Red Cross: Terrorism Suspects Subjected To Torture The International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a confidential February 2007 report that the Bush administration-approved treatment of terrorist suspects amounted to torture, a finding that by definition would constitute a violation of the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war.
NPR logo Red Cross: Terrorism Suspects Subjected To Torture

Red Cross: Terrorism Suspects Subjected To Torture

This photo provided by U.S. Central Command shows Abu Zubaydah, date and location unknown. U.S. Central Command/AP hide caption

toggle caption
U.S. Central Command/AP

This photo provided by U.S. Central Command shows Abu Zubaydah, date and location unknown.

U.S. Central Command/AP

More On CIA 'Black Sites'

Mark Danner, author of Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror, talks about the secret locations outside of the United States.

The International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a confidential February 2007 report that the Bush administration-approved treatment of terrorist suspects amounted to torture, a finding that by definition would constitute a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

In newly published excerpts from the report, which was given to senior White House officials in 2007, the ICRC stated that the conditions under which 14 "high value" CIA detainees, including alleged al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah, were held as part of a secret interrogation program conducted at "black site" detention centers represented torture.

"Many other elements of the ill-treatment ... constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," the report read.

The 1949 Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war explicitly outlaws "violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture." The accord also prohibits "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment."

Portions Of Red Cross Report Leaked

Excerpts from the ICRC report, leaked to journalism professor and author Mark Danner, were published in the April 9 edition of the New York Review of Books. According to Danner, at least five copies of the report were given to senior administration officials in 2007 but were not released to the public in accordance with the ICRC's policy of strict neutrality in armed conflicts.

"The document came into my hands from parties that thought it should be made public," Danner told NPR.

The Red Cross has not denied the existence of the report, but ICRC spokesman Bernard Barrett expressed "regret [that] information attributed to the ICRC report was made public in this manner."

CIA officials, contacted by NPR, declined to comment on the report.

The conclusions were based on Red Cross interviews in 2006 with "high value" prisoners who had been transferred to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after they had been interrogated in various countries in a program of "extraordinary rendition" approved by the Bush White House, according to the report.

The report highlights the case of Zubaydah, who was captured in Pakistan in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Bush administration had described Zubaydah as a high-ranking al-Qaida operative and close associate of Osama bin Laden.

'Naked, Strapped To A Bed'

After a firefight that resulted in his capture by a joint U.S.-Pakistan intelligence team, Zubaydah was treated for his life-threatening wounds by an American trauma surgeon and then reportedly transferred to a holding cell somewhere in Thailand.

Zubaydah described waking up "naked, strapped to a bed" in a small room with metal bars separating it from a larger room.

"After some time, I think it was several days, but can't remember exactly, I was transferred to a chair where I was kept, shackled by [the] hands and feet for what I think was the next two to three weeks," he said, according to the report.

Zubaydah said he was allowed up only to go to the toilet and "was given no solid food during the first two or three weeks, while sitting on the chair. I was only given Ensure [a nutrient supplement] and water to drink."

He said his cell was kept very cold and that "very loud, shouting type music was constantly playing," according to the report. Zubaydah also describes being intermittently interrogated and prevented from sleeping. "If I started to fall asleep, one of the guards would come and spray water in my face," he said.

Later, Zubaydah says he was transferred from the base in Thailand to what he believed was a location inside Afghanistan. There, the interrogation reportedly intensified.

His handlers "wrapped a towel around my neck, they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room," he told the ICRC investigators.

"I was then put into [a] tall black box for what I think was about 1 1/2 to two hours. The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside. ... They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe," Zubaydah said.

He also told investigators that he was then subjected to a technique of controlled drowning, commonly known as waterboarding, in which he says he was strapped to a gurney and that "a black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe."

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

Another detainee interviewed by the Red Cross described being photographed after his capture and then "made to wear a diaper and dressed in a tracksuit," according to the report. "Earphones would be placed over his ears, through which music would sometimes be played. He would be blindfolded with at least a cloth tied around the head and black goggles."

"The detainee would be shackled by [the] hands and feet and transported to the airport by road and loaded onto a plane. He would usually be transported in a reclined sitting position with his hands shackled in front," the report stated. "The journey times ... ranged from one hour to over twenty-four to thirty hours. The detainee was not allowed to go to the toilet and if necessary was obliged to urinate and defecate into the diaper."

Detainee Treatment Defended

The Bush administration defended the treatment of captured terrorist suspects, saying "enhanced interrogation" techniques were necessary for intelligence purposes but repeatedly denied that the procedures amounted to torture.

"If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time, you probably aren't doing your job," the Times story quoted one unnamed official who was said to have supervised the capture and transfer of accused terrorists.

Up to 100 terrorist suspects or enemy combatants at any given time were held in secret prisons at military bases in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan, Morocco, Poland and Romania as part of a "hidden global internment network" run by the CIA and authorized by President Bush as part of a memorandum of understanding signed on Sept. 17, 2001, according to the ICRC report.

Days after taking office, President Obama issued an executive order effectively rescinding the Bush policy on interrogations and detention and ordering the Guantanamo Bay prison closed within a year. Last week, the White House said it would stop using the term "enemy combatants" to describe Guantanamo detainees.