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Torture, rendition, and other abuses against captives in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere

 
  

Project: Prisoner abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere

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December 9, 2001

       After two days naked, hungry, in pain and sleepless in the cold container, John Walker Lindh is dressed in hospital garb and carried, still blindfolded and handcuffed, to a nearby room or tent. As his blindfold is removed, Lindh finds himself in the presence of an FBI agent. From an “advice of rights” form, the agent begins to read Lindh his Miranda rights. Where the form refers to the right to an attorney, the FBI agent adds, “Of course, there are no lawyers here.” Lindh, nevertheless, asks if he can see an attorney, but the FBI agent repeats his statement that there are no attorneys present. Lindh then signs a Miranda waiver of his constitutional Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and to consult an attorney, believing he would otherwise return to the conditions to which he was previously subjected, or that a worse fate may await him. The subsequent interrogation by the FBI agent lasts at least three hours. [US v. John Phillip Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002]
People and organizations involved: John Walker Lindh
          

December 28, 2001

       Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed (the “Tipton Three”), held at Sheberghan prison, are among thirty to fifty other foreign prisoners whose custody is taken over by US Special Forces from the troops of the Northern Alliance. [Sources: Composite statement by Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed: Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, 7/26/2004] Abdul Razaq, a Pakistani teacher of English, says he is singled out for no other reason than that he speaks English. [The Guardian, 12/3/2003] Taken to the main gate, US Special Forces personnel surround them pointing their guns at them. One by one they are stripped of all their clothes, despite the freezing temperature, and photographed. After five minutes they are allowed to put their clothes back on. [Sources: Composite statement by Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed: Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, 7/26/2004] One by one, they are taken to a shed. With their hands and feet tied with plastic cuffs, each of them is questioned by US soldiers in uniform. As one American starts the interrogation, another soldier, Rasul says, keeps a machine gun aimed at him. The interrogator, according to Rasul, says, “if you move, that guy over there will shoot you.” When it is Iqbal's turn, a soldier, he says, is “holding a black 9mm automatic pistol to my temple. The barrel of the pistol was actually touching my temple.” [Sources: Composite statement by Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed: Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, 7/26/2004] Razaq's interview takes only three or four minutes with only two questions asked: “What is your name, and why have you come to Afghanistan?” [The Guardian, 12/3/2003] Immediately after the interrogations, the non-Afghan prisoners have a sandbag put over their heads. For three or four hours, they have to wait in the cold for all detainees to complete the interrogations. “I think we were all suffering from the cold, dehydration, hunger, the uncertainty as well as the pain caused by the plastic ties,” Ahmed recalls. “Added to this, periodically Special Forces soldiers would walk along a line of sitting detainees and kick us or beat us at will.” Iqbal remembers that “one of them said ‘you killed my family in the towers and now it's time to get you back.’ They kept calling us motherf_ckers and I think over the three or four hours that I was sitting there, I must have been punched, kicked, slapped or struck with a rifle butt at least 30 or 40 times. It came to a point that I was simply too numb from the cold and from exhaustion to respond to the pain.” [Sources: Composite statement by Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed: Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, 7/26/2004] In the end, the prisoners are dragged, tied up and hooded, the skin scraping off their feet, to the backs of a number of trucks that take them to an airstrip. Loaded onto freezing cold cargo planes, they are forced to sit on the floor, still hooded, with their tied-up feet straight in front of them and their hands tied behind their backs. [Sources: Composite statement by Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed: Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, 7/26/2004] Rasul testifies, “Given that I was extremely weak and that I was suffering from dysentery, dehydration, hunger, and exhaustion it was impossible to maintain this position for more than a few minutes at a time. If however I leant back or tried to move, I would be struck with a rifle butt. These blows were not designed to prevent us from falling back or to adjust our position, they were meant to hurt and punish us.” [Sources: Composite statement by Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed: Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, 7/26/2004] They eventually land at a US air base at Kandahar. According to Razaq prisoners arriving at Kandahar are offloaded in a particularly violent manner. “They haul you from your neck and drop you off the plane.” Relating his experience at Kandahar, Mohammed Saghir, a grey-bearded sawmill owner, says: “They would just pick us up and throw us out. Some people were hurt, some quite badly.” And Pakistani detainee Shah Mohammed, who arrives at Kandahar from a prison near Mazar-e-Sharif, says: “They kicked us out of the plane and threw us on the ground.” [The Guardian, 12/3/2003] At Kandahar, probably on the evening of December 28, the newly arrived prisoners are forced to walk in a circle which is “unbearably painful” because their cuffs cut into their skin. US soldiers force their foreheads into the stony ground, hit, kick, and punch them and occasionally strike them with a rifle butt. They cut off their clothes and carry out “humiliating” cavity searches. [Sources: Composite statement by Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed: Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, 7/26/2004]
People and organizations involved: Mohammed Saghir, Noor Aghah, Rhuhel Ahmed, Asif Iqbal, Shafiq Rasul
          

January 2002

       As soon as Tarek Dergoul arrives at Bagram, he is subjected to treatment that he later describes as sexually humiliating. “When I arrived, with a bag over my head, I was stripped naked and taken to a big room with 15 or 20 MP's. They started taking photos and then they did a full cavity search. As they were doing that they were taking close-ups, concentrating on my private parts.” Dergoul sees other prisoners enduring beatings, which he is spared. “Guards with guns and baseball bats would make the detainees squat for hours, and if they fell over from exhaustion, they'd beat them until they lost consciousness. They called it ‘beat down.’ ” Dergoul is interrogated 20 to 25 times at Bagram. Once, a team from the British intelligence agency MI5 is present, at which occasion he is told his family's assets will be seized. His interrogators accuse him of fighting with al-Qaeda in the Tora Bora mountains. Although he says none of that is true, Dergoul finally breaks. “I was in extreme pain from the frostbite and other injuries and I was so weak I could barely stand. It was freezing cold and I was shaking and shivering like a washing machine. The interrogators, who questioned me at gunpoint, said if I confessed I'd be going home. Finally I agreed I'd been at Tora Bora—though I still wouldn't admit I'd ever met bin Laden.” [The Guardian, 3/13/2004; The Observer, 5/16/2004]
People and organizations involved: Tarek Dergoul
          

January-June 2002

       More than 140 suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda members are transferred to an alleged US detention center in Kohat, Pakistan. According to one report, the Pakistani army is responsible for maintaining the external security of the prison, while US officials are responsible for security inside. As at Bagram, US officials interrogate prisoners in order to determine who should be transferred to Guantanamo Bay. According to Javed Ibrahim Paracha of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), prisoners at Kohat are shackled and dressed only in shorts. Detainees are transferred in military planes only under the cover of night. [Human Rights First, 6/2004]
People and organizations involved: Javed Ibrahim Paracha
          

January 12 or 13, 2002

       In Kandahar, American soldiers call out a number of prisoners including Rasul. He has a sack placed over his head and his wrists and ankles are shackled. Someone, “for no reason,” hits him on the back of his head with a hand-gun. During the night, he stays with about 20 other detainees in a tent with a wet floor, and “no bed or mattress or anything.” The next morning, Asif Iqbal and Rasul, both recall, have their clothes cut off and their beards and heads shaven. [Sources: Composite statement by Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed: Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, 7/26/2004] Taken outside, naked, shackled, and hooded, Rasul hears dogs nearby and soldiers shouting, “Get 'em boy.” In another tent, something is painfully forced into his anus. He and the others are then given orange uniforms, and new handcuffs are attached to a chain around their waists and cuffs around their ankles. The cuffs, according to Rasul, are “extremely tight and cut into my wrists and ankles.” Next, they are donned with mittens, ear-muffs, blacked-out goggles, and a sort of surgical mask. Rasul is then made to sit down outside in the freezing cold on the ground “for hours and hours, perhaps nine or ten altogether,” not allowed to move. At last Rasul, Iqbal, and about 40 other prisoners are led aboard a cargo plane, and chained on benches with no back. Any movement is responded to with a kick. [Sources: Composite statement by Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed: Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, 7/26/2004] Later on, the passengers' hands will be tied to hand rests and their bodies held attached by a belt to the back of a chair. [The Guardian, 12/3/2003] Their destination is unknown to them. During the flight, according to Iqbal, they receive an unusual luxury: “peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and orange slices.” At some point during the journey, more than halfway, the plane lands and the prisoners are transferred to another plane. As to where this is, the two Britons have no clue, but it is “obviously somewhere very hot.” Ahmed, who will come to Guantanamo one month later, makes a similar landing during the journey and is told by soldiers they have landed in Turkey. During the switch, a soldier stamps on the chain between Iqbal's ankles, which is “extremely painful.” Two-and-a-half years later Rasul will still have scarring on his left arm from the tightness of the shackles during the flight. He also loses the feeling in his right hand for a long time because of it. [Sources: Composite statement by Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed: Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, 7/26/2004] Around January 13, Iqbal and Rasul arrive at Guantanamo.
People and organizations involved: Rhuhel Ahmed, Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal
          

April-May 2002

       After six months in an Egyptian prison (see October 5, 2001-April 2002), Mamdouh Habib is flown to the Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Habib will arrive at Guantanamo the following month. [Washington Post, 1/6/2005] After his arrival there, according to the Tipton Three, he bleeds from his nose, ears, and mouth when asleep. He receives no medical attention. They describe him as being “in catastrophic shape, mental, and physical.” At some time during his stay at Guantanamo, Habib is put in isolation at Camp Echo, where prisoners are deprived of natural light 24 hours a day. [Sources: Composite statement by Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed: Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, 7/26/2004]
People and organizations involved: Shafiq Rasul
          

April-May 2002

       28-year-old Afghan taxi driver Sayed Abassin is on his way from Kabul to Khost, when he is stopped at a checkpoint at Gardez. One of his passengers is identified as a wanted suspect, and all the occupants in the vehicle, Abassin included, are arrested. At the Gardez police station Abassin is beaten before being turned over to the US military. After a brief interrogation, he is flown by helicopter to the Bagram base. When his father makes inquiries, he is only told that his son has been taken to Bagram. For the first week he is held in shackles and kept in a cell with 24-hour lighting, with the guards waking him up whenever he would fall asleep. He does not get enough to eat and is forced to stand or kneel for four hours a day. A year later he will say he still has problems with his knees. He is interrogated six or seven times. In total, he spends 40 days at Bagram. [Associated Press, 3/15/2003 cited in Amnesty International, 8/19/2003]
People and organizations involved: Sayed Abassin
          

April 28-29, 2002

       In Guantanamo, the 300 detainees (see April 28, 2002) being held in at Camp X-Ray are transferred to Camp Delta. Although cells at Camp Delta are even smaller than at Camp X-Ray (8 ft x 6 ft, 8 inches compared to 8 ft x 8 ft), [American Forces Press Service, 1/14/2003] the cells are now equipped with a flush toilet, a sink with running water and a metal bed frame. “There is indoor plumbing, exercise areas are better controlled, and detainees are out of the sun more,” Brig. Gen. Rick Baccus, the commander of Military Police at Guantanamo says. [American Forces Press Service, 1/14/2003] The new facility also has the advantage of being more secure. “We've a much more secure facility to house them in Camp Delta. For instance, the guards don't have to escort them to the bathroom all the time and those types of things. That's a great improvement in terms of how the guards have to deal with them on a daily basis.” [American Forces Press Service, 1/14/2003] Recreation time goes up from 5 minutes a day at Camp X-Ray to 15 minutes at Camp Delta. [The Mirror, 3/12/2004] Use of Camp X-ray does not end. An undated Pentagon memo shows the camp is still used for isolation purposes between December 2002 and January 15, 2003. [Sources: GTMO Interrogation techniques, n.d.] Still, according to a Pentagon adviser, around the middle of 2002, some high-security prisoners will enjoy their recreation time strapped into heavy, straitjacket-like clothing, with their arms tied behind them, goggles over their eyes and their heads hooded. Describing what he was told by a Pentagon official, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh writes in the Guardian of London: “The restraints forced [these prisoners] to move, if he chose to move, on his knees, bent over at a 45-degree angle. Most prisoners just sat and suffered in the heat.” [The Guardian, 9/13/2004]
People and organizations involved: Rick Baccus
          

August 22, 2002

       In Asadabad, Afghanistan, US troops arrest Haji Rohullah Wakil, a local leader, together with 11 of his associates. They are flown by helicopter to Bagram air base. [New York Times, 8/28/2002] One of Wakil's associates, Abdul Qayyum, will later tell the Associated Press of his experience at Bagram. Qayyum stays at the base for two months and five days, during which time he says he is systematically deprived of sleep, forced to stand for long periods of time and humiliated by female US soldiers. All the time, he is forbidden to talk to his fellow detainees. He is held in a large hall with about 100 other prisoners divided by wire mesh into several cages or cells, each containing 10 people. The lights are always on, washing is allowed for only five minutes a week, and a bucket is provided for use as a toilet. When a military spokesperson is later asked to comment on Rahman's account, the spokesperson says it sounds only partially true (see January 22, 2002). [Associated Press, 3/15/2003]
People and organizations involved: Haji Rohullah Wakil, Abdul Qayyum
          

(Late August 2003)

       At the Abu Ghraib prison facility in Iraq, prisoners are reportedly barefoot and have symptoms of untreated illnesses. [New York Times, 5/13/2004]
People and organizations involved: Iraq
          

October 20, 2003

       Amnesty International publishes a report stating that it believes that “the totality of conditions” in which “most” of the detainees at Guantanamo are being held may itself amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Amnesty notes that the Committee against Torture, established to oversee implementation of the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, “has expressly held that restraining detainees in very painful positions, hooding, threats, and prolonged sleep deprivation are methods of interrogation which violate the prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” [Amnesty International, 10/20/2003]
People and organizations involved: Amnesty International
          

November 29, 2003

       In downtown Baghdad, Saddam Salah al-Rawi, a 29-year-old Iraqi Sunni Muslim, reports to an Iraqi police officer that he believes a car on Saddoun Street is wired with explosives. The Iraqi police then take him to a US Army base in Baghdad “on Palestine Street.” Upon arrival at the base, he is immediately taken in custody. According to al-Rawi, the US captain cuffs him, pushes him around, and kicks him in the thigh before putting him in a room. After two hours he is visited by two US soldiers—a specialist and a sergeant first class—and an Arab translator, who begin interrogating him. He is left the rest of the day and night without food, water, a blanket, or mattress. [The Guardian, 5/13/2004; New York Times, 5/14/2004; ABC News, 8/8/2004 Sources: Testimony of Saddam Saleh Al Rawi]
People and organizations involved: Saddam Salah al-Rawi
          

December 2-3, 2003

       On the fourth day of Saddam Salah al-Rawi's detention, he is again handcuffed and hooded, and then driven to an unknown location. As he is being registered, all his personal belongings are confiscated, including his “identification, some documents, $350 US and 1,940,000 Iraqi Dinars, giving [him] no receipt.” Taken to a cell with a bed frame and two blankets, he is given prison clothes, a Koran, water, and cigarettes. For two days he is left alone. He is fed twice a day, and allowed to use the lavatory once a day, “which wasn't enough, so I had to pee in my empty water bottles,” he later recalls. [Sources: Testimony of Saddam Saleh Al Rawi]
People and organizations involved: Saddam Salah al-Rawi
          

December 25, 2003

       After her brother's dead body has been taken away, Huda al-Azzawi and 18 other Iraqi detainees at the US base in Adhamiya are put inside a minibus. “The Americans told us: ‘Nobody is going to sleep tonight.’ They played scary music continuously with loud voices. As soon as someone fell asleep they started beating on the door. It was Christmas. They kept us there for three days. Many of the US soldiers were drunk.” [The Guardian, 9/20/2004] During the coming days, she is subjected to severe physical violence when a US guard either breaks [The Guardian, 9/20/2004] or dislocates her shoulder. It leads to her being examined by a doctor. “Paradoxically, that was the best thing that happened to me. The doctor was furious with the guard and demanded that they cuff my hands in front of me, instead of behind my back, a less painful position.” For a week she is kicked or hit with rifle butts in her breasts and her stomach. She is forced to squat or stand up for hours. She is denied sufficient food and sleep, and is forced to listen to “terrifying” music. [Le Monde, 10/12/2004]
People and organizations involved: Huda al-Azzawi
          

February 24, 2004

       “There was never enough food and one day,” Huda al-Azzawi, detained at Abu Ghraib (see January 4, 2004), recalls, “I came across an old woman who had collapsed from hunger. The Americans were always eating lots of hot food. I found some in a packet in a bin and gave it to her. They caught me and threw me in a one-meter-square punishment cell. They then poured cold water on me for four hours.” [The Guardian, 9/20/2004]
People and organizations involved: Huda al-Azzawi
          

June 15, 2004

       In Guantanamo, British/Zambian detainee Martin Mubanga is taken from his cell for interrogation. After several hours of questioning, he asks his interrogator to let him use the lavatory. But according to Mubanga, the official says: “You'll go when I say so.” When the interrogator leaves the room, Mubanga feels forced to urinate on the floor. The interrogator returns with a mop, dips it in the puddle and begins to cover Mubanga with his own urine, “like he's using a big paintbrush.” “All the while,” Mubanga relates, “he's racially abusing me, cussing me: ‘Oh, the poor little negro, the poor little nigger.’ ” [The Observer, 2/6/2005]
People and organizations involved: Martin Mubanga
          

July 8, 2004

       Mehdi Ghezali, held at Guantanamo since December 2001, returns to Sweden. He has lost feeling in part of his left foot because of the ankle chains he wore at Guantanamo. His teeth are also in poor condition. [Agence France-Presse, 7/14/2004]
People and organizations involved: Mehdi Ghezali
          

Morning July 22, 2004

       The US Army's inspector general, Lt. Gen. Paul T. Mikolashek, presents a 300-page report listing 94 documented cases of prisoner abuse to the Senate Armed Services Committee. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004] Of the 94 cases cited in the report, 39 are deaths. Twenty of those are suspected homicides. [Los Angeles Times, 10/15/2004] In preparing the report, Mikolashek's team visited more than two dozen US military installations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the US. Unlike previous investigations, Mikolashek did not look at individual cases. Instead, his team reviewed records of reported cases and the findings of previous investigations. Team members also interviewed 650 soldiers and officers and looked at broad Army doctrine and training. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004] Mikolashek's report concludes that abuses were not due to “systemic” problems. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004] For example, it found no evidence that there was a “pattern of abuse” in the central command's area of responsibility. [New York Times, 6/6/2004] The report's conclusions are made in spite of the fact that the investigative team identified numerous problems at the prison stemming from poorly trained US military personnel, inadequate supervision, and vague and contradictory policies and orders. According to Mikolashek, documented cases of abuse were “aberrations” that did not follow from Army doctrine but from the “the failure of individuals to follow known standards of discipline and Army values and, in some cases, the failure of a few leaders to enforce those standards of discipline.” They were, the report stressed, “unauthorized actions taken by a few individuals.” The conduct of most of the soldiers, however, exhibited “military professionalism, ingrained Army values, and moral courage,” the report insisted. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004] The report's conclusions stand in stark contrast to the Red Cross's report (see February 24, 2004), released in late February, which concluded that problems in the US detention system were widespread and systemic. Though the report will be heavily criticized for its conclusion that military and administration officials should not be blamed for the atrocities, it does contain an abundant amount of evidence that they created an environment that encouraged the abuses to happen. For example, Mikolashek's team found:
The military hired private contractors to interrogate detainees because the military had too few translators and interrogators in the field. More than a third of these private contractors were not sufficiently trained. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004]

Almost two thirds of the prisoners were kept in makeshift prison camps, or collection points, for as many as 30 days—60 times the 12-hour limit set by Army doctrine. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004]

Preventive medical services were insufficient. Not one of the US-run facilities visited by the team met the Army's medical screening requirements. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004]

Copies of the Geneva Conventions in the detainees' native languages were present at only four of the 16 facilities visited by Mikolashek's team, in contravention of international law. There was not a single US-run facility in Afghanistan that had a copy. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004]

At Abu Ghraib, the conditions were extremely unsanitary. The prison was seriously overcrowded, lacked an adequate supply of potable water, and had garbage and sewage strewn on the grounds of the outdoor camps. There were only 12 showers available for 600 to 700 detainees. Meals provided to the detainees were often contaminated with dirt and rodent droppings. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004]

The Bagram base in Afghanistan had a leaking roof and no sanitary system. “Human waste spills were frequent on the main floor,” the reports says. Sections of the base were contaminated with toxic chemicals leftover from previous airport operations. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004]

The military's interrogation policy was confusing and instructions were often conflicting. “While the language of the approved policies could be viewed as a careful attempt to draw the line between lawful and unlawful conduct, the published instructions left considerable room for misapplication.” This could “create settings in which unsanctioned behavior, including detainee abuse, could occur,” the report's authors conclude. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004]

People and organizations involved: Paul T. Mikolashek, International Committee of the Red Cross
          


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