“Removal of clothing was authorized by the Secretary of Defense [Rumsfeld] for use at GTMO [Guantánamo] on December 2, 2002,” acknowledges the recently released U.S. Senate Armed Service Committee report on the use of harsh interrogation techniques. It also reports that the use of prolonged nudity proved so effective that, in January 2003, it was approved for use in Afghanistan and, in the fall of 2003, was adopted for use in Iraq.
“Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody”
The Senate report came out shortly after a secret International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) report on CIA torture techniques used as part of its detention program was leaked by Mark Danner of the “New York Review of Books.” These reports provoked a storm of media attention, much of it focused on the use of waterboarding (or what the ICRC more aptly calls “suffocation by water”) and, in particular, its use on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times and Abu Zubaydah 83 times.
The media paid less attention to the host of what the ICRC calls the other “methods of ill-treatment.” The Senate report identifies these techniques as: use of military dogs, stress positions and physical training, sleep adjustment/sleep management, sensory deprivation and removal of clothing. The ICRC identifies them as: prolonged stress standing, beating by use of a collar, beating and kicking, confinement in a box, sleep deprivation and use of load music, exposure to cold temperature/cold water, prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles, threats, forced shaving, deprivation/restricted provision of solid food and prolonged nudity.
These reports, together with the recent release of Bush-administration “torture memos,” helped focus national attention on a shameful, if not illegal, aspect of mad king George’s War on Terror. However, these reports are “official” documents based on revelations of a very limited number of sources. The information gathered, while invaluable, is limited by these sources.
The limited sources limit the public’s knowledge of the full scope of the torture committed by American intelligence agents, military officers and private contractors. Focusing on the issue of sexual torture, which includes prolonged nudity, reveals what has been made public but also what has yet to become publicly acknowledged.
Failure to publicly acknowledge the full scope of sexual torture, along with all the other “harsh” interrogation techniques, creates a sanitized, “official,” history. Americans will never know what torture was committed in their name, nor be able to hold accountable those who ordered and executed these actions unless they go beyond “official” sources.
* * *
The ICRC conducted interviews with fourteen “enemy combatants” from eight countries. The detainees were arrested over a nearly three-year period, from March 2002 through May 2005. Eleven of the detainees were subject to prolonged nudity “during detention and interrogation, ranging from several weeks continuously up to several months intermittently.”
The ICRC recounts what it calls the “alleged” experiences of seven detaineesm subject to prolonged nudity:
• Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – kept naked for one month in Afghanistan.
• Abu Zubaydah– kept naked for two-and-a-half weeks in Afghanistan after recovering at a Pakistan hospital; he reports subsequently being repeatedly provided with clothing and then stripped naked for weeks at a time.
• Walid Bin Attash – kept naked two weeks in Afghanistan and again for a month in a second but unknown detention facility.
• Encep Nuraman (aka Hambali) – kept naked for four or five days in Thailand and a week in Afghanistan, followed by intermittent periods of being clothed and naked.
• Majid Khan – kept naked for three days in Afghanistan and seven days in his third place of detention.
• Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep – kept naked three to four days in Thailand and nine days in Afghanistan.
• Unnamed detainee – kept naked for two to three months in Afghanistan and then faced intermittent periods of being clothed and naked.
The sources of these reports were interviews with the detainees.
The Senate report provides a far different assessment on what it calls “removal of clothing.” It makes clear that the use of prolonged nudity found strong support within the CIA and military as an interrogation technique. It reports that nudity was imported into Iraq, especially Abu Ghraib prison, from Afghanistan and GTMO.
It states that this technique served a number of critical interrogation purposes, including to “humiliate detainees,” to “renew ‘capture shock’ of detainees” and as an incentive for good behavior. It use was extensive, as indicated by two of the many officers interviewed. COL Jerry Philabaum, the Commander of the 320th MP, reports seeing “between 12-15 detainees naked in their own individual cells.” CPT Donald Reese, the Commander of the 372nd MP Company, acknowledged that prolonged nudity was “known to everyone” and it was “common practice to walk the tier and see detainees with clothing and bedding.” Other officers made similar statements.
Like the ICRC report, the Senate report draws extensively on interviews, but these interviews are with Army officers from the Military Police and intelligence. In addition, the Senate report draws on a number of publicly released military report, most notably by Major General George Fay, known as the Fay Report. One of its quotes is remarkably candid, perhaps more revealing than originally intended: detention created an “environment that would appear to condone depravity and degradation rather than humane treatment of detainees.” The report also makes a single passing reference to Major General Antonio Taguba’s report on Abu Ghraib.
* * *
The first “enemy combatants” arrive at Guantánamo on January 11, 2002, nearly a year before Rumsfeld officially authorized the use of sexual torture. According to a CBS timeline, a “U.S. Air Force plane from Afghanistan touches down at Guantanamo carrying 20 prisoners, marking the start of the detention operation.” [CBS News Gitmo Timeline, August 24, 2004] In the Senate report, SMU [Special Mission Unit] TF [Task Force] Commander [name blacked out] states that when he “took command [of Guantánemo] he ‘discovered that some of the detainees were not allowed clothes’ as an interrogation technique [blacked out] said he terminated the practice in December 2003 or January 2004.”
The disclosures about prolonged nudity received little public discussion. Compared to the many far worse techniques employed, most notably “suffocation by water,” head beating, kicking, stress positions, uses of dogs and sleep deprivation, sexual torture seems rather modest. But its purpose was, along with the other techniques, clear. As the ICRC notes, it “was clearly designed to undermine human dignity and create a sense of futility … resulting in exhaustion, depersonalization and dehumanization.”
However, drawing upon other sources paints a different picture, one far less sanitized and much more sadistic. What is not known is whether these additional techniques were approved by U.S. military and civilian leaders or were the improvised actions of frontline officers and contractors? A few examples illustrate these techniques.
The best single source on the use of sexual torture at Abu Ghraib remains the Taguba report. In the report’s executive summary, the following “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” are identified as having been used at the prison:
* forcing detainees to remove their clothing and keeping them naked for several days at a time;
* forcing detainees to remove their clothing and keeping them naked for several days at a time;
* videotaping and photographing naked male and female detainees;
* forcibly arranging detainees in various sexually explicit positions for photographing;
* forcing naked male detainees to wear women’s underwear;
* forcing groups of male detainees to masturbate themselves while being photographed and videotaped;
* arranging naked male detainees in a pile and then jumping on them;
* positioning a naked detainee on a MRE [meals ready to eat] Box, with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes, and penis to simulate electric torture;
* placing a dog chain or strap around a naked detainee’s neck and having a female soldier pose for a picture;
* sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick.
Why did this part of the Taguba report not appear in the Senate report? Its absence speaks to the way official reports are sanitized and an “inside the Beltway” history is written. [see “Sexual Terrorism: The Sadistic Side of Bush’s War on Terror,” CounterPunch, May 13, 2008]
The U.S. and international press revealed disturbing episodes of sexual terror used by American forces. For example, The Associated Press reported that a former inmate, Dhia al-Shweiri, was ordered by American soldiers to strip naked, bend over and place his hands on a wall; while not sodomized, he says he was humiliated: “We are men. It’s OK if they beat me,” al Shweiri said. “Beatings don’t hurt us; it’s just a blow. But no one would want their manhood to be shattered.”
Scotland’s “Sunday Herald” reported that a former Iraqi prisoner claimed that there is a photo of a civilian translator raping a male juvenile prisoner; he stated, “They covered all the doors with sheets. I heard the screaming, … and the female soldier was taking pictures.”
London’s “Independent” reported on the experience of Hayder Sabbar Abd, immortalized as the man in the hood in infamous Abu Ghraib photo of Lynndie England. Abd alleges that he was ordered to masturbate as Ms. England “put her hands on her breasts,” which he couldn’t; and to simulate fellatio with another prisoner, which he appears to have done.
The “Sydney Morning Herald” noted: “Female interrogators tried to break Muslim detainees at Guantanamo Bay by sexual touching, wearing a miniskirt and thong underwear and in one case smearing a Saudi man’s face with fake menstrual blood, according to an insider’s written account.”
* * *
Sexual torture served two purposes on those subjected to such abuse: to physically harm and to emotionally scar. It was intended to break male inmates. It sought to inflict both pain and shame, to make the recipient suffer and loathe himself. Sexual torture attempted to break the victim both physically and spiritually, to leave scars on (and inside) the body and in the psyche.
With Obama’s election, the U.S. military has probably ceased employing “harsh interrogation techniques.” Unfortunately, given Obama’s pragmatism, the Congress’ complicity, the military’s bureaucratic zealotry and the CIA’s (and private contractors’) immorality, one can only wonder what would happen if another September 11th occurred.
The full scope of “harsh interrogation techniques” used during the War on Terror is unknown. Nor is it fully known who within the Bush administration approved the use of such technique, not who within the U.S. military and intelligence community (along with private contractors) used such techniques. Answers to these questions should be the first task of any “official” investigation of the War on Terror. And those undertaking the investigation should use a far wider assortment of sources than those deemed “official.” Only then will the American people understand what was done in their name and, hopefully, how to stop it from happening again.
DAVID ROSEN is the author of “Sex Scandal America: Politics & the Ritual of Public Shaming” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.