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CIA Releases Its Instructions For Breaking a Detainee's Will

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By Joby Warrick, Peter Finn and Julie Tate
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 26, 2009

As the session begins, the detainee stands naked, except for a hood covering his head. Guards shackle his arms and legs, then slip a small collar around his neck. The collar will be used later; according to CIA guidelines for interrogations, it will serve as a handle for slamming the detainee's head against a wall.

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After removing the hood, the interrogator opens with a slap across the face -- to get the detainee's attention -- followed by other slaps, the guidelines state. Next comes the head-slamming, or "walling," which can be tried once "to make a point," or repeated again and again.

"Twenty or thirty times consecutively" is permissible, the guidelines say, "if the interrogator requires a more significant response to a question." And if that fails, there are far harsher techniques to be tried.

Five years after the CIA's secret detention program came to light, much is known about the spy agency's decision to use harsh techniques, including waterboarding, to pry information from alleged al-Qaeda leaders. Now, with the release late Monday of guidelines for interrogating high-value detainees, the agency has provided -- in its own words -- the first detailed description of the step-by-step procedures used to systematically crush a detainee's will to resist by eliciting stress, exhaustion and fear.

The guidelines, along with thousands of pages from other newly released documents, also show how the CIA gradually imposed limits on the program and eliminated some of the most controversial practices after the agency's medical advisers protested.

Still, by Dec. 30, 2004, the date of the CIA memo that outlines the guidelines to the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, agency interrogators had grown adept at using sleep deprivation, stress positions and sometimes multiple methods to create a "state of learned helplessness and dependence."

"Certain interrogation techniques place the detainee in more physical and psychological stress and, therefore, are considered more effective tools," according to the memo, released under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Amnesty International USA and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The CIA on Tuesday declined to comment on the memo, which was written by an agency lawyer whose name was redacted from the document. But agency spokesman George Little noted that the interrogation program operated under guidelines approved by top legal officials of the Bush administration's Justice Department.

"This program, which always constituted a fraction of the CIA's counterterrorism efforts, is over," Little said. "The agency is, as always, focused on protecting the nation today and into the future."

CIA officials also have noted that harsh techniques were reserved for a small group of top-level terrorism suspects believed to be knowledgeable about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Agency officials believe the methods prevented future attacks.

Medical Concerns

As outlined in the memo, the agency's psychological assault on a detainee would begin immediately after his arrest. With blindfolds and earmuffs, he would be "deprived of sight and sound" during the flight to the CIA's secret prison. He would have no human interaction, except during a medical checkup.

In the initial days of detention, an assessment interview would determine whether the captive would cooperate willingly by providing "information on actionable threats." If no such leads were volunteered, a coercive phase would begin.


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