The accusations are broadly consistent with previous accounts of the CIA’s treatment of prisoners in the years following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But at a time when the controversy surrounding that program seemed to be slipping into history, the report raises a new challenge to the agency’s long-standing contention that only three prisoners — all of them still in custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — were ever subjected to simulated drowning as an interrogation technique.
Documents: CIA rendition to Gaddafi's Libya
The CIA did not directly dispute the new waterboarding claim.
“The Agency has been on the record that there are three substantiated cases in which detainees were subjected to the waterboarding technique under the program,” CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said in a statement. “Although we cannot comment on these specific allegations, the Department of Justice has exhaustively reviewed the treatment of more than 100 detainees in the post-9/11 period — including allegations involving unauthorized interrogation techniques — and it declined prosecution in every case.”
As part of the report, researchers with Human Rights Watch also recovered files from the offices of Gaddafi’s former spy chief that provide a remarkably direct glimpse into the CIA’s “rendition” program, in which the agency delivered dozens of detainees to countries, including Libya, notorious for their records on human rights.
“The scope of Bush administration abuse appears far broader than previously acknowledged,” said Laura Pitter, counterterrorism adviser at Human Rights Watch and the author of the report, “Delivered Into Enemy Hands: U.S.-Led Abuse and Rendition of Opponents to Gaddafi’s Libya.”
The 154-page report includes testimony from 14 Libyans who emerged from that country’s prison system after rebels surged into Tripoli in August 2011. At least two of the former detainees now serve in significant roles in the fledgling Libyan government.
Five of the prisoners interviewed by Human Rights Watch described being turned over to Gaddafi roughly a year after he abandoned his illicit weapons program in 2003 and sought to recast himself as a counterterrorism ally of the United States.
Two of the 14 detainees claim to have been doused with water to induce suffocation.
Khalid al-Sharif, who says he was held at the CIA’s facilities in Afghanistan, described being forced to lie down on plastic sheeting as guards hoisted the edges and filled up the makeshift basin with frigid water. After he was hooded, “they poured the water over my mouth and nose so I had the feeling that I was drowning. I couldn’t breathe,” Sharif said.