-Khatani

According to a report by the CIA’s inspector general, a cable sent this month reports that a detainee is left shackled and naked in a cold room. He is apparently left like this until he demonstrates co-operation, although it is unclear how long this takes. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 84-85 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Dangerous Conditions, Extreme Temperatures

Abd al-Rahman, a minor official at the agriculture ministry in Baghdad, is taken into custody by Coalition Forces and held for three months during which time he is “beaten frequently, given shocks with an electric cattle-prod, and [has] one of his toenails prised off.” Rations are often laced with pork, which is forbidden to Muslims, and the area around his tent is infested with scorpions. [Sunday Times (London), 1/18/2004; Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Abd al-Rahman

Category Tags: Dangerous Conditions, Electrodes, Physical Assault, Suppression of Religious Expression, Other Detainees

Three detainees at Camp Bucca who volunteered for a cleaning job are severely injured when they inadvertently set off a cluster bomb. All three will have their legs amputated. [International Committee of the Red Cross, 2/24/2004 pdf file]

Category Tags: Camp Bucca (Iraq), Dangerous Conditions, Other Detainees

A mortar attack kills two soldiers at Abu Ghraib, and injures Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan and ten other soldiers. Jordan, who has only just arrived at the prison (see September 17, 2003), is extremely traumatized by the deaths of the two soldiers, one of whom suffered immensely. Two Iraqis, a man and a woman, are quickly apprehended on suspicion of involvement in the mortar attack and brought to the prison where a team of military intelligence soldiers and the MP Internal Reaction Force (IRF) are waiting for them. Two military intelligence soldiers yell at the man and begin hitting him, while he remains passive and handcuffed. MP 1st Lt. David Sutton intervenes and stops the beating. The detainee is released later in the day when his involvement in the attack is determined unlikely. The abuse is subsequently reported to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Commander Lt. Col. Jerry L. Phillabaum. The MPs and five military intelligence soldiers who were present at the incident all provide witness statements. Interestingly, as Maj. Gen. George R. Fay later relates (see August 25, 2004), “While the MP statements all describe abuse at the hands of an unidentified MI [Military Intelliigence] person…, the MI statements all deny any abuse occurred.” Phillabaum reports the incident to the Criminal Investigation Division (CID), which determines there are insufficient grounds for prosecution. [US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: George R. Fay, Jerry L. Phillabaum, David Sutton, Steven L. Jordan

Category Tags: Dangerous Conditions, Physical Assault

A bomb explodes on the roadside within the close vicinity of Abu Ghraib. Its intended target is an Army convoy but it ends up killing a detainee instead, cutting off the back of his head. Sgt. Kenneth Davis, who is in the targeted convoy, believes the detainee was one of the prisoners he saw being tortured in late October. [Washington Post, 8/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Kenneth Davis

Category Tags: Abu Ghraib Prison (Iraq), Dangerous Conditions

The US learns that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a former al-Qaeda camp commander, was allegedly tortured in Egypt, where he was rendered by the CIA (see January 2002 and After). Although CIA Director George Tenet will describe al-Libi’s handling by the Egyptians as “further debriefing,” after being returned to US custody, al-Libi tells CIA officers he was tortured and these claims are documented in a series of cables sent to CIA headquarters on February 4 and 5. These cables are the final proof, many believe, that the US is illegally “outsourcing” torture to other countries, against suspects who have not been convicted or even charged with a crime. After being tortured by his Egyptian captors (see November 11, 2001), al-Libi was returned to US custody on November 22, 2003. The February 5 cable reads, in part, that al-Libi was told by the Egyptians that “the next topic was al-Qaeda’s connections with Iraq…. This was a subject about which he said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.” The Egyptians didn’t like al-Libi’s response, and locked him in a 20 inch by 20 inch box for 17 hours—effectively burying him alive. The Egyptians released him and gave him one more change to “tell the truth.” When al-Libi did not give the proper response, he was knocked to the ground and beaten. The CIA debriefers send this information straight to Washington (see February 14, 2004), thus informing the CIA that not only was this key piece of evidence about the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda false, but it was obtained by extreme, US-sanctioned torture. Although stories and witness accounts about torture in such US-allied countries as Egypt, Syria, Morocco, and Uzbekistan have long been known, this is the first time such torture has been detailed in an official US government document. It will be almost a year before the Bush administration will confirm the CIA’s rendition program (see March 11, 2002), and even then it will begin a litany of reassurances that the US does not torture, nor does it hand over prisoners to countries that torture. The CIA cables will be declassified in September 2006, and roundly ignored by the mainstream media. And as of late 2007, al-Libi will still be a “ghost prisoner” whose whereabouts and circumstances are considered a US state secret. [ABC News, 11/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, George J. Tenet

Category Tags: Coverup, Detainments, High-level Decisions and Actions, Indefinite Detention, Rendition after 9/11, Abrogation of Rights, Dangerous Conditions, Ghost Detainees, Physical Assault, Stress Positions, Internal Memos/Reports, Bagram (Afghanistan), Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi

A 27-year-old Iraqi male dies during his interrogation by US Navy SEALs in Mosul. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later find (see October 24, 2005) that during his confinement, “he was hooded, flex-cuffed, sleep deprived, and subjected to hot and cold environmental conditions, including the use of cold water on his body and hood.” The cause of death is officially “undetermined,” though the autopsy speculates that the prisoner may have died from hypothermia and/or related conditions. Notes from his interrogators say that he “struggled/ interrogated/ died sleeping.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/24/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Navy, American Civil Liberties Union

Category Tags: Criticisms of US, Human Rights Groups, Independent Investigations, Prisoner Deaths, Dangerous Conditions, Extreme Temperatures, Sleep Deprivation

The worst mortar attack on Abu Ghraib to date takes place. Twenty-two Iraqi detainees are killed and more than 100 injured. [American Forces Press Service, 9/21/2004]

Category Tags: Dangerous Conditions, Abu Ghraib Prison (Iraq)

Officials at the CIA refer a case in which a detainee named Gul Rahman apparently froze to death at the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan (see November 20, 2002) to the Justice Department for examination. [Washington Post, 9/19/2009] The full name of the CIA officer who caused the detainee to die is not known, although his last name is Zirbel. [Mahoney and Johnson, 10/9/2009, pp. 29 pdf file] The case is reviewed with an eye to prosecution by the US Attorneys Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, where one of the office’s top prosecutors works on it. [Washington Post, 9/19/2009] This is apparently one of eight such referrals around this time. [New York Times, 10/23/2005] According to the New York Times, the Justice Department will be “reviewing its jurisdiction” in the case in May 2005. [New York Times, 5/22/2004] The department will decide not to prosecute in October 2005 (see Mid-October 2005), but will re-examine the case in 2009 (see August 24, 2009).

Entity Tags: Gul Rahman, Matthew Zirbel, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Legal Proceedings, Prisoner Deaths, Dangerous Conditions, Extreme Temperatures, Poor Conditions, Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Other Detainees

The Justice Department issues a secret opinion that countermands and contradicts the administration’s official policy that torture is “abhorrent” and will not be practiced by US military or law enforcement officials (see December 30, 2004). The secret opinion is, the New York Times writes two years later while publicly revealing its existence, “an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.” The opinion gives explicit authorization to abuse detainees with a combination of physical and psychological abuse, including head-slapping, stress positioning, simulated drowning (“waterboarding”), and prolonged exposure to intense cold. New attorney general Alberto Gonzales (see November 10, 2004) approves the memo over the objections of deputy attorney general James Comey, himself preparing to leave the Justice Department after a series of battles over the legality of torture and the domestic surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). Comey says at the time that everyone at the department will be “ashamed” of the new opinion once the world learns of it. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Alberto R. Gonzales, Central Intelligence Agency, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Coverup, High-level Decisions and Actions, Impunity, Legal Proceedings, Media, Statements/Writings about Torture, Abrogation of Rights, Dangerous Conditions, Extreme Temperatures, Forced Confessions, Mental Abuse, Sleep Deprivation, Stress Positions, Waterboarding, Internal Memos/Reports

The New York Times obtains a copy of a classified file of the Army criminal investigation into a number of detainee deaths at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. The report focuses on two Afghan detainees, Mullah Habibullah (see October 2004 and November 30-December 3, 2002) and a taxi driver known as Dilawar (see December 10, 2002), both of whom were in essence tortured to death; other detainees are also covered in the report. The Army report follows up on the official inquiry conducted in late 2004 (see October 2004).
Torture to Extract Information, Punish Detainees, and Alleviate Boredom - The Times writes: “Like a narrative counterpart to the digital images from Abu Ghraib, the Bagram file depicts young, poorly trained soldiers in repeated incidents of abuse. The harsh treatment, which has resulted in criminal charges against seven soldiers, went well beyond the two deaths. In some instances, testimony shows, it was directed or carried out by interrogators to extract information. In others, it was punishment meted out by military police guards. Sometimes, the torment seems to have been driven by little more than boredom or cruelty, or both.” One female interrogator has what a colleague in a sworn statement calls a taste for humiliation; that interrogator is described as having stood on the neck of one prostrate detainee, and having kicked another detainee in the genitals. Another statement tells of a shackled prisoner being forced to kiss the boots of his interrogators. A third tells of a detainee forced to pick plastic bottle caps out of a drum mixed with excrement and water. Overall, the Army report concludes that many of the tactics used by interrogators and guards amounts to criminal assault. Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita says: “What we have learned through the course of all these investigations is that there were people who clearly violated anyone’s standard for humane treatment. We’re finding some cases that were not close calls.” Seven soldiers, all interrogators and guards of low rank, have been charged with crimes ranging from dereliction of duty to maiming and involuntary manslaughter; two others received reprimands, and 15 others named in the original report were cited as bearing probable criminal responsibility in the deaths. One of the interrogators charged with assaulting Dilawar, Sergeant Selena Salcedo, says: “The whole situation is unfair. It’s all going to come out when everything is said and done.”
Many Interrogators Redeployed to Iraq; Bagram Tactics Used at Abu Ghraib - The Army criminal investigation was conducted slowly. During the course of the investigation, many of the Bagram interrogators, including their operations officer, Captain Carolyn Wood, were redeployed to Iraq (see Mid-March 2003). Wood took charge of interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison and, according to Army inquiries, began using tactics “remarkably similar” to those employed at Bagram (see July 15, 2003 and (Early August 2003)). She received the Bronze Star for her actions (see January 22, 2003-May 8, 2003).
Serious Disparities between Investigative Results and Personnel Statements - In the aftermaths of the deaths, military officials made a number of unsupported claims. The deaths of both Dilawar and Habibullah were originally listed as due to natural causes even as military coroners ruled the deaths homicides. The American commander in Afghanistan at the time, Lieutenant General Daniel McNeill, said that he had no indication that the deaths were caused by abuses carried out by US soldiers; the methods used in the detainees’ interrogations were, McNeill said, “in accordance with what is generally accepted as interrogation techniques.”
Poorly Trained Interrogators - The report focuses on one group of poorly trained interrogators from the Army’s 519th Military Intelligence Brigade (see July 2002). After Bush’s decree that terror suspects have no rights under Geneva, the interrogators began pushing the envelope of acceptable interrogation techniques. They began employing “stress positions” that cause pain and suffering but not, presumably, actual injury. They began experimenting with longer and longer periods of sleep deprivation. One of the more popular methods is called in military jargon “Fear Up Harsh,” or as one soldier called it, “the screaming technique.” The technique is based on verbally and physically intimidating detainees, and often degenerates into screaming and throwing furniture. The noncommissioned officer in charge of the interrogators, Staff Sergeant Steven Loring, sometimes tried to curb his interrogators’ excesses, but, contradictorily, often refused to countenance “soft” interrogation techniques, and gave some of the most aggressive interrogators wide latitude. Sergeant James Leahy recalled, “We sometimes developed a rapport with detainees, and Sergeant Loring would sit us down and remind us that these were evil people and talk about 9/11 and they weren’t our friends and could not be trusted.” One of Loring’s favorites was Specialist Damien Corsetti, nicknamed “Monster,” a tall, bearded interrogator Loring jokingly nicknamed “the King of Torture.” One Saudi detainee told Army investigators that during one session, Corsetti pulled out his penis, shoved it in the Saudi’s face, and threatened to rape him. (The earlier investigation found cause to charge Corsetti with assault, maltreatment of a prisoner, and indecent acts; no charges were filed. Corsetti was fined and demoted for brutalizing a female prisoner at Abu Ghraib.) By August 2002, the 519th interrogators, joined by a group of reservists from a military police company, were routinely beating their prisoners, and particularly favored the “common peroneal strike,” a potentially disabling blow to the side of the leg just above the knee. The MPs later said that they never knew such physical brutality was not part of Army interrogation practices. “That was kind of like an accepted thing; you could knee somebody in the leg,” one of the MPs, Sergeant Thomas Curtis, later told investigators.
'Timmy' - Specialist Jeremy Callaway told investigators of one Afghan prisoner with apparently severe emotional and mental problems. The detainee would eat his own feces and mutilate himself with concertina wire. He quickly became a favorite target for some of the MPs, who would repeatedly knee him in the legs and, at least once, chained him with his arms straight up in the air. The MPs nicknamed him “Timmy” after an emotionally disturbed child in the “South Park” animated television show. According to Callaway, one of the guards who beat the prisoner also taught him to screech like the cartoon character. Eventually, “Timmy” was sent home. [New York Times, 5/20/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Jeremy Callaway, James Leahy, Dilawar, Daniel K. McNeill, Damien Corsetti, Carolyn A. Wood, Lawrence Di Rita, Mullah Habibullah, New York Times, Steven Loring, US Department of Defense, Selena Salcedo, Thomas Curtis

Category Tags: Criticisms of US, Detainments, High-level Decisions and Actions, Indications of Abuse, Media, Prisoner Deaths, Reports/Investigations, Abrogation of Rights, Dangerous Conditions, Intimidation/Threats, Physical Assault, Sexual Humiliation, Bagram (Afghanistan)

The Justice Department decides not to prosecute in most cases where detainees were abused and killed by the CIA. The cases, of which there are apparently eight, had been referred to the department by the CIA’s inspector general (see (August 2004)) and were investigated primarily by the US Attorneys Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, although officials at department headquarters in Washington are also involved in the decision not to prosecute. Although some of the cases are still technically under review at this time, the department indicates it does not intend to bring charges. [New York Times, 10/23/2005] The cases include:
bullet The death of Iraqi prisoner Manadel al-Jamadi in CIA custody in November 2003 (see Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003 and (7:00 a.m.) November 4, 2003);
bullet The asphyxiation of Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush in Iraq, also in November 2003 (see November 24 or 25, 2003 and November 26, 2003). This incident involved the military, as well as at least one CIA contractor; [New York Times, 10/23/2005]
bullet The intimidation of al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri by a CIA officer named “Albert” using a gun and drill (see September 11, 2003).
bullet The death of detainee Gul Rahman, who froze to death at the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan (see November 20, 2002). The case was examined by prosecutors, but, in the end, a recommendation not to prosecute the officer who caused the detainee to die is made. [Washington Post, 9/19/2009] The officer’s first name is not known, although his last name is Zirbel. [Mahoney and Johnson, 10/9/2009, pp. 29 pdf file] The decision is made because prosecutors conclude that the prison was outside the reach of US law; although the CIA funded it and vetted its Afghan guards, it was technically an Afghan prison. In addition, it is unclear whether Rahman, who was captured in Pakistan and then taken to Afghanistan, would have died from injuries sustained during his capture, rather than by freezing. Although hypothermia was listed as the cause of death in the autopsy, the body was not available to investigators. According to the Washington Post, “questions remain whether hypothermia was used as a cover story in part to protect people who had beaten the captive.” However, according to a “senior official who took part in the review,” the decision not to prosecute in this case is not initially that clear, and an indictment is considered. However, the prosecutors decide not to press charges against Zirbel and a memo explaining this decision is drafted. An official involved in the review will later say there is “absolutely no pressure” from the Justice Department’s management to decide not to prosecute. However, a later report by the Post will indicate there may be a split among prosecutors over the decision, and that a political appointee, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Paul McNulty, assesses the case. McNulty will be nominated for the position of deputy attorney general around this time (see October 21, 2005). [Washington Post, 9/19/2009]
However, one CIA employee, a contractor named David Passaro, has been charged with detainee abuse (see June 18-21, 2003). [New York Times, 10/23/2005] The department will begin a second review of some or all of these cases in 2009 (see August 24, 2009).

Entity Tags: Matthew Zirbel, Paul J. McNulty, Gul Rahman, Central Intelligence Agency, Abed Hamed Mowhoush, Manadel al-Jamadi, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Abu Ghraib Scandal Aftermath, Coverup, High-level Decisions and Actions, Legal Proceedings, Reports/Investigations, Dangerous Conditions, Physical Assault, Poor Conditions, Abu Ghraib Prison (Iraq), Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Other Detainees

The White House releases four key Justice Department memos documenting the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods—torture—against suspected terrorists. The memos were released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The documents show that two high-level detainees were subjected to waterboarding at least 266 times between them. Al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was waterboarded at least 83 times in August 2002, contradicting earlier CIA reports that he “broke” after a single waterboarding session (see December 10, 2007). Confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded at least 183 times in March 2003. The so-called “insect” technique—exposure to insects within an enclosed box—was approved for use on Zubaida, but apparently never used. Numerous prisoners were subjected to “walling” and “sleep deprivation,” with at least one detainee subjected to the technique for 180 hours (over seven days). Three of the memos were written by then-Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) chief Steven Bradbury in May 2005 (see May 10, 2005, May 10, 2005, and May 30, 2005), and the fourth by Bradbury’s predecessor, Jay Bybee, in August 2002 (see August 1, 2002). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009] Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says: “These legal memoranda demonstrate in alarming detail exactly what the Bush administration authorized for ‘high value detainees’ in US custody. The techniques are chilling. This was not an ‘abstract legal theory,’ as some former Bush administration officials have characterized it. These were specific techniques authorized to be used on real people.” [CNN, 4/17/2009] House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) agrees, saying: “This release, as well as the decision to ban the use of such techniques in the future, will strengthen both our national security and our commitment to the rule of law and help restore our country’s standing in the international community. The legal analysis and some of the techniques in these memos are truly shocking and mark a disturbing chapter in our nation’s history.” [Think Progress, 4/16/2009] Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), whose committee is conducting an investigation of abusive interrogation methods used during the Bush administration, says Bush officials “inaccurately interpreted” the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture. “I find it difficult to understand how the opinions found these interrogation techniques to be legal,” she says. “For example, waterboarding and slamming detainees head-first into walls, as described in the OLC opinions, clearly fall outside what is legally permissible.” [United Press International, 4/16/2009]
White House Condemns Methods, Opposes Investigations - Attorney General Eric Holder says of the memos: “The president has halted the use of the interrogation techniques described in these opinions, and this administration has made clear from day one that it will not condone torture. We are disclosing these memos consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.” Holder adds that, according to a Justice Department statement, “intelligence community officials who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice, would not face federal prosecutions for that conduct.” Holder states, “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.” [US Department of Justice, 4/16/2009] President Obama condemns what he calls a “dark and painful chapter in our history,” and promises that such torture techniques will never be used again. However, he restates his opposition to a lengthy investigation into the program, saying that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” In contrast, Leahy says that the memos illustrate the need for an independent investigation. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, points out that the memos were written at a time when the CIA was working to prevent a repeat of the 9/11 attacks. “Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing,” he says. “But we will absolutely defend those who relied on these memos.” [New York Times, 4/19/2009] The ACLU demands criminal prosecution of Bush officials for their torture policies (see April 16, 2009). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009]
Techniques Include Waterboarding, Insect Exposure, 'Walling' - The memos show that several techniques were approved for use, including waterboarding, exposure to insects within a “confinement box,” being slammed into a wall, sleep deprivation, stress positions, forced nudity, and others. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009]
Waterboarded Well beyond Allowed Procedures - Because the information about the waterboarding of Zubaida and Mohammed comes from the classified and heavily redacted CIA’s inspector general report, which has not yet been released to the public, the information is at least in part based on the videotapes of Zubaida’s interrogation sessions that were later destroyed by CIA officials (see March 6, 2009). The CIA memo explained that detainees could be waterboarded between 12 and 18 times in a single day, but only on five days during a single month—which mathematically only adds up to 90 times in a month, and thus does not explain how Mohammed could have been waterboarded 183 times in a month if these procedures were being followed. The memos also reveal that in practice, the waterboarding went far beyond the methodologies authorized by the Justice Department and used in SERE training (see December 2001 and July 2002).
Information Unearthed by Blogger - Initial media reports fail to divulge the extraordinary number of times Zubaida and Mohammed were waterboarded. It falls to a blogger, Marcy Wheeler, to unearth the information from the CIA memo and reveal it to the public (see April 18, 2009). [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009]

Attorney General Eric Holder announces he has appointed a federal prosecutor from Connecticut, John Durham, as a special prosecutor to investigate whether CIA interrogators broke any federal laws. [US Department of Justice, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/25/2009]
Decision Stems from CIA IG Report - The investigation is preliminary in nature, and will decide whether a full investigation is warranted. Holder bases his decision in part on a just-released 2004 report on torture by the CIA’s inspector general (see August 24, 2009) and a Justice Department recommendation that there should be an investigation of about a dozen cases of possible abuse and torture from Iraq and Afghanistan (see First Half of August 2009). According to the conclusion of the CIA report: “The enhanced interrogation techniques used by the agency under the CTC [Counterterrorist Center] program are inconsistent with the public policy positions that the United States has taken regarding human rights. Unauthorized, improvised, inhumane, and undocumented detention and interrogation techniques were used.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009] The review is also prompted by a report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) into memoranda drafted by the department’s Office of Legal Counsel related to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The OPR report recommends the department re-examine previous decisions not to prosecute in some cases related to the interrogation of certain detainees. The aim of the preliminary review is to find whether federal offenses were committed in some detainee interrogations. [US Department of Justice, 8/24/2009] According to the Washington Post, the review will focus on “a very small number of cases,” including one in which a CIA officer named Zirbel caused Afghan prisoner Gul Rahman to freeze to death at the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan (see November 20, 2002) and the intimidation of al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri by a CIA officer named “Albert” using a handgun and drill (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003). These cases and the others were previously referred by the CIA inspector general to the Justice Department for examination, but the department decided not to prosecute (see (August 2004) and Mid-October 2005). [Washington Post, 9/19/2009; Associated Press, 9/7/2010]
Durham a Veteran Prosecutor - Durham has been investigating the CIA’s destruction of videotapes of interrogations that may have documented instances of torture (see January 2, 2008). Although Durham has a low public profile, he is a veteran of numerous high-level prosecutions, including cases against Boston-area organized crime figures, corrupt FBI agents, and former Governor John Rowland (R-CT). Durham is considered apolitical, and has worked closely with the Justice Department under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Connecticut defense lawyer Hugh Keefe calls him “the go-to guy for Justice whenever they get a hot case.” Former Connecticut prosecutor Mark Califano calls Durham’s approach to investigations “clinical,” and says he has “very rarely” concluded a case without bringing criminal charges. “He likes to make cases when there is evidence there,” Califano says. “You’ve got to balance whether that kind of information exists.… You can’t move forward if you don’t have the evidence.” [US Department of Justice, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009; Washington Post, 8/25/2009] Boston prosecutors and defense attorneys have characterized Durham as “honest” and “tenacious.” Warren Bamford, who heads Boston’s FBI office, said Durham “kind of has blinders on in the sense that he doesn’t worry about the politics and all the other stuff that might be swirling around, and I think that’s really what makes him so successful.” [Boston Globe, 1/7/2008] In a statement, Holder says, “Mr. Durham, who is a career prosecutor with the Department of Justice and who has assembled a strong investigative team of experienced professionals, will recommend to me whether there is sufficient predication for a full investigation into whether the law was violated in connection with the interrogation of certain detainees.” [Think Progress, 8/24/2009]
Senator: Durham a 'First-Rate' Choice - Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is enthusiastic about the choice of Durham. He says he has worked with Durham before, while Whitehouse was US Attorney for Rhode Island, and calls the prosecutor “very professional” and “a first-rate choice,” adding that Durham has “a very good grounding in this because he has been doing the investigation into the destruction of the torture tapes.” [MSNBC, 8/25/2009]
No Acknowledged 'Break' with White House - Holder notes that he will be criticized for undermining the CIA, and may be going against abjurations by President Obama to “move forward” instead of focusing on past transgressions, but says the facts left him little choice. “As attorney general, my duty is to examine the facts and to follow the law,” he says in a statement. “Given all of the information currently available, it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of action for me to take.… I have concluded that the information known to me warrants opening a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations.” White House officials say Holder’s decision does not mark a break between the White House and the Justice Department on their policies toward interrogations. Deputy press secretary Bill Burton tells reporters that “ultimately, the decisions on who is investigated and who is prosecuted are up to the attorney general.… The president thinks that Eric Holder, who he appointed as a very independent attorney general, should make those decisions.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009] Justice Department spokespersons refuse to say who will, and who will not, be investigated. [TPM Muckraker, 8/25/2009]

Entity Tags: Mark Califano, John Durham, Warren Bamford, Office of Professional Responsibility, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Hugh Keefe, Obama administration, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Matthew Zirbel, Central Intelligence Agency, “Albert”, Bill Burton, US Department of Justice, Sheldon Whitehouse

Category Tags: High-level Decisions and Actions, Legal Proceedings, Prisoner Deaths, Reports/Investigations, Abrogation of Rights, Dangerous Conditions, Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Other Detainees

Ordering 

Time period


Categories

Key Events

Key Events (98)

General Topic Areas

Abu Ghraib Scandal Aftermath (28)Coverup (144)Criticisms of US (171)Detainee Treatment Act (15)Detainments (121)Disciplinary Actions (17)High-level Decisions and Actions (450)Human Rights Groups (81)Impunity (49)Indefinite Detention (41)Independent Investigations (27)Indications of Abuse (61)Legal Proceedings (217)Media (77)Military Commissions / Tribunals (66)Other Events (20)Prisoner Deaths (48)Private Contractors (8)Public Statements (84)Reports/Investigations (144)Statements/Writings about Torture (129)Supreme Court Decisions (5)

Renditions

Extraordinary Rendition (24)Rendition after 9/11 (75)Rendition before 9/11 (34)

Types of Abuses Performed by US

Abrogation of Rights (37)Dangerous Conditions (18)Deception (5)Electrodes (9)Exposure to Insects (4)Extreme Temperatures (48)Forced Confessions (37)Ghost Detainees (28)Insufficient Food (25)Intimidation/Threats (44)Involuntary Drugs (14)Isolation (33)Medical Services Denied (14)Mental Abuse (21)Physical Assault (140)Poor Conditions (30)SERE Techniques (30)Sexual Humiliation (57)Sexual Temptation (3)Sleep Deprivation (74)Stress Positions (65)Suppression of Religious Expression (18)Use of Dogs (20)Waterboarding (92)

Documents

Internal Memos/Reports (95)Presidential Directives (8)

Specific Events or Operations

Destruction of CIA Tapes (94)Operation Copper Green (9)Qala-i-Janghi Massacre (17)

US Bases and Interrogation Centers

Abu Ghraib Prison (Iraq) (187)Al Jafr Prison (Jordan) (8)Al Qaim (Iraq) (6)Bagram (Afghanistan) (60)Camp Bucca (Iraq) (13)Camp Cropper (Iraq) (13)Diego Garcia (8)Gardez (Afghanistan) (7)Guantanamo (US Base in Cuba) (293)Kandahar (Afghanistan) (19)Salt Pit (Afghanistan) (34)Stare Kiejkuty (Poland) (21)US Base (Thailand) (15)USS Peleliu (7)Other US Bases and Centers (40)

High Ranking Detainees

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (32)Abu Zubaida (52)Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (6)Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (26)Hambali (9)Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (10)Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (34)Majid Khan (7)Ramzi bin al-Shibh (13)Other High Ranking Detainees (14)

Other Detainees

Abed Hamed Mowhoush (8)Asif Iqbal (20)Binyam Mohamed (14)Bisher al-Rawi (11)Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (37)Huda al-Azzawi (10)Jamal Udeen (10)Jamil al-Banna (9)John Walker Lindh (29)Jose Padilla (31)Khalid el-Masri (17)Maher Arar (14)Moazzam Begg (8)Mohamed al-Khatani (13)Mohammed Jawad (14)Rhuhel Ahmed (22)Saddam Salah al-Rawi (8)Salim Ahmed Hamdan (12)Shafiq Rasul (20)Tarek Dergoul (11)Yaser Esam Hamdi (22)Other Detainees (167)
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