To coincide with the publication of my article, “What Torture Is, and Why It’s Illegal and Not ‘Poor Judgment,’” in which I revisited the scandalous whitewash of the Justice Department report into the conduct of John Yoo and Jay Bybee (the lawyers who sought to redefine torture in the notorious “torture memos” of August 2002), I reproduce below a transcript of the statements made by the “high-value detainee” Abu Zubaydah during interviews with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, following his transfer to Guantánamo from secret CIA prisons in September 2006.
Abu Zubaydah’s testimony comes from the leaked ICRC report on the 14 “high-value detainees” who arrived in Guantánamo in September 2006, which was published last April by the New York Review of Books (PDF), and I’m posting it here because it complements the main themes of my article: that torture cannot be redefined, that what took place was demonstrably torture, that John Yoo deliberately ignored evidence that contradicted his agenda, and that hundreds of prisoners — both in Guantánamo and secret prisons — were subjected to some variation on the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that were approved for use on Abu Zubaydah in the “torture memos” written and approved by Yoo and Bybee. I also believe that it’s clear from the chronology established by Abu Zubaydah that his torture began long before the memos were issued on August 1, 2002, through prolonged sleep deprivation if nothing else, and would like to point out that, during this period, approval for the techniques used on him had to be personally approved at the highest levels of the administration.
As the ICRC explained in an introduction to Zubaydah’s statements, “Abu Zubaydah reported the following regarding his detention in Afghanistan, where he was held for approximately nine months from May 2002 to February 2003. He had previously been held in hospital for what he believes were several weeks and had several operations to severe gunshot injuries sustained at the time of arrest.”
I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. The room measured approximately 4m x 4m. The room had three solid walls, with the fourth wall consisting of metal bars separating it from a larger room. I am not sure how long I remained in the bed. After some time, I think it was several days, but can’t remember exactly, I was transferred to a chair where I was kept, shackled by hands and feet for what I think was the next 2 to 3 weeks. During this time I developed blisters on the underside of my legs due to the constant sitting. I was only allowed to get up from the chair to go the toilet, which consisted of a bucket. Water for cleaning myself was provided in a plastic bottle.
I was given no solid food during the first two or three weeks, while sitting on the chair. I was only given Ensure [a nutrient supplement] and water to drink. At first the Ensure made me vomit, but this became less with time.
The cell and room were air-conditioned and were very cold. Very loud, shouting type music was constantly playing. It kept repeating about every fifteen minutes twenty-four hours a day. Sometimes the music stopped and was replaced by a loud hissing or crackling noise.
The guards were American, but wore masks to conceal their faces. My interrogators did not wear masks.
During this first two to three week period I was questioned for about one to two hours each day. American interrogators would come to the room and speak to me through the bars of the cell. During the questioning the music was switched off, but was then put back on again afterwards. I could not sleep at all for the first two to three weeks. If I started to fall asleep one of the guards would come and spray water in my face.
After about two or three weeks I began to receive food, rice, to eat on a daily basis. They gave it once a day. I could eat with my hand, but I was not allowed to wash. It was also around this time that I was allowed to lie on the floor. I remained naked and in shackles, but I could sleep a little. It went on like this for about another one and a half months.
During the first few days a doctor came and gave me an injection. I was told it was an antibiotic. After about one and a half to two months I was examined by a female doctor who asked why I was still naked. My measurements were taken and the next day, I was provided with orange clothes to wear. This was followed, however, by more threats that worse was to follow.
Indeed, the next day guards came in to my cell. They told me to stand up and raise my arms above my head. They then cut the clothes off of me so that I was again naked and put me back on the chair for several days. I tried to sleep on the chair, but was again kept awake by the guards spraying water in my face.
When my interrogators had the impression that I was cooperating and providing the information they required, the clothes were given back to me. When they felt I was being less cooperative the clothes were again removed and I was put again on the chair. This was repeated several times.
Eventually (I don’t remember after how long), I was allowed to have a mattress and was given a towel to use as a sheet to cover myself with while sleeping. I was allowed some tissue paper to use when going to toilet on the bucket.
There then followed a period of about one month with no questioning. During this period I was given food, rice and beans, on a daily basis, varying between once and twice a day. They also continued to give me Ensure to drink. My cell was still very cold and the loud music no longer played, but there was a constant loud hissing or crackling noise, which played twenty-four hours a day. I tried to block out the noise by putting tissue in my ears.
There then followed a period of about one month with no questioning. Then, about two and a half or three months after I arrived in this place, the interrogation began again, but with more intensity than before. Then the real torturing started. Two black wooden boxes were brought into the room outside my cell. One was tall, slightly higher than me and narrow. Measuring perhaps in area 1m x 0.75m and 2m in height. The other was shorter, perhaps only 1m in height. I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck, they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room. I was also repeatedly slapped in the face….
I was then put into the tall black box for what I think was about one and a half to two hours. The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside … They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe. When I was let out of the box I saw that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury.
During these torture sessions many guards were present, plus two interrogators who did the actual beating, still asking questions, while the main interrogator left to return after the beating was over. After the beating I was then placed in the small box. They placed a cloth or cover over the box to cut out all light and restrict my air supply. As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds. The stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful. I think this occurred about 3 months after my last operation. It was always cold in the room, but when the cover was placed over the box it made it hot and sweaty inside. The wound on my leg began to open and started to bleed. I don’t know how long I remained in the small box, I think I may have slept or maybe fainted.
I was then dragged from the small box, unable to walk properly and put on what looked like a hospital bed, and strapped down very tightly with belts. A black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe. After a few minutes the cloth was removed and the bed was rotated into an upright position. The pressure of the straps on my wounds was very painful. I vomited. The bed was then again lowered to horizontal position and the same torture carried out again with the black cloth over my face and water poured on from a bottle. On this occasion my head was in a more backward, downwards position and the water was poured on for a longer time. I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless. I thought I was going to die. I lost control of my urine. Since then I still lose control of my urine when under stress.
I was then placed again in the tall box. While I was inside the box loud music was played again and somebody kept banging repeatedly on the box from the outside. I tried to sit down on the floor, but because of the small space the bucket with urine tipped over and spilt over me. I remained in the box for several hours, maybe overnight. I was then taken out and again a towel was wrapped around my neck and I was smashed into the wall with the plywood covering and repeatedly slapped in the face by the same two interrogators as before.
I was then made to sit on the floor with a black hood over my head until the next session of torture began. The room was always kept very cold.
This went on for approximately one week. During this time the whole procedure was repeated five times. On each occasion, apart from one, I was suffocated once or twice and was put in the vertical position on the bed in between. On one occasion the suffocation was repeated three times. I vomited each time I was put in the vertical position between the suffocation.
During that week I was not given any solid food. I was only given Ensure to drink. My head and beard were shaved everyday.
I collapsed and lost consciousness on several occasions. Eventually the torture was stopped by the intervention of the doctor.
I was told during this period that I was one of the first to receive these interrogation techniques, so no rules applied. It felt like they were experimenting and trying out techniques to be used later on other people.
At the end of this period two women and a man came to interrogate me. I was still naked and, because of this, I refused to answer any questions. So they again repeatedly slapped me in the face and smashed me against the wall using the towel around my neck. The following day I was given a towel to wear around my waist, but I was still very cold.
Then, little by little, things started to get better. I was again given rice to eat. Then my mattress was returned. I was allowed to clean my cell. The tall box was removed, but the short one remained in the room outside my cell, I think as a deliberate reminder as to what my interrogators were capable of. One week after the end of torture I was given a pair of green shorts and a top to wear. The food also improved with the addition of beans and fruit.
I was provided with water and allowed to wash inside the cell. However, the loud noise continued throughout the nine months I spent in that place. I was never given any outdoor time.
Note: Mark Danner’s article analyzing the ICRC report, published in the New York Review of Books on April 9, 2009, is available here.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
For a sequence of articles dealing with the use of torture by the CIA, on “high-value detainees,” and in the secret prisons, see: Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man (July 2007), Jane Mayer on the CIA’s “black sites,” condemnation by the Red Cross, and Guantánamo’s “high-value” detainees (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) (August 2007), Waterboarding: two questions for Michael Hayden about three “high-value” detainees now in Guantánamo (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now? And What About the Torture? (February 2008), The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts (April 2008), Guantánamo Trials: Another Torture Victim Charged (Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, July 2008), Secret Prison on Diego Garcia Confirmed: Six “High-Value” Guantánamo Prisoners Held, Plus “Ghost Prisoner” Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (August 2008), Will the Bush administration be held accountable for war crimes? (December 2008), The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part One) and The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part Two) (December 2008), Prosecuting the Bush Administration’s Torturers (March 2009), Abu Zubaydah: The Futility Of Torture and A Trail of Broken Lives (March 2009), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part One), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part Two), 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow Condemns Bush Torture Program, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah?, CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months before DoJ Approval, Even In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low (all April 2009), Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi Has Died In A Libyan Prison , Dick Cheney And The Death Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, The “Suicide” Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence?, Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s “Suicide”, Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney On Use Of Torture To Invade Iraq, In the Guardian: Death in Libya, betrayal by the West (in the Guardian here), Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney’s Iraq Lies Again (And Rumsfeld And The CIA) (all May 2009) and WORLD EXCLUSIVE: New Revelations About The Torture Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (June 2009), The Logic of the 9/11 Trials, The Madness of the Military Commissions (November 2009), UK Judges Compare Binyam Mohamed’s Torture To That Of Abu Zubaydah (November 2009), UN Secret Detention Report Asks, “Where Are The CIA Ghost Prisoners?” (January 2010), Binyam Mohamed: Evidence of Torture by US Agents Revealed in UK (February 2010). Also see the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.
For other stories discussing the use of torture in secret prisons, see: An unreported story from Guantánamo: the tale of Sanad al-Kazimi (August 2007), Rendered to Egypt for torture, Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni is released from Guantánamo (September 2008), A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” (December 2008), Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story (March 2009), When Torture Kills: Ten Murders In US Prisons In Afghanistan (July 2009), US Torture Under Scrutiny In British Courts (July 2009), What The British Government Knew About The Torture Of Binyam Mohamed (August 2009), Torture in Bagram and Guantánamo: The Declaration of Ahmed al-Darbi (September 2009), UK Judges Order Release Of Details About The Torture Of Binyam Mohamed By US Agents (October 2009), “Model Prisoner” at Guantánamo, Tortured in the “Dark Prison,” Loses Habeas Corpus Petition (December 2009), Dark Revelations in the Bagram Prisoner List (January 2010), and also see the extensive Binyam Mohamed archive.
And for other stories discussing torture at Guantánamo and/or in “conventional” US prisons in Afghanistan, see: The testimony of Guantánamo detainee Omar Deghayes: includes allegations of previously unreported murders in the US prison at Bagram airbase (August 2007), Guantánamo Transcripts: “Ghost” Prisoners Speak After Five And A Half Years, And “9/11 hijacker” Recants His Tortured Confession (September 2007), The Trials of Omar Khadr, Guantánamo’s “child soldier” (November 2007), Former US interrogator Damien Corsetti recalls the torture of prisoners in Bagram and Abu Ghraib (December 2007), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo (April 2008), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns “Chaotic” Trials in Case of Teenage Torture Victim (Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child (Mohammed El-Gharani, January 2009), Bush Era Ends With Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Forgotten in Guantánamo: British Resident Shaker Aamer (March 2009), A Child At Guantánamo: The Unending Torment of Mohamed Jawad (June 2009), Torture In Guantánamo: The Force-feeding Of Hunger Strikers (June 2009), As Judge Orders Release Of Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner, Government Refuses To Concede Defeat (Mohamed Jawad, July 2009), Torture And Futility: Is This The End Of The Military Commissions At Guantánamo? (September 2009), A Truly Shocking Guantánamo Story: Judge Confirms That An Innocent Man Was Tortured To Make False Confessions (Fouad al-Rabiah, September 2009), UK Court Orders Release Of Torture Evidence In The Case Of Shaker Aamer, The Last British Resident In Guantánamo (December 2009), Shaker Aamer: UK Government Drops Opposition To Release Of Torture Evidence (December 2009), Afghan Nobody Faces Trial by Military Commission (January 2010), Murders at Guantánamo: Scott Horton of Harper’s Exposes the Truth about the 2006 “Suicides” (January 2010), Two Algerian Torture Victims Are Freed from Guantánamo (January 2010), and the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.
I just received the following comment from Ahmed Errachidi, who was released from Guantanamo in 2007:
….and it was all committed in the name of serving the country, in the name of national security, in the name of freedom; the first thing you will see by the entrance of guantanamo camps is this big writing that says:”honor bound to defend freedom”and when two soldiers met while walking inside the camps one of them will start greeting the other soldiers by saying “honor bound” and the other will reply “to defend freedom” while they are taking some detainees to torture session, it has happened with me as an ex detainee, after 8 hours strapped with shakkles to a chair in extream cold, stress position, sleep deprivation,and when taking me back to my cell sometimes they will beat me while in shakkles, and then the soldiers would pull me by my shakkles face on a gravel ground, and this torture session went on for 23 days. The military is the worst place where torture can take place, because the soldiers follow orders from their chain of command, and to encourage them to do so, they were told by the interrogators that detainees will never face trial and never will be allowed to go home. It means nobody will be held responsible for any wrong doings, therefor the indefinit detention without trial, and the military orders combine a perfect ingredient for torture under the cover of so called war on terror, adding to that the existance of some soldiers who would feed on torture and hate so guantanamo had became a perfect furtil soil for torture and hate. I think that guantanamo is not a problem that faces detainees and their families only but it is a problem that challenges every citizen of this world who believe in justice and human rights ………..and i think those two black boxes in abu zubaidah case will go down in history as some of the us intelligence contribution towards modern torture in the 21 century, and i wonder did the the british intelligence knew about it or maybe they have their own contribution as well……….
ahmed errachidi 590 ex detainee without trial
Thanks, Ahmed. It’s good to to hear from you, and it’s always important to read your insights.
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