January 28, 2021 / by 


The Bybee Memo Can’t Be Used for Good Faith Defense on Water-Boarding

The May 10, 2005 "Techniques" memo makes it clear that the torturers who claim the Bybee memo legalized their water-boarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah are wrong.

That’s because the torturers didn’t do what the memo authorized. In a footnote on page 41, it says:

The IG Report noted that in some cases the waterboard was used with far greater frequency than initially indicated, see IG Report at 5, 44, 46, 103-04, and also that it was used in a different manner. See id. at 37 ("[T]he waterboard technique  … was different from the technique described in the DoJ opinion and used in the SERE training. The difference was the manner in which the detainee’s breathing was obstructed. At the SERE school and in the DoJ opinion, the subject’s airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the Agency Interrogator …  applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee’s mouth and nose. One of the psychologists/interrogators acknowledged that the Agency’s use of the technique is different from that used in SERE training because it is "for real–and is more poignant and convincing.") see also id. at 14 n14. The Inspector General further reported that "OMS contends that the expertise of the SERE waterboard experience is so different from the subsequent Agency usage as to make it almost irrelevant. Consequently, according to OMS, there was no a priori reason to believe that applying the waterboard with the frequency and intensity with which it was used by the psychologist/interrogators was either efficacious or medically safe." Id at 21 n26. We have carefully considered the IG Report and discussed it with OMS personnel. As noted, OMS input has resulted in a number of changes in the application of the waterboard, including limits on frequency and cumulative use of the technique. Moreover, OMS personnel are carefully instructed in monitoring this technique and are personally present whenever it is used. See OMS Guidelines at 17-20. Indeed, although physician assistants can be present when other enhanced techniques are applied, "use of the waterboard requires the presence of the physician." Id. at 9n2. [my emphasis]

In other words, the interrogators were dumping water on AZ’s and KSM’s faces and repeating that treatment over and over and over.

Without any legal authorization to do so, no matter how bogus.

It’s time this torturer faced some  "poignant and convincing" consequences for his actions. 

And note, this is precisely why the torture tapes were destroyed. CIA has admitted that the guys waterboarding Abu Zubaydah broke the law. That tape was the irrefutable evidence of who did what. 

Update: Fixed my dates.

The OLC Memos, “Erroneous and Inflammatory Assumptions,” and John Rizzo’s Lies

In his statement on the torture memos today, Obama suggested that some of the "assumptions" about what Americans had done were wrong, and that releasing the memos would correct these "assumptions."

First, the interrogation techniques described in these memos have already been widely reported. Second, the previous Administration publicly acknowledged portions of the program – and some of the practices – associated with these memos. Third, I have already ended the techniques described in the memos through an Executive Order. Therefore, withholding these memos would only serve to deny facts that have been in the public domain for some time. This could contribute to an inaccurate accounting of the past, and fuel erroneous and inflammatory assumptions about actions taken by the United States.[my emphasis]

This suggests (though weakly) that the OLC memos–and not other evidence–should be taken as authoritative on the events surrounding our interrogation program.

Though, on several counts, this is not true.

The most troubling example pertains to Abu Zubaydah’s mental state before he was tortured. John Yoo (writing under Jay Bybee’s name) goes to some lengths to establish Abu Zubaydah’s sanity. After five paragraphs that basically make Abu Zubaydah out to be a self-confident stud, here’s what Yoo says about AZ’s psychological health.

According to your reports, Zubaydah does not have any pre-existing mental conditions or problems that would make him likely to suffer prolonged mental harm from your proposed interrogation methods. Through reading his diaries and interviewing him, you have found no history of "mood disturbance or other psychiatric pathology[,]" "thought disorder[,] … enduring mood or mental health problems." He is in fact "remarkably resilient and confident that he can overcome adversity." When he encounters stress or low mood, this appears to last only for a short time. He deals with stress by assessing its source, evaluating the coping resources available to him, and then taking action. Your assessment notes that he is "generally self-sufiicient and relies on his understanding and application of religious and psychological principles, intelligence and discipline to avoid and overcome problems." Moreover, you have found that he has a "reliable and durable support system" in his faith, "the blessings of religious leaders, and camaraderie of like-minded mujahedin brothers." During detention, Zubaydah has managed his mood, remaining at most points "circumspect, calm, controlled., and deliberate." He has maintained tius demeanor during aggressive interrogations and reductions in sleep. You describe that in an initial confrontational incident, Zubaydah showed signs of sympathetic nervous system arousal, which you think was possibly fear. Although this incident led him to disclose intelligence information, he was able to quickly regain his composure, his air of confidence, and his "strong resolve" not to reveal any information.

Nowhere else, significantly, does Yoo feel the need to quote so selectively and in such detail about what CIA Acting Counsel John Rizzo had represented to him.

Meanwhile, this is what Dan Coleman–an FBI guy with deep knowledge of al Qaeda–had to say about AZ in Ron Suskind’s One Percent Doctrine:

Meanwhile, Dan Coleman and other knowledgeable members of the tribe of al Qaeda hunters at CIA were reading Zubaydah’s top secret diary and shaking their heads. 

"This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality," Coleman told a top official at FBI after a few days reviewing the Zubaydah haul. 

Two different people reading the same diary. One cherry-picks from it to claim AZ exhibited no evidence of "mood disturbance," whereas another reads the same diary and concludes the guy is nuts.

I might give Yoo and Rizzo equal weight with Coleman in terms of who more credibly measured AZ’s mental state. But the second time Yoo discusses AZ’s mental state, there’s a half paragraph redacted.

The mental health experts that you have consulted have indicated that the psychological impact of a course of conduct must be assessed with reference to the subject’s psychological history and current mental health status. The healthier the individual, the less likely that the use of anyone procedure or set of procedures as a course of conduct will result in prolonged mental harm. A comprehensive psychological profile of Zubaydah has been created. In creating this profile, your personnel drew on direct interviews, Zubaydah’s diaries, observation of Zubaydah since his capture, and information from other sources such as other intelligence and press reports. [half paragraph redacted]

If I had to guess, that half-paragraph shows Yoo’s response to the Coleman claims Yoo had to have known about–and those claims didn’t stand to reason so they were redacted.

There are a number of other discrepancies where existing resources appear far more credible than the information that OLC used (either knowingly or not) on which to found their memos.

For example, there’s the claim that detainees deprived of sleep are not–at the same time–being physically abused.

The shackling [to deprive of sleep] is used only as a passive means of keeping the detainee awake and, in both the tightness of the shackles and the positioning of the hands, is not intended to cause pain. A detainee, for example, will not be allowed to hang by his wrists.


Because sleep deprivation does not involve physical pain and would not be expected to to cause extreme physical discomfort to the detainee, the extended duration of sleep deprivation … is not a sufficient factor alone to constitute severe physical suffering.

The ICRC, on the other hand, reported that 10 of 14 high value detainees complained of being hung by their wrists. 

Prolonged stress standing position, naked, held with the arms extended and chained above the head, as alleged by ten of the fourteen, for periods from two or three days continuously, and for up to two or three months intermittently, during which period toilet access was sometimes denied resulting in allegations from four detainees that they had to defecate and urinate over themselves. 

And here’s how the ICRC described the sleep patterns of those shackled with their hands over their heads. 

Although this position prevented most detainees from sleeping, three of the detainees stated that they did fall asleep once or morewhile shackled in this position. These include Mr Khaled Shaik Mohammedand Mr Bin Attash;the third did not wish his name to be transmitted to the authorities. When they did fall asleep held in this position, the whole weight of their bodies was effectively suspended from the shackled  wrists, transmitting the strain through the arms to the shoulders.

I hate to say it, but the 10 high value detainees, each reporting the same treatment independently, are a lot more credible than Steven Bradbury repeating John Rizzo’s empty assurances.

Which suggests that, rather than rebutting "erroneous and inflammatory assumptions," the real concern the release of these memos ought to raise is the misrepresentations CIA apparently made to DOJ. By no means do I mean to excuse John Yoo and Steven Bradbury for their "banality." But John Rizzo was lying. Blatantly. In his claims to OLC as he tried to get stuff approved. 

Contrary to Obama’s suggestion, these memos should not correct any assumptions we’ve made about the torture our government conducted in our name. Rather, they should make it crystal clear that John Rizzo lied repeatedly about what the CIA was doing.

By all means, let’s make sure that Yoo and Bradbury (and Judge Bybee) pay for their legal rationalizations. But let’s include John Rizzo in there for producing the lies that abetted this legal abomination. 

The Torture Memos

ACLU has them posted:

August 1, 2002 John Yoo memo

First May 10, 2005 Steven Bradbury memo

Second May 10, 2005 Steven Bradbury memo

May 30, 2005 Steven Bradbury memo

And while you’re over at ACLU, consider showing them some love for all their great work prying these out of the government. 

Consider this a working thread.

Update: Did I say they were worried about blows to the head? From the August 1, 2002 memo:

For walling, a flexible false wall will be constructed. The individual is placed with his heels touching the wall. The interrogator pulls the individual forward and then quickly and firmly pushes the individual into the wall. It is the individual’s shoulder blades that hit the wall. During this motion, the head and neck are supported with a rolled hood or towel that provides a c-collar effect to help prevent whiplash. To further reduce the probability of injury, the individual is allowed to rebound from the flexible wall. 

Oh, and did I mention that they were using Abu Zubaydah as a human guinea pig, to test out methods they wanted to get approved? I ask, you see, because Abu Zubaydah told the ICRC that they only put in the "flexible false wall" after they started this technique.

Obama on the OLC Memo Release

With my comments interspersed:

The Department of Justice will today release certain memos issued by the Office of Legal Counsel between 2002 and 2005 as part of an ongoing court case. These memos speak to techniques that were used in the interrogation of terrorism suspects during that period, and their release is required by the rule of law.

Michael Hayden was on claiming they could have won this in court–I think he’s really underestimating how fed up Hellerstein is with this bullshit. 

My judgment on the content of these memos is a matter of record. In one of my very first acts as President, I prohibited the use of these interrogation techniques by the United States because they undermine our moral authority and do not make us safer. Enlisting our values in the protection of our people makes us stronger and more secure. A democracy as resilient as ours must reject the false choice between our security and our ideals, and that is why these methods of interrogation are already a thing of the past.

But that is not what compelled the release of these legal documents today. While I believe strongly in transparency and accountability, I also believe that in a dangerous world, the United States must sometimes carry out intelligence operations and protect information that is classified for purposes of national security. I have already fought for that principle in court and will do so again in the future. However, after consulting with the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, and others, I believe that exceptional circumstances surround these memos and require their release.

First, the interrogation techniques described in these memos have already been widely reported. Second, the previous Administration publicly acknowledged portions of the program – and some of the practices – associated with these memos. Third, I have already ended the techniques described in the memos through an Executive Order. Therefore, withholding these memos would only serve to deny facts that have been in the public domain for some time. This could contribute to an inaccurate accounting of the past, and fuel erroneous and inflammatory assumptions about actions taken by the United States.

Note the admission that not all of the practices have been acknowledged. Perhaps, just for example, blows to the head?  Also, the recognition that these have been widely reported suggests the ICRC report may have made a difference in this fight.

In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution. The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world. Their accomplishments are unsung and their names unknown, but because of their sacrifices, every single American is safer. We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs.

No mention of those who wrote these memos. Does that mean we can prosecute Yoo and Bradbury?

Going forward, it is my strong belief that the United States has a solemn duty to vigorously maintain the classified nature of certain activities and information related to national security. This is an extraordinarily important responsibility of the presidency, and it is one that I will carry out assertively irrespective of any political concern. Consequently, the exceptional circumstances surrounding these memos should not be viewed as an erosion of the strong legal basis for maintaining the classified nature of secret activities. I will always do whatever is necessary to protect the national security of the United States.

This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.

Not gonna work, Obama. If we’re a nation of laws, then we cannot let those who have broken the laws to go unpunished. That’s not retribution. That’s what "nation of laws" means. 

The United States is a nation of laws. My Administration will always act in accordance with those laws, and with an unshakeable commitment to our ideals. That is why we have released these memos, and that is why we have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again.

It’s Not the Water-Boarding, It’s the Blows to the Head

Just to lay out a few details based on this article explaining that Obama continues to waver on what parts of the 2005 Bradbury torture memos to reveal. (h/t Steve)

1. According to the WSJ,  it’s not the description of water-boarding that the CIA wants to hide. It’s the description of how the CIA threw people against the wall.

Among the details in the still-classified memos is approval for a technique in which a prisoner’s head could be struck against a wall as long as the head was being held and the force of the blow was controlled by the interrogator, according to people familiar with the memos.

2. We know from the ICRC report this technique had been used, three years before Bradbury wrote his OLC memos, with Abu Zubaydah.

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.


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.

(According to the report, five more of the High Value Detainees described the same treatment.)

3. We know that Abu Zubaydah now has mental injuries and–apparently–cannot stand trial.

The WSJ quotes intelligence officials claiming that, if these details are made public, it’ll be a propaganda tool for the terrorists.

Intelligence officials also believe that making the techniques public would give al Qaeda a propaganda tool just as the administration is stepping up its fight against the terrorist group in Afghanistan and Pakistan

But these details have already been made public, in the ICRC report and elsewhere. What the intelligence officials want to hide is that–even after they did this damage to Abu Zubadaydah (though before the ICRC called it torture in 2007)–Steven Bradbury wrote an OLC memo declaring this treatment legal.

Panetta: Contractors Not Allowed to Interrogate (Anymore)

Leon Panetta just wrote a letter to Congress assuring them that contractors will not be used for interrogations.

The Central Intelligence Agency has banned contractors from conducting interrogations, CIA Director Leon Panetta told lawmakers in a letter Thursday outlining the agency’s dismantling of several Bush-era policies.

The letter and an accompanying memo to CIA employees were the fullest explanation to date of how the agency is carrying out President Barack Obama’s executive order of Jan. 22 ending the CIA’s "black site" program that detained terror suspects.

One flashpoint in that program was the use of outside contractors to interrogate suspects. Under congressional pressure, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently said he was reviewing that policy and added that government employees should handle the most important detainees.

Mr. Panetta went further, saying flatly: "No CIA contractors will conduct interrogations."


An intelligence official said the contractor ban doesn’t extend to support of interrogations. "If a contractor has, say, special language skills, it’s conceivable that he or she could be asked to support a debriefing," the official said.

Read the whole argument, as it includes easily parsed reassurances that the CIA is out of the black site business as well.

Panetta did not mention, apparently, whether or not the contractors who designed our torture system were still on contract. 

Double-Dipping at Gitmo?

MadDog pointed to the full 2007 ICRC Report on detainee treatment.

There’s a lot to say about this (and Joby Warrick’s got a story out reporting its criticism of medical personnel who abet the torture).  But this stuck out for me:

…the ICRC notes that four detainees believed that they had previously been held in Guantanamo, for periods ranging from one week to one year during 2003/4. They reported recognising this location upon return there in September 2006, as each had been allowed outdoors on a daily basis during their earlier time there. The ICRC has been assured by DoD that it was given full notification of and access to all persons held in Guantanamo during its regular detention visits. The ICRC is concerned, if the allegations are confirmed, it had in fact been denied access to these persons during the period in which they were detained there.

We already knew that DOD moved prisoners to hide them from ICRC–so I suspect ICRC will soon have its fears confirmed.

"We may need to curb the harsher operations while ICRC is around. It is better not to expose them to any controversial techniques," Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, a military lawyer who’s since retired, said during an October 2002 meeting at the Guantanamo Bay prison to discuss employing interrogation techniques that some have equated with torture.


A third person at the meeting, Jonathan Fredman, the chief counsel for the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, disclosed that detainees were moved routinely to avoid the scrutiny of the ICRC, which keeps tabs on prisoners in conflicts around the world.

"In the past when the ICRC has made a big deal about certain detainees, the DOD (Defense Department) has ‘moved’ them away from the attention of the ICRC," Fredman said, according to the minutes.

But I’m rather interested in the timing: 2003/4.

Which suggests, of course, they had high value detainees in Gitmo. But then moved them as the Abu Ghraib scandal broke and those who didn’t already know learned that the US was torturing detainees.

You gotta hide the high value detainees, of course, because if they could talk, they’d reveal that the techniques at Abu Ghraib were anything but a few bad apples. 

Durbin and Whitehouse: Why Did Mukasey Give OLC a Peek at the Yoo/Bradbury Results?

Dick Durbin and Sheldon Whitehouse want to know why the Office of Professional Responsibility gave OLC a chance to review their report on John Yoo’s and Steven Bradbury’s torture memos.

Just last week, they got a response from DOJ on the process the OPR review has gone through, revealing that the report already integrated comments from Mukasey and "OLC" (whose acting head was Steven Bradbury), and was giving Bradbury, Yoo, and Jay Bybee an opportunity to comment, as well. It will take "substantial time" before this review process is done, DOJ says.

OPR has completed its investigation of this matter and in late December 2008, provided the draft report to Attorney General Mukasey and invited comment. Attorney General Mukasey shared the report with Deputy Attorney General Filip and OLC. Thereafter, Attorney General Mukasey, Deputy Attorney General Filip and OLC provided comments, and OPR revised the draft report to the extent it deemed appropriate based on those comments.

In addition, during the course of the investigation, counsel for the former Department attorneys asked OPR for an opportunity to review and comment on the report prior to any disclosure of its results to Congress or the public. Attorney General Mukasey and Deputy Attorney General Filip likewise requested that OPR provide the former Department attorneys with such an opportunity. For these reasons, OPR is now in the process of sharing the revised draft report with them. When the review and comment period is concluded, OPR intends to review the comments submitted and make any modifications it deems appropriate to the findings and conclusions. OPR will then provide a final report to the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General. After any additional review they deem appropriate, the Department will determine what disclosures should be made. Due to the complexity and classification level of the draft report, the review process described above likely will require substantial time and effort.

Which of course raises a whole slew of questions, some of which Durbin and Whitehouse have now posed to DOJ. Such as whether OLC’s review of the document influenced Steven Bradbury’s January 15 OLC memo withdrawing certain earlier opinions. 

Your letter does not indicate whether Steven Bradbury was recused from reviewing and providing comments on the draft report.  Mr. Bradbury, who was then the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of OLC, is reportedly a subject of the OPR investigation. As such, it would appear to be a conflict of interest for Mr. Bradbury to review and comment on the OPR report.  We note that on January 15, 2009, Mr. Bradbury issued a “Memorandum for the Files” criticizing OLC opinions issued in 2001-2003.  He wrote that the January 15th memorandum and a previous memorandum were not “intended to suggest in any way that the attorneys involved in the preparation of the opinions in question did not satisfy all applicable standards of professional responsibility.”  If Mr. Bradbury did review the OPR report, this could have improperly influenced the opinions he expressed on OLC’s behalf in the January 15th memorandum, particularly his decision to emphasize that the authors of discredited OLC opinions on detainee issues had not necessarily violated their professional responsibilities.

As well as a bunch of questions about whether allowing the subjects of an investigation normally get to comment on the outcome of it. 

  1. Was Steven Bradbury involved in reviewing and commenting on the draft OPR report?   
  2. Is there any precedent for allowing the subject of an OPR investigation to review and provide comments on a draft report on OPR’s findings and conclusions?
  3. Have the former Justice Department attorneys who are the subjects of the investigation been given a deadline for responding?
  4. Will OPR provide Attorney General Holder and Deputy Attorney General Ogden with the draft report that it provided to Attorney General Mukasey so that Attorney General Holder and Deputy Attorney General Ogden will know what revisions have been made to the report?

Somehow, I get the feeling Mukasey tried to stall this out for several months. 

Of course, Durbin and Whitehouse don’t ask the natural follow-up–will Holder let them continue to stall this out?

They Should Have Listened to Noor al-Deen

I presume this story on Abu Zubaydah is an attempt to highlight the difficulty of choices facing the Obama administration, as well as to draw some attention to things like the excerpts of the ICRC report on Abu Zubaydah’s (and others’) torture. It reminds us what we already know–that Abu Zubaydah suffers from a head injury that made his memory bad and wasn’t even a member of al Qaeda, making his torture that much more pointless.

Because his name often turned up in intelligence traffic linked to al-Qaeda transactions, some U.S. intelligence leaders were convinced that Abu Zubaida was a major figure in the terrorist organization, according to officials engaged in the discussions at the time.

But Abu Zubaida had strained and limited relations with bin Laden and only vague knowledge before the Sept. 11 attacks that something was brewing, the officials said.


"The government doesn’t retreat from who KSM is, and neither does KSM," said Joseph Margulies, a professor of law at Northwestern University and one of Abu Zubaida’s attorneys, using an abbreviation for Mohammed. "With Zubaida, it’s different. The government seems finally to understand he is not at all the person they thought he was. But he was tortured. And that’s just a profoundly embarrassing position for the government to be in." 

The news, here, seems to be that the US picked up a young associate of Abu Zubaydah the same night they got the older man. And that associate, Noor al-Deen, basically corroborated the details the intelligence community is now accepting. Before the US started torturing Abu Zubaydah.

Noor al-Deen, a Syrian, was a teenager when he was captured along with Abu Zubaida at a Pakistani safe house. Perhaps because of his youth and agitated state, he readily answered U.S. questions, officials said, and the questioning went on for months, first in Pakistan and later in a detention facility in Morocco. His description of Abu Zubaida was consistent: The older man was a well-known functionary with links to al-Qaeda, but he knew little detailed information about the group’s operations.


On the night of March 28, 2002, Pakistani and American intelligence officers raided the Faisalabad safe house where Abu Zubaida had been staying. A firefight ensued, and Abu Zubaida was captured after jumping from the building’s second floor. He had been shot three times.

Cowering on the ground floor and also shot was Noor al-Deen, Abu Zubaida’s 19-year-old colleague; one source said that he worshiped the older man as a hero. Deen was wide-eyed with fear and appeared to believe that he was about to be executed, remembered John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who participated in the raid.

"He was frightened — mostly over what we were going to do with him," Kiriakou said. "He had come to the conclusion that his life was over."

Deen was eventually transferred to Syria, but attempts to firmly establish his current whereabouts were unsuccessful.

His interrogations corroborated what CIA officials were hearing from Abu Zubaida, but there were other clues at the time that pointed to a less-than-central role for the Palestinian. As a veritable travel agent for jihadists, Abu Zubaida operated in a public world of Internet transactions and ticket agents.

So you’ve got a panicked teenager spilling his guts, insisting that Abu Zubaydah is just a functionary. And at the same time, Abu Zubaydah was saying he was just a functionary (and providing what useful intelligence he had to offer). And the US response to that was … to make Abu Zubaydah their torture experiment–their test case for what torture techniques did and did not "work." 

Yet more reason they destroyed the torture tapes showing Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation.

The Abu Zubaydah Experiment

The NYRB New Yorker has a piece with long excerpts from the leaked Red Cross report on American torture of high value detainees. (h/t scribe; corrected per scribe) Read it. It’s chilling in its systematicity–the constant involvement of doctors, the efforts to hide any marks of torture, the invention of clinical language to describe torture.

I’ll return to the report, but for the moment just one observation.

Amid a slew of details on the treatment of Abu Zubaydah, the article describes Abu Zubaydah learning that he was the guinea pig for these techniques.

We do not know if the plywood [to minimize the damage from slamming him against the wall] appeared in Zubaydah’s white room thanks to orders from his interrogators, from their bosses at Langley, or perhaps from their superiors in the White House. We don’t know the precise parts played by those responsible for "choreographing" the "alternative set of procedures." We do know from several reports that at a White House meeting in July 2002 top administration lawyers gave the CIA "the green light" to move to the "more aggressive techniques" that were applied to him, separately and in combination, during the following days:

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 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.


All evidence from the ICRC report suggests that Abu Zubaydah’s informant was telling him the truth: he was the first, and, as such, a guinea pig. Some techniques are discarded. The coffin-like black boxes, for example, barely large enough to contain a man, one six feet tall and the other scarcely more than three feet, which seem to recall the sensory-deprivation tanks used in early CIA-sponsored experiments, do not reappear. Neither does the "long-time sitting"—the weeks shackled to a chair—that Abu Zubaydah endured in his first few months. [my emphasis]

This article makes clear, then, that about two and a half months after he first woke up in US custody–so probably shortly after mid-June 2002–the US was experimenting on Abu Zubaydah, testing out various forms of torture to see which worked best and left the fewest marks.

Understand what this means: the torturers were conducting their experiments on Abu Zubaydah before John Yoo wrote up an OLC memo authorizing torture (hell–Yoo may have excluded those methods they had decided were ineffective and that my be why they told Abu Zubaydah there were no rules). The torturers were conducting their experiments with the intimate involvement of those back at the White House getting briefed and approving of each technique. And the torturers were being videotaped doing so. 

Those tapes–which in this context sound like a tool in their experimentation more than anything else–are the tapes that CIA destroyed in 2005.

Which I guess makes my question from a few weeks ago all the more pressing. Who watched these torture tapes?

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/torture/page/98/