More Evidence of the Use of Water Torture at Guantánamo and in Afghanistan and Iraq


Three weeks ago, my colleague Jeffrey Kaye, a full-time psychologist in California who also manages to find time to pursue a second career as a blogger producing important work on America’s torture program, wrote an article for Truthout about the use of water torture at Guantánamo, which pulled together information that was previously available, but scattered around a number of different sources, and which, I’m delighted to note, secured a wide audience online, also attracting interest in the mainstream media.

As a follow-up, Jeff recently wrote another article for Truthout, providing further examples of the use of water as a torture technique, not only in Guantánamo, but also in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to mark my return to work after two weeks away in Greece, I’m cross-posting his latest article as my own follow-up, because I cross-posted his earlier article just before my departure for Athens and Agistri, and I hope that making both articles available here will ensure that they reach new readers who have not yet come across Jeff’s work.

More Evidence of Water Torture “Depravity” in Rumsfeld’s Military
By Jeffrey Kaye, Truthout, August 18, 2011

There have been a number of cases of detainees held by the Department of Defense (DoD) who have been subjected to water torture, including some that come very close to waterboarding, according to an investigation by Truthout. The prisoners have been held in a number of settings, from Afghanistan and Iraq to Guantánamo Bay.

In a number of settings, DoD spokespeople in the past — most notably former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld — have denied the use of waterboarding by DoD personnel. But as examples of DoD water torture have multiplied, it appears government denials about “waterboarding” were overly legalistic, and that behind them, DoD personnel were hiding torture involving similar methods of choking, suffocation or near-drowning by water.

Reports of water-related torture by the military include having water forced into the nose or mouth by a hose, repeated dunking in water, pouring water over the head in such a way that it is difficult to breathe or over a piece of cloth or hood, dousing with high-pressure hoses, dousing or partial drowning in combination with the application of a chemical agent, and in a few instances, actually being thrown into a large body of water, such as a river.

An article in Truthout earlier this month [cross-posted here] documented a half-dozen cases of DoD prisoners subjected to waterboarding-style torture. The article also detailed discussions among high-ranking military and intelligence officials around the use of waterboarding, and the fact that interrupted or simulated drowning at a military site in Kandahar, called “water treatment” in this instance, was revealed at a Congressional hearing in May 2008.

Human rights and civil liberties groups have expressed concern over news of DoD water torture and have asked for further investigation.

Asked to respond on behalf of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the reports of such water torture, spokesperson Kathleen Long said the committee had “no comment.”

One web site, Lawfare, co-founded by former Department of Justice official Jack Goldsmith, who was involved in internal decisions surrounding torture inside the Bush administration, seemed confused by the Truthout report, complaining that “reports of waterboarding-like tortures at Guantánamo” lacked “any examples of the military’s using waterboarding, but refers to the repeated use of water in interrogations instead.”

Truthout continues to investigate further instances of DoD waterboarding-style torture at US military sites in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo.

“Waterboarding-style” torture refers to the use of water to provoke choking or suffocation by water, and, in some cases, the triggering of the sensation of drowning, if not actual drowning itself, but without actually following the CIA’s description of the waterboard procedure. It is has also been called “water treatment,” “water torture” and “drown-proofing.”

“The Interrogators Asked Me to Confess to Being a Part of 9/11”

In an affidavit filed on April 21, 2009, in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, Muhammad al-Ansi, a Yemeni accused of being a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, described his torture in a tent at Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan in the early weeks of 2001. According to al-Ansi, it began after a female interrogator became angry he would not “confess”:

Four American soldiers came and took me into another room. It was not a tent. They put me on a slab (the size and shape of a bed) made of bricks. I was made to lay on my stomach with my head hanging over the edge. They brought in a big water container and placed it under my head. They would [force] my head and shoulders [under] the water until I almost drowned and lift my head out at the last minute. They did this over and over. During this time, the interrogators asked me to confess to being a part of 9/11, confess I am part of al Qaeda, confess that I swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden, confess I have explosive weapons training, and confess to knowing several names that I had never heard of. This continued for one to two hours. I said nothing other than: “Have mercy on me.”

In another instance of torture in Afghanistan, in June 2008, Tom Lasseter reported for McClatchy that Ghalib Hassan, “a district chief in Nangarhar province for the Afghan Interior Ministry,” was detained “in a basement at an airstrip in Jalalabad during March 2003” by Special Forces troops.

According to Hassan, “At night they would strap me down on a cot, and put a bucket of water on the floor, in front of my head. And then they would tip the cot forward and dunk my head in the bucket … They would leave my head underwater and then jerk it out by my hair. I sometimes lost consciousness.”

Once again, the military personnel involved demanded that the prisoner confess, in this instance to supporting a former Taliban official. In fact, the Taliban had expelled Hassan in 1996, and he had fought with US-backed forces at Tora Bora against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Another case from Afghanistan concerned Saudi national Ahmed al-Darbi. Arrested by authorities in Azerbaijan in 2002 and later turned over to the Americans, he is the brother-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar. Al-Mihdhar is also famous for being one of two al-Qaeda suspects who US intelligence knew was attending a meeting with other suspected terrorists in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in January 2000. As it turned out, this meeting likely involved the planning of the 9/11 and USS Cole terrorist attacks.

In a recently aired video interview with filmmakers John Duffy and Ray Nowosielski, Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism “czar” who resigned during the Bush administration, charged former CIA director George Tenet and top CIA officials Cofer Black and Richard Blee with suppressing information about al-Mihdhar’s intent to enter the United States after the Malaysia meeting. The CIA deliberately had withheld cables to the FBI about al-Mihdhar entering the United States and failed to notify the State Department to put him and his traveling companion on the State Department watch list.

Al-Mihdhar’s brother-in-law, al-Darbi, was renditioned from Azerbaijan to Afghanistan in 2002 and was later sent to Guantánamo, where he remains to this day. In a declaration dated July 1, 2009, al-Darbi cited a number of instances of abuse and torture at both the Bagram prison in Afghanistan and later at Guantánamo.

At Bagram, al-Darbi stated, at times, “a sand bag or hood was placed over my head and tightened around my neck, and then they would grab my head and shake it violently while swearing at me and they would also pour water over my head while my head was covered.” The covering over the head while water is poured sounds very much like waterboarding. Al-Darbi also indicated that a powder, perhaps pepper spray, was applied to him and then water sprayed on him, so that the “water absorbed the powder and it burned my skin and made my nose run.”

More Water Torture at Guantánamo

In an August 2 Truthout article, six cases of water torture were described at the Cuban naval base prison. Two of these cases, including “near asphyxiation from water,” were described in an article published in an online medical journal earlier this year, but the identities of the detainees were kept anonymous.

Further investigation has found three more reports of such torture at Guantánamo and two cases of unique water torture, something between water dousing and waterboarding-style interrupted drowning.

One of the cases, of British citizen Tarek Dergoul, who was released from Guantánamo in 2004, involved treatment very similar to that reported by Omar Deghayes and Djamel Ameziane in the earlier Truthout article. According to an interview given to UK Guardian reporter David Rose, when Dergoul refused to have his cell searched for a third time on one day, an Extreme Reaction Force (ERF) squad was called.

“They pepper-sprayed me in the face and I started vomiting,” Dergoul reported. “In all I must have brought up five cupfuls. They pinned me down and attacked me, poking their fingers in my eyes, and forced my head into the toilet pan and flushed.” They continued to beat him and finally shaved off his hair, beard and eyebrows.

In another interview, Guantánamo detainee Salim Mahmoud Adem, a Sudanese national released in 2007, told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now that he had witnessed another prisoner having his head shoved repeatedly into a toilet. Interestingly, the story came up after Goodman asked about waterboarding.

AG: Salim, did — Salim, did you witness anyone waterboarded?

SMA: I did not see waterboarding, but my neighbor, they insulted the Qu’ran, so we refused to listen to the guards. So they would come with the riot police and enter into the cells, one by one. So they went into the cell of a Yemeni brother, whose name is Othman [phonetic]. After they tied him, his hands to his back, they put his head to the toilet and turned on the flush many times. And all of us could see it. This was a horrible sight.

The torture of Sami al-Haj, an Al Jazeera cameraman held at Guantánamo for seven years and finally released in 2008, presents a unique instance of torture involving forced application of water. Al-Haj was a hunger striker who, along with a number of other hunger strikers, was put on a forced feeding schedule. Civil rights attorney Candace Gorman, who has also represented some of the Guantánamo detainees, described the procedure in a May 2007 article for In These Times.

According to Gorman, al-Haj described his experience of forced feeding to his attorney. Al-Haj said he was strapped into a chair and had a tube painfully inserted through his nose twice each day. The attendants would blow air into the tube in order to ascertain its placement. Al-Haj would suffer in silence, “until tears stream down his cheeks.”

But sometimes things went even worse:

Three times they have inserted the tube the wrong way, so it went into his lungs. When they think that has happened they check by putting water into the tube, which makes him choke. Al-Haj says that never once have the hospital personnel apologized when the tube entered his lung.

Extreme “Water Dousing”

In a few reports, detainees have described a form of “water dousing” that went far beyond the description of the procedure given by the CIA. According to the 2004 CIA Inspector General (IG) report on “counterterrorism detention and interrogation activities,” which looked at the implementation of the so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques of the Bush administration, “water dousing” involved “laying a detainee down on a plastic sheet and pouring water over him for 10 to 15 minutes.” The room was to be maintained at room temperature.

In a 2008 Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) report, “Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by US Personnel and its Impact,” PHR quoted testimony by a detainee, Haydar (not his real name), who recalled having been sprayed with pepper spray and then hosed with high-pressure water. “This one female soldier subjected me to pepper gas and then sprayed me with water with extreme force — and I was writhing on the ground in pain,” Haydar said.

Another Guantánamo detainee, British citizen Jamal al-Harith, noted in a 2004 statement to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly that he knew of “three or four occasions guards using an industrial strength hose to shoot strong jets of water at detainees. This was done to me on one occasion. A guard walked along the gangway by the cages sending the hose into each alternate cage. When it happened to me I was hosed down continuously for about one minute. The pressure of the water was so strong it forced me to the back of the cage. It soaked the cage including my bedding and my Koran.”

Such cases of “water dousing” by Guantánamo guards, including the use of high-pressure hoses, went far beyond what was even contemplated by such a technique even under CIA torture procedures.

Drownings in Iraq

A review of news reports from Iraq reveal two separate instances of actual drowning of Iraqi detainees by US and British forces. In one case, soldiers were court-martialed and received light sentences. In the other case, the men were acquitted.

In January 2005, Army Sgt. First Class Tracy Perkins was convicted for ordering men under his command one year earlier to throw Iraqi detainees into the Tigris River. One of the Iraqis, 19-year-old Zaidoun Hassoun, drowned. Perkins was sentenced to six months in military prison and his rank was reduced to staff sergeant.

Perkins claimed he was ordered to throw the men in the river by his platoon leader, Army First Lt. Jack Saville. According to an account by the UK Guardian, Saville “pleaded guilty to assault and dereliction of duty,” and was sentenced to 45 days in military prison and ordered to pay a $12,000 fine. The light sentence was reportedly because “Lt. Saville agreed to testify against his captain, who had given him a hit list of five Iraqis who were to be executed on the spot if they were captured in a raid.”

But there was more. According to a July 2004 Associated Press article, the actions by Saville, Perkins, and two other soldiers, Sgt. Reggie Martinez and Spec. Terry Bowman, were initially covered up by their commanding officers. At an Article 32 hearing, and under grants of immunity, Capt. Matthew Cunningham, Maj. Robert Gwinner and battalion commander Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman said they told Saville and his men to “to clam up because they feared higher-ups in the chain of command would use the incident against them.”

In another case, British soldiers, operating as part of the US-led alliance that invaded Iraq, arrested and beat an Iraqi teenager, who was then ordered to swim across the Shatt al-Basra canal. According to an account in the Guardian, 17-year-old (some reports say 15-year-old) Ahmed Jabbar Kareem was too weakened by his injuries and drowned. All four soldiers involved were acquitted of manslaughter in the case. One of the soldiers, Irish guardsman Joseph McCleary, told the press, “We were told to put the looters in the canal. I was the lowest rank, and we were always told we weren’t paid to think. We just followed orders.”

The acquittal of the British soldiers and the light sentences for US soldiers involved in the drowning of captives represent an attitude towards prisoners in general — including the use of water torture and drowning — that carried minimal consequences in the Iraq war theater.

Indeed, in a US Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) investigatory report dated May 27, 2004 (pg. 70), the special agent in charge reported that a team leader for 5th Special Forces group (Airborne), based in Al Asad, Iraq, gave “special instructions for the guarding and handling of EPWs” [enemy prisoners of war], including “maintaining a sandbag over their heads, playing loud music and pouring water over their heads.”

The torture of the Iraqi EPWs is very similar to the description Ahmed al-Darbi gave of his treatment at Bagram.

Reactions to New Revelations

The examples of water torture described in this and the earlier Truthout article are certainly not the only occurrences of water torture. For instance, one further example exists of a Guantánamo detainee who suffered water being poured over his head while it was covered, but further details could not be given due to legal restrictions covering his case.

It is also assumed that some instances of such torture have not yet been revealed. The press and human rights groups have not interviewed most prisoners released from US custody. Furthermore, detainees released from Guantánamo must sign an agreement that twice notes they can be “immediately” re-imprisoned if the United States finds any condition of the agreement, which includes prohibitions against conspiracy or vague “preparation of” “combatant activities,” violated. Fear of re-imprisonment and psychological traumatization from their experience have led many former detainees to maintain a silence about their experiences.

Not all observers or participants in DoD activities have indicated they witnessed or heard of water torture at DoD sites.

Morris Davis, who was chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay from September 2005 until his resignation in October 2007, told Truthout that his office “focused on about 75 of the detainees we were assessing for potential prosecution.” He added he “did not have the time or the manpower to examine the many others that were not likely candidates for prosecution.”

Even so, Davis told Truthout, “I never saw any evidence that any detainee was waterboarded or subjected to any similar technique at Gitmo,” though “others things [were] done to some of them that I believe constitute torture.”

In addition, some guards, even if critical of abuses at Guantánamo, have said they did not witness waterboarding or water torture at the Cuban prison camp. In an interview with The Talking Dog blog in March 2009, former guard Terry Holdbrooks Jr. said, “In my time in Camp Delta, I didn’t see or hear of any waterboarding.”

But testimony and evidence offered in this investigation strongly suggest that water torture similar to waterboarding or of other extreme nature was inflicted on some prisoners under US military control, and also by allied forces.

Some sources have been adamant that waterboarding did in fact occur, for instance, at Guantánamo.

In an April 2007 statement to the Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas, Guantánamo detainee attorney Brent Mickum said that a guard who had worked at the prison camp told him “prisoners at Guantánamo were routinely waterboarded.” Mickum reiterated this point in an interview with the blog The Talking Dog later that year.

Mickum said the guard “confirmed that waterboarding, which he called ‘drown-proofing’ took place. This individual knew extensive details of the camp layout and the names of military personnel. Eventually, the full story will be released and people will be shocked at the extent of the depravity.”

Mickum has also said he heard from a civilian contractor that he heard interrogators talking about waterboarding at Guantánamo in 2003.

In a telephone interview, Alexander Abdo, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) National Security Project, responding to the accumulated evidence compiled on DoD water torture, told Truthout, “The suggestion that the use of water to torture is more widespread than previously thought is extremely troubling, and reaffirms the need for greater transparency and a broader investigation into the abuse committed under the Bush administration.”

In an emailed statement, Vince Warren, executive director for Center for Constitutional Rights, whose attorneys have represented a number of Guantánamo detainees, said, “It’s clear even from the accounts of men who were released from Guantánamo that many more people were subjected to different forms of water torture or simulated drowning than the three victims of waterboarding the government has admitted to. Our attorneys can’t talk about what happened to our all of clients because they are under a protective order, but public documents show the widespread extent of this barbarity. It’s simply shameful.”

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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

13 Responses

  1. More Evidence of the Use of Water Torture at Guantánamo and in Afghanistan and Iraq | Andy Worthington « Yahyasheikho786's Blog says...

    […] of the Use of Water Torture at Guantánamo and in Afghanistan and Iraq | Andy Worthington More Evidence of the Use of Water Torture at Guantánamo and in Afghanistan and Iraq | Andy Worthing…. Share this:StumbleUponLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Neil Goodwin wrote:

    hello andy, hope the holiday went well mate. xx

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I’m sharing and digging this now, Andy. I hope that you and yours enjoyed yourselves.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Jamie Mayerfeld wrote:

    Thank you, Andy.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Susan Hall wrote:


  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the welcome back, Neil and George. We all had an excellent time. It was my first time in Greece, so I was blown away by how lovely the people are, and although I was on holiday, I had several very interesting conversations about the political and economic situation. Just scratch the surface, and there’s both acute awareness and anger about how the workers are being made to pay for the crimes of politicians, EU bankers and rich tax evaders. I’ll be writing more about this soon.
    Thanks also for the support for this article. Another fine piece of work by Jeff that I wanted to help promote.

  7. More Evidence of the Use of Water Torture at Guantánamo and in Afghanistan and Iraq « SØVNLØSE NETTER says...

    […] Worthington / Jeffrey Kaye: More Evidence of the Use of Water Torture at Guantánamo and in Afghanistan and Iraq Four American soldiers came and took me into another room. It was not a tent. They put me on a slab […]

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    On Digg, wanacare wrote:

    Hey this isn’t high school students out too late & being asked if there was too much traffic to get home on time. Perhaps the question should be was the victim in pain & why. I realize that the Bush & now Obama administrations deceive & keep secret all their actions, because they are similar to those referred to by Mr. Dean in the Nixon trial, actions are done in dark secrecy because they are corrupt and harmful to the innocent being used for political and economic gains.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, wanacare. Always good to hear from you.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Darrel Vandeveld wrote:

    Hullo, Andy Worthington (one of my brothers shares the same given name, and thanks to you, Clive Stafford Smith and Gerard Russell, I’m becoming a bit of an Anglophile). We know, in no small part because of the unprecedented investigative work by Prof. David Frakt and retired Marine Major Eric Montalvo, that abuses did occur at Bagram, but I share the puzzlement of Col. Davis and even Mr. Goldsmith about the reports from Guantanamo Bay of water torture, however defined. I’m sure that if Col. Davis never saw evidence of any kind that interrogation methods involving water had been employed at Guantanamo, other military prosecutors who served at the Commissions before the Commissions’ hiatus never saw such evidence either. Hence your and Mr. Kaye’s effort to uncover a past that cannot be re-litigated (because it was never litigated in the first instance and likely will never be) continues to have a vital importance.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Darrel. Great to hear from you, and i believe I can say with confidence that Jeff will be thrilled by your supportive words. You make a very interesting and encouraging point about the importance of trying to “uncover a past that cannot be re-litigated (because it was never litigated in the first instance and likely will never be),” which I think underpins my ongoing efforts to tell all the prisoners’ stories through my project to incorporate the material from the classified military documents released by WikiLeaks into what was already known, to provide a history that is as comprehensive as possible.

  12. Jeffrey Kaye says...

    Hi Andy,

    Sorry I haven’t dropped by to thank you, but here I am, a pound lighter and a week late (well four or five days anyway).

    Glad to hear you had a great time in Greece. I want to thank you for supporting my work, and for the reposting, and to Darrel, that is an important point. I put Col. Morris’s statement in the article because I wanted to put that point of view and his experience out there. I think things were definitely kept from the attorneys, and you’ll note that in most instances (though not all) the water torture was not directly involved in the interrogation, but as a “softening up” or part of the conditions of confinement. As at Abu Ghraib, the dehumanization prepared them for the interrogations to come later.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Always a pleasure, Jeff!

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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