Ag19

The one symbol as offensive as the Bush administration's decision to use Abu Ghraib prison for the deployment of cruel and inhuman punishment of prisoners was the use of former Soviet black sites for other "interrogations" of high value suspects. But I never felt this resonance as viscerally as I do after reading this. The parallels with the Gestapo "enhanced interrogation" program have been established. But Mark Danner shows the Soviet parallels - explains them physically and psychologically - in really helpful, if chilling, ways. Take this example of classic torture methods from the Soviet State Political Directorate (GPU):

They consisted usually of tying the victim in a strait-jacket to an iron bunk. The strait-jacket was his only clothing; he had no blanket, no food and was unable to go to the lavatory. With a gag in his mouth and a stopper in his rectum he would be given periodic beatings with rubber poles.

Now compare what Bush and Cheney authorized:

In the “black sites,” the same end was achieved by forced nudity and what the Red Cross terms, in its chapter of the same name, “prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles.” One of the fourteen detainees, for example, tells the Red Cross investigators that

he was kept for four and a half months continuously handcuffed and seven months with the ankles continuously shackled while detained in Kabul in 2003/4. On two occasions, his shackles had to be cut off his ankles as the locking mechanism had ceased to function, allegedly due to rust.

This technique, like other of the “alternative set of procedures” detailed by the Red Cross, seems to have been consistently applied to many of the fourteen “high-value” detainees. Walid bin Attash told the Red Cross investigators that

he was kept permanently handcuffed and shackled throughout his first six months of detention. During the four months he was held in his third place of detention, when not kept in the prolonged stress standing position [with his hands shackled to the ceiling], his ankle shackles were allegedly kept attached by a one meter long chain to a pin fixed in the corner of the room where he was held.

As with the GPU set of procedures, prisoners were kept naked, deprived of blankets, mattresses, and other necessities, and deprived of food. As for “the stopper in the rectum,” it was supplied by the GPU to deal with the practical if unpleasant problem of how to cope, in the case of a person who is naked and entirely under restraint and at the same time experiencing prolonged and extreme pain, with the inevitable consequences of his bodily functions. The Americans at the “black sites,” who had also to face this unpleasant necessity, particularly when holding detainees in “stress positions,” for example, forcing them for many days to stand naked with their hands shackled to a bolt in the ceiling and their ankles shackled to a bolt in the floor, developed their own equivalent:

While being held in this position some of the detainees were allowed to defecate in a bucket. A guard would come to release their hands from the bar or hook in the ceiling so that they could sit on the bucket. None of them, however, were allowed to clean themselves afterwards. Others were made to wear a garment that resembled a diaper. This was the case for Mr. Bin Attash in his fourth place of detention. However, he commented that on several occasions the diaper was not replaced so he had to urinate and defecate on himself while shackled in the prolonged stress standing position. Indeed, in addition to Mr. Bin Attash, three other detainees specified that they had to defecate and urinate on themselves and remain standing in their own bodily fluids.

One turns, finally, to those “periodic beatings with rubber poles” that the GPU administered. No rubber poles are to be found in the Red Cross report. Once again, Agabuse though, as with the stopper in the rectum and the diapers, the rubber poles simply represent the GPU’s practical solution to a problem shared by the CIA at the “black sites”: How can one beat a detainee repeatedly without causing debilitating or permanent injury that might make him unfit for further interrogation? How, that is, to get the pain and its effect while minimizing the physical consequences?

Where the GPU responded by developing rubber poles, the CIA created its plastic collar, “an improvised thick collar or neck roll,” as the Red Cross investigators describe it in Chapter 1.3.3 (“Beating by use of a collar”), that “was placed around their necks and used by their interrogators to slam them against the walls.” Though six of the fourteen detainees report the use of the “thick plastic collar,” which, according to Khaled Shaik Mohammed, would then be “held at the two ends by a guard who would use it to slam me repeatedly against the wall,” it is plain that this particular technique was perfected through experimentation. Indeed, the plastic collar seems to have begun as a rather simple mechanism: an everyday towel that was looped around the neck, the ends gathered in the guard’s fist. The collar appeared later and brought with it other innovations:

Mr. Abu Zubaydah commented that when the collar was first used on him in his third place of detention, he was slammed directly against a hard concrete wall. He was then placed in a tall box for several hours (see Section 1.3.5, Confinement in boxes). After he was taken out of the box he noticed that a sheet of plywood had been placed against the wall. The collar was then used to slam him against the plywood sheet. He thought that the plywood was in order to absorb some of the impact so as to avoid the risk of physical injury.