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Red Cross report called U.S. practices 'torture'

The secret 2007 document gives a harrowing account of the Bush administration's treatment of detainees.

March 16, 2009|Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a secret report that the Bush administration's treatment of Al Qaeda captives "constituted torture," according to newly published excerpts from the long-concealed 2007 document.

The report, an account of alleged physical and psychological brutality inside CIA "black site" prisons, also states that some U.S. practices amounted to "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." Such maltreatment is expressly prohibited by the Geneva Convention.

The findings were based on an investigation by Red Cross officials who were granted exclusive access to the CIA's "high-value" detainees after they were transferred in 2006 to the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The 14 detainees, who had been kept in isolation in CIA prisons overseas, gave remarkably uniform accounts of abuse that included beatings, sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures and, in some cases, water-boarding, or simulated drowning.

At least five copies of the report were shared with the CIA and top White House officials in 2007 but barred from public release by Red Cross guidelines intended to preserve the humanitarian group's strict policy of neutrality in conflicts. A copy of the report was obtained by Mark Danner, a journalism professor who published extensive excerpts in the April 9 edition of the New York Review of Books, released Sunday. He did not say how he obtained the report.

"The ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture," Danner quoted the report as saying. The CIA declined to comment. A U.S. official familiar with the report said, "It is important to bear in mind that the report lays out claims made by the terrorists themselves."

Often using the detainee's own words, the report offers a harrowing view of conditions at the secret prisons, where prisoners were told they were being taken "to the verge of death and back," according to one excerpt. During interrogations, the suspected terrorists were routinely beaten, doused with cold water and slammed head-first into walls. Between sessions they were stripped of clothing, bombarded with loud music, exposed to cold temperatures and deprived of sleep and solid food for days. Some detainees described being forced to stand for days, with their arms shackled above them, wearing only a diaper.

President Bush acknowledged the use of coercive interrogation tactics on senior Al Qaeda captives in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but he insisted the measures complied with U.S. and international law.

President Obama outlawed such practices within hours of his inauguration in January.

Danner said the Red Cross' use of the word "torture" has legal implications.

"It could not be more important that the [Red Cross] explicitly uses the words 'torture' and 'cruel and degrading,' " Danner said in a telephone interview. "The [Red Cross] is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, and when it uses those words they have the force of law."

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