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Red Cross Described 'Torture' at CIA Jails

The report graphically describes abuse of Abu Zubaida.
The report graphically describes abuse of Abu Zubaida. (Associated Press)
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President Obama outlawed such practices within hours of his inauguration in January. But Obama has expressed reluctance to conduct a legal inquiry into the CIA's policies.

The report gives a graphic account of the treatment of Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, a Saudi-born Palestinian who was the first alleged senior al-Qaeda operative seized after Sept. 11 -- a characterization of his role that is disputed by his attorneys, who describe him as having a different philosophy of jihad than bin Laden.

Abu Zubaida was severely wounded during a shootout in March 2002 at a safe house he ran in Faisalabad, Pakistan, and survived thanks to CIA-arranged medical care, including multiple surgeries. After he recovered, Abu Zubaida describes being shackled to a chair at the feet and hands for two to three weeks in a cold room with "loud, shouting type music" blaring constantly, according to the ICRC report. He said that he was questioned two to three hours a day and that water was sprayed in his face if he fell asleep.

At some point -- the timing is unclear from the New York Review of Books report -- Abu Zubaida's treatment became harsher. In July 2002, administration lawyers approved more aggressive techniques.

Abu Zubaida said interrogators wrapped a towel around his neck and slammed him into a plywood wall mounted in his cell. He was also repeatedly slapped in the face, he said. After the beatings, he was placed in coffinlike wooden boxes in which he was forced to crouch, with no light and a restricted air supply, he said.

"The stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in my leg and stomach became very painful," he told the ICRC.

After he was removed from a small box, he said, he was strapped to what looked like a hospital bed and waterboarded. "A black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe," Abu Zubaida said.

After breaks to allow him to recover, the waterboarding continued.

"I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless," he said. "I thought I was going to die."

In a federal court filing, Abu Zubaida's attorneys said he "has suffered approximately 175 seizures that appear to be directly related to his extensive torture -- particularly damage to Petitioner's head that was the result of beatings sustained at the hands of CIA interrogators and exacerbated by his lengthy isolation."

Danner said the organization's use of the word "torture" has important legal implications.

"It could not be more important that the ICRC explicitly uses the words 'torture' and 'cruel and degrading,' " Danner said in a telephone interview. "The ICRC is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, and when it uses those words, they have the force of law."

He discounted the possibility that the detainees fabricated or embellished their stories, noting that the accounts overlap "in minute detail," even though the detainees were kept in isolation at different locations.

Human rights groups echoed his assessment.

"These reports are from an impeccable source," said Geneve Mantri, a counterterrorism specialist at Amnesty International. "It's clear that senior officials were warned from the very beginning that the treatment that detainees were subjected to amounted to torture. This story goes even further and deeper than many us of suspected. The more details we find out, the more shocking this becomes."


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