Broken bones and power drills: Prisoners of the CIA

 
 

A report released by the US Senate detailing conditions endured by prisoners in CIA prison camps includes descriptions of prisoners being kept awake for days, threats that family members would be sexually assaulted in front of them, power drills being used to intimidate blindfolded inmates, as well as forced rectal rehydration as a form of behaviour control.

In a 500 page executive summary of an as of yet still classified 6000 page document, the US Senate concludes that information gathered from these practices were misrepresented to the White House about their effectiveness at directly preventing terrorist attacks within the United States or abroad. The document sets out a secretive programme that contained little government oversight and whose organisers chose to deliberately reduce and remove transparency where possible. As news teams and analysts examine the document, the details of exactly how the US intelligence agency put together the programme is coming to light.

The report provides insight into a systematic campaign of arrest, removal from protective legal jurisdictions and subjection to various forms of abusive and degrading treatment. The report outlines who prisoners were kept hanging by the arms for days, complete darkness/illumination, isolation, and in 17 cases, being subjected to water being poured over the face and mouth which produces the effect of drowning in the victim. The document also outlines that the CIA were not ready at the start of their programme in 2001 for their new role as keeping prisoners in detention and how in the case of Abu Zubaydah the CIA planned to keep him incommunicado for the rest of his life until death, whereupon his body would be cremated.

Particularly distressing information from the report includes the following:

  • Saudi Arabian citizen Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was at one stage blindfolded and had a cordless power drill spun in order to threaten and intimidate him as well as having a gun placed near his head.
  • Abu Hazim al-Libi and Al-Shara’iya aka Abd al-Karim had broken bones in their feet. These prisoners were placed in standing sleep deprivation positions until they could no longer maintain the position. They were then placed in sitting positions and denied further sleep.
  • The description of a prison with the codename ‘Cobalt’ was described as having the following conditions: prisoners were routinely stripped and kept naked for extended periods, constant white noise, no communication, constant darkness except for prison guards’ head torches with prisoners being kept shackled in bare concrete cells. A team of visitors from the Federal Bureau of Prisons staff described these conditions as ‘not in humane’ [sic].
  • In 2002, Gul Rahman died in captivity. He had been stripped of his clothing except for a sweatshirt and was kept overnight in a cell. The temperature in the prison was 7 degrees Celsius. The assessment of the autopsy suggested that sitting on a bare concrete floor with no pants contributed to his death. The officer in charge of the facility was given a £2,500 bonus four months later.
  • Abu Zubaydah and Kahleih Sheikh Mohammed were both waterboarded to such an extent that a medical officer described the situation as ‘near drownings’. Both presented involuntary spasms in their arms and legs, vomiting and appeared hysterical during the application of water. At one stage, Zubaydah was held under water so long that when he was removed, he was unresponsive until he received medical intervention.

Dianne Feinstein, who is a Democrat senator in the US and chief author of the report stated, “The CIA programme was far more brutal than people were led to believe”. The senator particularly criticised the CIA throughout the publication process, after it emerged that surveillance had been carried out on the documents the investigative committee were viewing and a number of them deleted from the committee’s computers without permission. The CIA have also deleted video tapes of prisoners who were subject to waterboarding in 2005.

Following the release of the report, US President Barrack Obama said “I recognise that there are controversies in terms of some of the details, but what is not controversial is the fact that we did some things that violated as a people who we are.” Other critics of the behaviour of the CIA’s activities include Republican Senator John McCain, who himself was subjected to torture after being captured during the Vietnam war as a pilot in the US air force. “I have long believed that some of these practices amounted to torture as a reasonable person would define it, especially but not only the practice of waterboarding which is a mock execution and an exquisite form of torture”. He went on to describe its use as “shameful and unnecessary”.

Irish involvement in the system of abuse was highlighted by a number of reports that connected planes landing at Shannon airport to the transport of prisoners to known torture sites run on behalf of the CIA. These locations include Morocco, Syria and Afghanistan.

The University Observer will continue its coverage of the Senate report as the document is examined in greater detail.

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