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Who Ordered the Torture of Abu Zubaydah?

If the torture of the first "high-value detainee" was authorized by the Bybee memos, who ordered his torture 18 weeks before they were written?

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We also know that, shortly after his capture, Zubaydah was flown to Thailand, to a secret underground prison provided by the Thai government, where, as a New York Times article in September 2006 explained, “he was stripped, held in an icy room and jarred by earsplittingly loud music -- the genesis of practices later adopted by some within the military, and widely used by the Central Intelligence Agency in handling prominent terrorism suspects at secret overseas prisons.” 

The details of his treatment, “based on accounts by former and current law enforcement and intelligence officials,” were even more shocking. We have become somewhat inured, over the years, to stories of prisoners deprived of sleep for disturbing long periods of time, in which the use of loud, non-stop music -- in this case, the Red Hot Chili Peppers -- played an integral part. 

This in itself is unacceptable, as the use of music is not simply a matter of being forced to listen to the same song over and over again at ear-splitting volume, but is, instead, a component in a program of sleep deprivation and isolation designed to provoke a complete mental breakdown. One of the major reference points for the CIA in the 1950s, when it was deeply involved in investigating the efficacy of psychological torture techniques, was research conducted by Donald Hebb, a Canadian psychologist, who discovered that, “if subjects are confined without light, odor, sound, or any fixed references of time and place, very deep breakdowns can be provoked,” and that, within just 48 hours, those held in what he termed “perceptual isolation” can be reduced to semi-psychotic states. 

However, while some interpretation and empathy is required to understand the impact on Abu Zubaydah of his profound isolation in this period, in which, as the Times also reported, he was largely cut off from all human interaction, only occasionally punctuated by an interrogator entering his cell, saying, “You know what I want,” and then leaving, there is no denying the visceral impact of the following description. “At times, Mr. Zubaydah, still weak from his wounds, was stripped and placed in a cell without a bunk or blankets,” the Times explained. “He stood or lay on the bare floor, sometimes with air-conditioning adjusted so that, one official said, Mr. Zubaydah seemed to turn blue ” (emphasis added). 

Further information about Zubaydah’s treatment in Thailand has not emerged in great detail. In The Dark Side , Jane Mayer noted only that he was “held naked in a small cage, like a dog,” and the ICRC report focused instead on his detention in Afghanistan, from May 2002 to February 2003. What we do know, however, from the Senate Committee’s report, is that an FBI agent was so appalled by his treatment at the hands of CIA agents that he “raised objections to these techniques to the CIA and told the CIA it was ‘borderline torture,’” and that, sometime later, FBI director Robert Mueller “decided that FBI agents would not participate in interrogations involving techniques the FBI did not normally use in the United States.” We also know from Jane Mayer that R. Scott Shumate, the chief operational psychologist for the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, left his job in 2003, apparently disgusted by developments involving the use of the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and that “associates described him as upset in particular about the treatment of Zubaydah.” 

Moreover, although the ICRC report dealt only with Zubaydah’s treatment in Afghanistan, it’s also clear that the techniques to which he was subjected in Afghanistan, in the approximately two and a half months before the OLC memos were signed, also “constituted torture.”