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

Exposure to Insects

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

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Jay Bybee, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), writes a secret memo to John Rizzo, the acting general counsel of the CIA. The memo is entitled: “Memorandum for John Rizzo, Acting General Counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency: Interrogation of al-Qaeda Operative.” It will be released seven years later, after prolonged litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU—see April 16, 2009). It parallels another secret memo written by OLC lawyer John Yoo for White House counsel Alberto Gonzales (see August 1, 2002). The memo, written at the request of CIA officials, finds that the use of the interrogation techniques proposed for use on captured Islamist extremist Abu Zubaida are consistent with federal law (see Mid-May, 2002 and July 17, 2002). The OLC has determined that the only federal law governing the interrogation of a non-citizen detained outside the US is the federal anti-torture statute, Section 2340A of Title 18 of the US Code. Bybee’s memo goes into detail about 10 torture techniques, and explains why they are all legal to use on Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), currently being held in a secret CIA “black site” in Thailand (see April - June 2002). Bybee writes that Zubaida will enter a new, “increased pressure phase” of interrogation, and will be dealt with by a “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (‘SERE’) training psychologist, who has been involved with the interrogations since they began.” [Office of Legal Counsel, 8/1/2002 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file]
Lack of Intent Equates Legality - As long as there is no intent to cause “severe pain or suffering,” Bybee writes, none of these techniques violate US law. “To violate the statute, an individual must have the specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering,” Bybee writes. “Because specific intent is an element of the offense, the absence of specific intent negates the charge of torture.… We have further found that if a defendant acts with the good faith belief that his actions will not cause such suffering, he has not acted with specific intent.” [Office of Legal Counsel, 8/1/2002 pdf file; CNN, 4/17/2009]
Ten Techniques of Authorized Torture - Bybee explains the 10 techniques that can be used on Zubaida:
bullet Attention grasp: “The attention grasp consists of grasping the individual with both hands, one hand on each side of the collar opening, in a controlled and quick motion. In the same motion as the grasp, the individual is drawn toward the interrogator.”
bullet Walling: “For walling, a flexible false wall will be constructed. The individual is placed with his heels touching the wall. The interrogator pulls the individual forward and then quickly and firmly pushes the individual into the wall. It is the individual’s shoulder blades that hit the wall. During this motion, the head and neck are supported with a rolled hood or towel that provides a c-collar effect to help prevent whiplash. To further reduce the probability of injury, the individual is allowed to rebound from the flexible wall. You have orally informed us that the false wall is in part constructed to create a loud sound when the individual hits it, which will further shock or surprise in the individual. In part, the idea is to create a sound that will make the impact seem far worse than it is and that will be far worse than any injury that might result from the action.”
bullet Facial hold: “The facial hold is used to hold the head immobile. One open palm is placed on either side of the individual’s face. The fingertips are kept well away from the individual’s eyes.”
bullet Facial slap (insult slap): “With the facial slap or insult slap, the interrogator slaps the individual’s face with fingers slightly spread. The hand makes contact with the area directly between the tip of the individual’s chin and the bottom of the corresponding earlobe. The interrogator invades the individual’s personal space. The goal of the facial slap is not to inflict physical pain that is severe or lasting. Instead, the purpose of the facial slap is to induce shock, surprise, and/or humiliation.”
bullet Cramped confinement: “Cramped confmement involves the placement of the individual in a confined space, the dimensions of which restrict the individual’s movement. The confined space is usually dark. The duration of confinement varies based upon the size of the container. For the larger confined space, the individual can stand up or sit down; the smaller space is large enough for the subject to sit down. Confinement in the larger space can last up to 18 hours; for the smaller space, confinement lasts for no more than two hours.”
bullet Wall standing: “Wall standing is used to induce muscle fatigue. The individual stands about four to five feet from a wall with his feet spread approximately to shoulder width. His arms are stretched out in front of him, with his fingers resting on the wall. His fingers support all of his body weight. The individual is not permitted to move or reposition his hands or feet.”
bullet Stress positions: “A variety of stress positions may be used. You have informed us that these positions are not designed to produce the pain associated with contortions or twisting of the body. Rather, somewhat like walling, they are designed to produce the physical discomfort associated with muscle fatigue. Two particular stress positions are likely to be used on [Zubaida]: (1) sitting on the floor with legs extended straight out in front of him with his arms raised above his head; and (2) kneeling on the floor while leaning back at a 45 degree angle. You have also orally informed us that through observing Zubaydah in captivity, you have noted that he appears to be quite flexible despite his wound.”
bullet Sleep deprivation: “You have indicated that your purpose in using this technique is to reduce the individual’s ability to think on his feet and, through the discomfort associated with lack of sleep, to motivate him to cooperate. The effect of such sleep deprivation will generally remit after one or two nights of uninterrupted sleep. You have informed us that your research has revealed that, in rare instances, some individuals who are already predisposed to psychological problems may experience abnormal reactions to sleep deprivation. Even in those cases, however, reactions abate after the individual is permitted to sleep. Moreover, personnel with medical training are available to and will intervene in the unlikely event of an abnormal reaction. You have orally informed us that you would not deprive [Zubaida] of sleep for more than 11 days at a time and that you have previously kept him awake for 72 hours, from which no mental or physical harm resulted.”
bullet Insect confinement: “You would like to place [Zubaida] in a cramped confinement box with an insect. You have informed us he has a fear of insects. In particular, you would like to tell Zubaydah that you intend to place a stinging insect into the box with him. You would, however, place a harmless insect in the box. You have orally informed us that you would in fact place a caterpillar in the box. [REDACTED]”
bullet Waterboarding: “Finally, you would like to use a technique called the “water-board.” In this procedure, the individual is bound securely on an inclined bench, which is approximately four feet by seven feet. The individual’s feet are generally elevated. A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner. As this is done, the cloth is lowered until it covers both the nose and mouth. Once the cloth is saturated and completely covers the mouth and nose, air now is slightly restricted for 20 to 40 seconds due to the presence of the cloth. This causes an increase in carbon dioxide level in the individual’s blood. This increase in the carbon dioxide level stimulates increased effort to breathe. This effort plus the cloth produces the perception of ‘suffocation and incipient panic,’ i.e.,the perception of drowning. The individual does not breathe any water into his lungs. During those 20 to 40 seconds, water is continuously applied from a beight of 12 to 24 inches. After this period, the cloth is lifted, and the individual is allowed to breathe unimpeded for three or four full breaths. The sensation of drowning is immediately relieved by the removal of the cloth. The procedure may then be repeated. The water is usually applied from a canteen cup or small watering can with a spout. You have orally informed us that this procedure triggers an automatic physiological sensation of drowning that the individual cannot control even though he may be aware that he is in fact not drowning. You have also orally infomed us that it is likely that this procedure would not last more than 20 minutes in any one application.… You have informed us that this procedure does not inflict actual physical harm.… The waterboard, which inflicts no pain or actual harm whatsoever, does not, in our view, inflict ‘severe pain and suffering.’”
Techniques Can Be Used in Conjunction with One Another - Bybee writes: “You have informed us that the use of these techniques would be on an as-needed basis and that not all of these techniques will necessarily be used. The interrogation team would use these techniques in some combination to convince [Zubaida] that the only way he can influence his surrounding environment is through cooperation. You have, however, informed us that you expect these techniques to be used in some sort of escalating fashion, culminating with the waterboard, though not necessarily ending with this technique. Moreover, you have also orally informed us that although some of these teclmiques may be used with more than once, that repetition wllI not be substantial because the techniques generally lose their effectiveness after several repetitions.” [Office of Legal Counsel, 8/1/2002 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file]
Factual Background for Analysis - The opinion also gives the factual background for the legal analysis, including CIA research findings on the proposed techniques and their possible effect on Zubaida’s mental health. Much of those findings uses as a touchstone the results gleaned from the military’s SERE training, which uses stressful interrogation techniques, including a form of waterboarding, against US soldiers as part of their counterterrorism training. As the Senate Intelligence Committee will later write, Bybee’s “opinion discussed inquiries and statistics relating to possible adverse psychological reactions to SERE training.” The law clearly prohibits an interrogation method “specifically intended” to inflict “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.”
No Technique Constitutes Torture, Bybee Concludes - Bybee’s opinion considers whether each of the proposed interrogation techniques, individually or in combination, might inflict “severe physical pain or suffering” or “severe mental pain or suffering” on Zubaida or other detainees. The opinion also considers whether interrogators using the technique would have the mental state necessary to violate the statute. Bybee concludes that none of the techniques used individually would inflict “severe physical pain or suffering.” Waterboarding would not inflict such harm, Bybee writes, because it inflicts neither physical damage or physical pain. Nor would it inflict extensive “physical suffering,” because the “suffering” would not extend for the period of time required by the legal definition of the term. None of the techniques, including waterboarding, would inflict “severe mental pain or suffering” as defined in the federal statute, Bybee writes. He bases this conclusion on reports from SERE training, where US soldiers are subjected to brief, strictly supervised sessions of waterboarding as part of their anti-torture training. And, Bybee writes, since the techniques individually do not constitute physical suffering, neither will they constitute such suffering in conbination, because they will not be combined in such a way as to reach that threshold. Bybee writes that the OLC lacks the information necessary to conclude whether combinations of those techniques would inflict severe mental suffering; however, because no evidence exists to suggest that a combination of the techniques would inflict an excessive level of mental harm, using the techniques in combination is not precluded. Bybee also concludes that any interrogator using these techniques would not have a specific intent to inflict severe mental or physical pain or suffering, because the circumstances surrounding the use of the techniques would preclude such intent. Therefore, Bybee concludes, none of these techniques violate the federal anti-torture statute. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file; Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file]

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]

Fox News commentators mock the idea of using insects to torture prisoners, as was revealed in recently released Justice Department torture memos (see April 16, 2009). Mike Huckabee (R-AR), the former governor of Arkansas and a 2008 presidential candidate who now has his own talk show on Fox, says, “Look, I’ve been in some hotels where there were more bugs than these guys faced.” Huckabee goes on to characterize the Obama administration’s version of prisoner interrogation, saying, “We’re going to talk to them, we’re going to have a nice conversation, we’re going to invite them down for some tea and crumpets.” Huckabee’s fellow commentators Gretchen Carlson and Steve Doocy join in the hilarity. [Media Matters, 4/17/2009; Media Matters, 4/21/2009]

Entity Tags: Gretchen Carlson, Fox News, Steve Doocy, Mike Huckabee

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media, Exposure to Insects

Responding to the just-released CIA torture memos (see April 16, 2009), conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh “slaps” himself on the air, and tells his listeners: “I’m torturing myself right now. That’s torture according to these people.” After granting that President Obama “probably” doesn’t want the country to be attacked by terrorists again, Limbaugh says (with the sound of slaps interspersed): “I just slapped myself. I’m torturing myself right now. That’s torture according to these people.” Limbaugh goes on to say that the outcry over the revelations of torture makes the US a “laughing stock” in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other nations in and around the Middle East. [Media Matters, 4/17/2009] During the same broadcast, Limbaugh says: “If you look at what we are calling torture, you have to laugh.… Slapping, putting an insect in with a prisoner in a small confined area.… If you go through the, what are said to be the four worst—waterboarding, of course, which worked on, um, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed… sleep deprivation, facial slaps, [insect exposure]… it worked. This is what supposedly made us the moral equivalent of al-Qaeda.” [Media Matters, 4/17/2009]

Entity Tags: Rush Limbaugh

Category Tags: Media, Exposure to Insects, Physical Assault

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Key Events (98)

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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)

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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)

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

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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)

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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)

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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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