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Torture Techniques used in Guantanamo

Why Torture Techniques Were Used

Many Guantanamo interrogators (including psychologists and psychiatrists) were trained by Survival-Evasion-Resistance-Escape (SERE) instructors, or had experience in the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), which oversaw SERE training. SERE was a program designed to train military personnel who had been caught as Prisoners Of War to withstand torture during interrogation if they were to be caught by a ‘dishonourable enemy’. Military personnel went through a program of beatings, starvation, stress positions, being stripped naked and thrown into small cages for days. The SERE program was established after years of experimentation by the CIA and the other four branches of the U.S. military. Jane Mayer points out that the SERE program was a strange way to try and obtain the ‘truth’ from detainees because it was founded during the Cold War when 36 US air men gave false confessions during the Korean War. Ideas for interrogation also came from the television series ‘24’, which depicted a fictional character torturing detainees to get information about a terrorist plot.
The Senate Armed Services Committee Report outlines how the harsh interrogation techniques came about. See, ‘Senate Armed Services Committee Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in US Custody’; and, Jane Mayer, ‘The Dark Side’, Scribe Publications, Victoria, 2008, p.158; Philippe Sands, ‘Torture Team’, Penguin Books, London, 2008, p.73; and former soldier put through SERE training, David J. Morris, Empires of the Mind: ‘SERE, Guantánamo, and the Legacies of Torture’, Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter 2009.

List of Torture Techniques

1. Sexual Assault/Humiliation Techniques

Detainees in US custody in Abu Ghraib, Kandahar and Bagram (where many were taken to before Guantanamo) have reported being sodomised with broomsticks, a ‘chemical light’ or rifles. Other forms of sexual humiliation reported have been; parading men naked in front of female soldiers, forcing them to wear women’s underwear and dance with other men, forcing them to undress in front of female interrogators and guards, touching their genitals or provoking them in a ‘humiliating’ way and forcing them to watch pornography. Most detainees in U.S. custody have alleged that they were either raped, threatened with rape, or anally probed. Sexual violence is a war crime. Sexual humiliation is used to induce feelings of humiliation and fear.

See Army Major General Anonio M. Taguba, interview with Seymour Hersh, ‘The General’s Report: How Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal, became one of its casualties.’, 25th June, 2007; and Joseph Margulies, ‘Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power’, Simon & Schuster, New York, p.87. For more information about proven cases of sexual assault, see ‘Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by U.S. Personnel and its Impact’; and Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR), ‘Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment of Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba’, July, 2006.

2. Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation is used by torturers because it makes a person more suggestible, reduces psychological resistance and it reduces the body’s capacity to resist pain. Sleep deprivation is a very effective torture technique. The Committee against Torture (CAT) has noted that sleep deprivation used for prolonged periods constitutes a breach of the CAT, and is primarily used to break down the will of the detainee. Sleep deprivation can cause impaired memory and cognitive functioning, decreased short term memory, speech impairment, hallucinations, psychosis, lowered immunity, headaches, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stress, anxiety and depression. For more information, see Gretchen Borchelt, JD & Christian Pross, MD ‘Systematic Use of Psychological Torture by US Forces’, Torture, vol.15(1), 2005; and Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by U.S. Personnel and its Impact’.

Sleep deprivation was authorised under the 2002 Department of Defense Memo in the form of 20 hour interrogations. The U.S. military authorised sleep deprivation for its prisoners for up to seventy two hours. See, Human Rights First & Physicians for Human Rights, ‘Leave no Marks: Enhanced Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality’, August 2007,p.22. The Schmidt report found that, ‘military interrogators improperly used sleep deprivation against Detainees’.

Operation Sandman is also known as the ‘Frequent Flyer Program’. Salim Hamdan was subjected to fifty days of Operation Sandman (See Glaberson, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/15/us/15gitmo.html?_r=1). Mohammad Jawad was moved 112 times from cell to cell over a fourteen day period. See ACLU, ‘Major David J.R. Frakt’s Closing Argument in Favour of Dismissal of the Case Against Mohammad Jawad’, 19th June, 2008.

3. Sensory Deprivation

Sensory deprivation is used to instil a sense of fear, disorientation and cause dependency on their captor. In the 1950s the CIA funded a study into human behaviour and mind control in response to the Cold War. Dr Hebb of McGill University conducted studies on people to induce a state akin to psychosis by placing students in air-conditioned cubicles with earmuffs, gloves and goggles. Within 24 hours they began to experience hallucinations, and by 48 hours complete breakdown and disintegration of personality. Sensory deprivation has also been attributed to increased pain sensitivity and increased psychological stress. According to the Kubark manual, sensory deprivation makes the detainee more susceptible to the interrogator. See, Professor McCoy, ‘Hicks ‘Severely Damaged’, says CIA expert’, ABC Lateline, 13th June, 2006; and, John Zubeck, ‘Sensory and Perceptual Motor Process’, in Zubeck (ed.), ‘Sensory Deprivation: Fifteen Years of Research’, Meredith, New York, 1969, p.232; and Physicians for Human rights, Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by U.S. Personnel and its Impact’.

4. Solitary Confinement/Isolation

Solitary confinement is strictly prohibited under international law. It is a cruel practice which causes permanent psychological damage. The impacts can range from hallucinations, emotional damage, delusions and impaired cognitive functioning to anxiety and depression. Solitary confinement is outlawed under the Convention Against Torture, ICCPR and the Geneva Conventions. Camp 5, 6, and Echo are also considered solitary under international law; in other words, David spent the majority of his time in solitary confinement. See, Human Rights Watch, Locked Up Alone: Detention Conditions and Mental Health at Guantanamo, June 9, 2008; and The Istanbul Statement on the Use and Effects of Solitary Confinement, Adopted 9th December, 2007 at the International Psychological Trauma Symposium.

5. Mock Executions

It is contrary to international law to allow a prisoner to think that he is going to be executed. The ICRC complained to the military officials saying that ‘The detainees think they are being taken to be shot’. Apparently military officials debated whether to tell the detainees the truth, but decided to wait until after the first round of interrogations. See, Joseph Margulies, ‘Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power’, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2006, p.65; and David Rose, ‘Guantanamo: America’s War on Human Rights’, Faber & Faber Ltd., London, 2004, p. 51-53.

6. Forced Medication

Medical experimentation was outlawed under international law since its use in Nazi concentration camps. The history of U.S. medical experimentation, for interrogation purposes, began with the MKULTRA program which was enacted by the CIA in response to the Cold War. A number of biological agents and drugs were tested on people, including prisoners and prostitutes, to find substances that led to mind control and behaviour modification. Recently the US military has confirmed that they used high doses of Larium that caused neuropsychiatric effects- including suicidal thoughts and behaviours, and psyhcosis. See, Jason Leopold & Jeffrey Kaye, ‘Controversial Drug Given to All Guantanamo Detainees Akin to “Pharmacologic Waterboarding’, Truthout, 9th May 2011; and Dani Veracity, ‘Human Medical Experimentation in the United States: The Shocking True History of Modern Medicine and Psychiatry (1833-1965)’, 6th March, 2006; and Amnesty International Australia, ‘Human Experimentation in Guantanamo Bay’, 28th September 2009; and Physicians for Human Rights, ‘Health Professionals’ Ethics and Human Rights Violations Revealed in the May 2004 CIA’s Inspector General’s Report’, August, 2009. Documentation of reports of detainees being given injections or other medications without consent can be found in Physicians for Human Rights, Physicians for Human Rights 2008 report, ‘Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by U.S. Personnel and its Impact’, p.8.

7. The Use of Dogs to Scare Detainees

The use of dogs to threaten and intimidate detainees can be traced back to the France, Belgium and the concentration camps during Nazi Germany (See, Darius Rejali, Torture and Democracy). In a 2002 memo, Defense Department lawyer, Jim Haynes wrote a memo authorising the use of sleep deprivation, stress positions, nudity and dogs. An investigation into FBI allegations of detainee abuse (The Schmidt Report) found that ‘military interrogators improperly used military working dogs during interrogation sessions to threaten detainees…’ The Schmidt Report, Investigation into FBI Allegations of Detainee Abuse at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba Detention Facility, 1 Apr 05 (Amended 9 Jun 05). The use of dogs to intimidate at Guantanamo was such an effective technique it was transported to Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan and Iraq in an approved plan to ‘scare-up’ prisoners.

‘I still see the dogs in my dreams- that they are coming for me and are going to bite me.’ Detainee describing the fear the dogs created for him upon arrival at Guantanamo. See, ‘Hadyar’s testimony’ in, Physicians for Human Rights 2008 report, ‘Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by U.S. Personnel and its Impact’, p.47.

8. Temperature Extremes

Using temperature extremes as a form of torture has been used for many years by many different countries. It was the Brazilian’s who switched from heat to cold cells in 1966. The ‘cold cell’, which was used in Guantanamo was authorised in 2005 as part of the CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, however, they were using it before long before. The Haynes 2002 memo, signed off by Donald Rumsfeld, authorised this technique. See, Philippe Sands, ‘Torture Team’, Penguin Books, London, 2008, p.4-6; and, Darius Rejali, ‘Torture and Democracy’, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2007, pp.351-353.

Leaving people in ‘Sweatboxes’ has been used for centuries. In Vietnam, shipping containers left over by American forces were used to torture people in the intense heat of the tropical climate. The same technique has been applied in Guantanamo. An investigation into improper interrogations noted this technique noting; ‘That military interrogators improperly used extremes of heat and cold during their interrogation of detainees.’ See, ‘The Schmidt Report’, Investigation into FBI Allegations of Detainee Abuse at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba Detention Facility, 1 Apr 05 (Amended 9 Jun 05); and Darius Rejali, ‘Torture and Democracy’, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2007, p.351-353.

9. Sensory Bombardment (Noise)

Noise has been used by torturers to either mask sounds of others being tortured, such as when children’s music was played by the Gestapo when beating Walter Bauer, or when they are trying to disrupt sleep, terrorise or create emotions within the prisoners. In 2004, a U.S. military official admitted that ‘uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear, having them sit in a chair with shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forcing them to endure strobe lights and screaming loud rock and rap music played through two close loudspeakers, while the air conditioning was turned up to maximum levels.’ See, Neil A. Lewis, ‘Broad Use of Harsh Interrogation Techniques is Described at Cuba’, New York Times, October 17th 2004; and Darius Rejali, ‘Torture and Democracy’, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2007, p.360-366. Australian officials attributed the noise over the years to ‘construction and equipment noise’, after David submitted a complaint about not being able to sleep to Australian embassy officials. Letter to David Mcleod from Simeon Gelding, Assistant Secretary Consular Branch, 23rd March, 2006.

10. Watching Others Being Tortured

Witnessing torture and violence can have the same psychological effects of actually experiencing the violence. Scientists have found that psychological manipulation techniques, such as deprivation, humiliation and forced stress positions cause as much mental stress as physical pain. See, JAMA and Archives Journals, ‘Psychological And Physical Torture Have Similar Mental Effects’, ScienceDaily, 6th March 2007.

11. Psychological Techniques

Psychologically abusive techniques were used to disrupt sleep and disorient detainees. The CIA’s KUBARK manual suggests that interrogations aided by the use of temperature extremes, noise bombardment and sleep deprivation are able to induce ‘regression, psychic disintegration, and feelings of helplessness that lower prisoners’ defences.’ This of course, leads to signed confessions and more malleable prisoners. For more information see, Physicians for Human Rights 2008 report, ‘Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by U.S. Personnel and its Impact’; and Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR), ‘Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment of Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba’, July, 2006.

During interrogations, intelligence branches and BSCT teams (psychologists and psychiatrists) sat behind double sided glass to watch detainees being interrogated. Their job was to provide information on the detainee’s mental health, weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The Kiley Report confirms that medical personnel were utilised during interrogations. The ICRC called this ‘a flagrant violation of medical ethics.’  See, The Centre for the Study of Human rights in the America’s, ‘ICRC:Analysis’; and The Kiley Report, Kevin C. Kiley, ‘Assessment of Detainee Medical Operations for OEF, GTMO, and OIF, Office of the Surgeon General Army, 13th April, 2005; and ‘Steven Miles, Medical Ethics and the Interrogation of Guantanamo 063’,The American Journal of Bioethics, 7(4):5.

Seemingly menial techniques were also employed, such as forcing detainees to read children’s books. News organisations reported that an interrogator read a Harry Potter book to a detainee for hours in order to ‘wear down the detainee’. Keeping detainees in a ‘childlike’ state was considered advantageous to the interrogators because they were more suggestible and malleable. See, AP, ‘Pols: Gitmo Conditions Have Improved’, 27th June, 2005.

‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Techniques

Although these techniques were used before 2002, the military responded to General Miller’s request by seeking legal approval for ‘harsher’ interrogation methods. They split the methods into three categories, the third category being the most brutal. The methods authorised included: stress positions, mock executions, solitary confinement, hooding and other forms of sensory deprivation, removal of ‘comfort items’, forced nudity, forced grooming, taking advantage of the detainees fears (dogs), exposure to cold weather or water and allowing an interrogator to use ‘a wet towel and dripping water to induce the misperception of suffocation.’ See, Joseph Margulies, ‘Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power’, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2006, p.97.

Abu Ghraib- The Connection to Guantanamo

The techniques used at Abu Ghraib were first used at Guantanamo. General Geoffrey Miller was sent to Abu Ghraib to ‘gitmo-ise’ it. The Taguba report found the intentional abuse of detainees by; forcing groups of males to masturbate, forcing male and female detainees into sexually explicit poses for photographing, punching, slapping and kicking detainees, arranging naked male detainees in a pile, a male guard raping a female detainee, writing ‘i am a rapest’ (sic) on the leg of a detainee alleged to have raped a 15 year old fellow detainee then photographing him naked and positioning a naked detainee on an MRE box with a sandbag on his head and attaching wires to his fingers, penis and toes to simulate electric shock, and taking photographs of dead Iraqi detainees. See, The Taguba report, ‘Article 15-6 Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade’, 2004. Redacted version available from http://www.npr.org/iraq/2004/prison_abuse_report.pdf; and, Seymour Hersh, ‘Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib’, HarperCollins, New York, 2004; and, David Rose, ‘Guantanamo: America’s War on Human Rights’, Faber & Faber Ltd., London, 2004, p. 82.

The Torture Memos

The memos authorised interrogation techniques that included Attention Grasp, Walling, Facial Hold, Facial Slap (Insult Slap), Cramped Confinement, Wall Standing, Stress Positions, Sleep Deprivation, Insects Placed in Confinement Box; and Waterboarding. These techniques were discussed in the recently leaked International Committee of the Red Cross report which outlined the treatment of 14 ‘high value detainees’.

In one of the memos Steven Bradbury explores the psychological tool of ‘learned helplessness’ and how it is employed to condition detainees through techniques such as ‘nudity’, ‘dietary manipulation’ and ‘sleep deprivation’. This results in a total reliance on their captors for meeting basic human needs. Bradbury noted that sleep deprivation could consist of shackling the prisoner naked and in a ‘diaper’, as long as the diaper is ‘checked regularly’ and that this would not cause “severe physical suffering”.

Read the memos here (46 pages) http://stream.luxmedia501.com/?file=clients/aclu/olc_05102005_bradbury46pg.pdf&method, here (20 pages) http://stream.luxmedia501.com/?file=clients/aclu/olc_05102005_bradbury_20pg.pdf&, and here (40 pages) http://stream.luxmedia501.com/?file=clients/aclu/olc_05302005_bradbury.pdf&method

For a good summary of the memos, see Amnesty International, The ‘Torture Memos’, 4th May, 2009. Available at http://www.amnesty.org.au/hrs/comments/20923/. The ‘ICRC report on the treatment of fourteen ‘high value detainees in CIA custody’ is available at, http://www.nybooks.com/icrc-report.pdf; also see Mark Danner, ‘US Torture: Voices From the Black Sites, New York Review of Books, 9th April, 2009. Available at, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22530. The CIA Inspector General’s Report is available at, http://media.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/nation/documents/cia_oig_report.pdf; or a summary is available here, http://www.amnesty.org.au/hrs/comments/21585/.

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