(photo: Truthout.org)

“Every day, women, men and children are tortured or ill-treated with the intention of destroying their sense of dignity and human worth,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared. He called on countries to “provide concrete support for victims of torture and prove their commitment to fighting a cruel and dehumanizing practice that remains pervasive.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) points out, “On June 26, 1987, exactly twenty-five years ago, the Convention Against Torture became binding upon the nations that had ratified it.” So, today is not just some international day the United States and other powerful countries in the world will pay lip service to. Twenty-five years ago, an anti-torture convention was passed that the US then disregarded and violated explicitly when Bush was in power.

Although President Barack Obama signed an executive order supposedly aimed at ending the use of torture techniques authorized by the Bush administration, violations of the Convention continue. Obama has effectively decriminalized torture by refusing to pursue prosecutions of former Bush administration officials. As former President Jimmy Carter noted in a scathing op-ed yesterday, evidence of torture or intimidation by military interrogators cannot be used by prisoners at Guantanamo “as a defense” because “the government claims they occurred under the cover of ‘national security.’”

The Supreme Court in April made it even more difficult for torture victims to pursue justice when they ruled, under an anti-torture law passed in 1992, foreign political organizations and multinational corporations could not be sued for the torture or extrajudicial killing of persons abroad.

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez has been denied “unimpeded access” to prisons and prisoners in solitary confinement so he can do his work. Mendez has spent well over a year now trying to get a “private, unmonitored and privileged” meeting with Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of releasing classified information to WikiLeaks who was held in isolation when he was imprisoned at Quantico Marine brig. He officially condemned the US for its treatment of Manning and has called out the United States for its use of solitary confinement in prisons, which he considers to be “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and even torture.”

To recognize the importance of the day, the ACLU launched a “Torture Database” that contains “over 100,000 pages of documents related to the Bush administration’s rendition, detention, and interrogation policies and practices.” Since the ACLU’s Alexander Abdo wrote an article calling attention to the Obama administration’s obfuscation of information on CIA interrogation, I find it appropriate to take a look at some of the passages from records that are in this database.

The intention is not for this post to be a definitive representation of CIA torture. Rather, the posting of sections from released documents aims to (1) remind the public that these documents are significant and were released and do, still to this day, contain details that should have led to prosecutions and (2) ensure victims of CIA torture are not forgotten by providing a sample on torture committed.

Here’s a sampling of some of the appalling instances of torture described in records the ACLU obtained:

CIA Memo: Guidelines on Interrogations” [Jan 28, 2003]

Enhanced Techniques are techniques that do incorporate physical or psychological pressure beyond Standard Techniques. The use of each specific Enhanced Technique must be approved by Headquarters in advance, and may be employed only by approved interrogators for use with the specific detainee, with appropriate medical and psychological participation in the process. These techniques are, the attention grasp, walling, the facial hold, the facial slap (insult slap), the abdominal slap, cramped confinement, wall standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation beyond 72 hours, the use of diapers for prolonged periods, the use of harmless insects, the water board, and such other techniques as may be specifically approved…The use of each Enhanced Technique is subject to specific temporal, physical and related conditions, including a competent evaluation of the medical and psychological state of the detainee.

OLC Memo re: approving the use of four ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ on a specific CIA detainee” [August 26, 2004]:

Medical officers will be present to observe [REDACTED] whenever water dousing and/or abdominal slaps are used and will closely monitor him while he is subject to dietary manipulation (in addition to the normal monitoring of him throughout his detention) to ensure that he does not sustain any physical or mental harm. This includes making sure that [REDACTED] can sustain a normal body temperature after dousing and that his intake of fluids and nutrition are adequate.

CIA Memo re: ‘horizontal sleep deprivation’ and the use of waterboarding in conjunction with other techniques” [April 22, 2005]

Horizontal Sleep Deprivation

On three occasions early in the program, the interrogation team and the attendant medical officers identified the potential for unacceptable edema in the lower limbs of detainees undergoing interrogation. In order to permit the limbs to recover without impairing sleep deprivation requirements, the subjects underwent horizontal sleep deprivation. Horizontal sleep deprivation occurs when a detainee is placed prone on the floor on top of a thick towel or blanket, a precaution designed to prevent reduction of body temperature through direct contact with the cell floor. The detainee’s hands are manacled together and the arms placed in outstretched position — either extended beyond the head or extended to either side of the body —and anchored to a far point on the floor in such a manner that the arms cannot be bent or used for balance or comfort. At the same time, the ankles are shackled together and the legs are extended in a straight line with the body, and anchored to a far point on the floor in such a manner that the legs cannot be bent or used for balance or comfort. The manacles and shackles are anchored without additional stress on any of the arm or leg joints that might force the limbs beyond neutral extension or create tension on any joint. The position is sufficiently uncomfortable to detainees to deprive them of unbroken sleep, while allowing their lower limbs to recover from the effects of standing sleep deprivation. All standard precautions and procedures for shackling are observed for both hands and feet while in this position. Horizontal sleep deprivation has been used until the detainee’s affected limbs have demonstrated sufficient recovery to return to sitting or standing sleep deprivation mode, as warranted by the requirements of the interrogation team, and subject to determination by medical officer that there is not contraindication to resuming other sleep deprivation modes. [emphasis added]

Special Review: Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (Office of the Inspector General, CIA)” [May 7, 2004]:

Pressure Points

In July 2002, [REDACTED] operations officer, participated with another operations officer in a custodial interrogation of a detainee [REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED] reportedly used a “pressure point” technique: with both of his hands on the detainee’s neck, [REDACTED REDACTED] manipulated his finger’s to restrict the detainee’s carotid artery…

Mock Executions

…The debriefer who employed the handgun and power drill on Al-Nashiri [REDACTED] advised that those actions were predicated on a technique he had participated in [REDACTED]. The debriefer stated that when he was [REDACTED] between September and October 2002, [REDACTED] offered to fire a handgun outside the interrogation room while the debriefer was interviewing a detainee who was thought to be withholding information. [REDACTED] staged the incident, which included screaming and yelling outside the cell by other CIA officers and [REDACTED] guards. When the guards moved the detainee from the interrogation room, they passed a guard who was dressed as a hooded detainee lying motionless on the ground, and made to appear as if he had been shot…

Use of Smoke

…A CIA officer [REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED] admitted that he has personally used smoke inhalation techniques on detainees to make them ill to the point where they would start to “purge.” After this, in a weakened state, these detainees would then provide [REDACTED REDACTED] with information…

This last example came from a review that was heavily redacted. Here’s an example of what many of the pages detailing CIA abuse and torture look like:


But, as Abdo notes in his article published today, not only has the government redacted substantial portions of key documents related to CIA torture, but it also continues to “withhold hundreds of CIA cables describing the use of waterboarding and other harsh techniques, hundreds of photographs of detainee abuse throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, and the presidential memorandum that authorized the CIA to establish its secret prisons overseas.”