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US Feature: Countering Rumsfeld's Lie --- Detainees Were Waterboarded (Kaye)

Jeffrey Kaye writes for Truthout:

In the controversy over whether torture, especially waterboarding, was used to gather information leading to the capture of Osama bin Laden, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told Fox News' Sean Hannity recently that "no one was waterboarded at Guantanamo by the US military. In fact, no one was waterboarded at Guantanamo, period."

In his memoir, "Known and Unknown," Rumsfeld maintained, "To my knowledge, no US military personnel involved in interrogations waterboarded any detainees,not at  Guantanamo or anywhere else in the world." But as we shall see, Rumsfeld was either lying outright, or artfully twisting the truth.

Others have insisted as well that the military never waterboarded anyone. Law and national security writer Benjamin Wittes wrote in The New Republic last year that "the military, unlike the CIA, never waterboarded anybody." Harper's columnist Scott Horton also noted last year, "There is no documentation yet of waterboarding at Gitmo, but the case book is far from closed on that score, too."

Yet, though not widely reported and scattered among various articles and reports on detainee treatment by the military, including first-person accounts, there are a number of stories of forced water choking or drowning, both at Guantanamo and other US military sites.

In little-known testimony in May 2008 before Congress, former Guantanamo detainee Murat Kurnaz testified he endured a form of simulated drowning. In his testimony before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Kurnaz said that under US military captivity at Khadahar, Afghanistan, prior to his transfer to Guantanamo, his head was "dunked under water to simulate drowning." (see video at top of entry)

Asked by Republican Congressman Rohrabacher if he hadn't then been waterboarded, Kurnaz responded, "No, it's not waterboarding. It's called 'water treatment.' There was a bucket of water."

ROHRABACHER: Was a cloth put over your face and you were put on a board?

KURNAZ: There was a bucket of water. And they stick my head in it and at the same time, punch me into my stomach.

Rohrabacher reportedly commented, "The CIA is claiming that only three people have been waterboarded. And this may be a loophole that they're suggesting that's not 'waterboarding.'" 


According to a report on Kurnaz's testimony at the time by The Christian Science Monitor, Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon replied to the torture charges: "The abuses Mr. Kurnaz alleges are not only unsubstantiated and implausible, they are simply outlandish."

Whether implausible or not, waterboarding was one of a number of "counter-resistance techniques" requested for use at Guantanamo by Maj. Gen. Mike Dunleavy, commander of Task Force 170. In an October 2002 memo from Dunleavy's intelligence chief requesting use of a number of techniques, including sensory deprivation, isolation, stress positions, forced nudity and death threats, there was also a proposal for "Use of a wet towel and dripping water to induce the misperception of suffocation."

In a follow-up memo approving most, but not all of the requested techniques, Department of Defense (DoD) general counsel William J. Haynes II said of the "wet towel" and other so-called "aggressive" "Category III" techniques, "While all Category III techniques may be legally available, we believe that, as a matter of policy, a blanket approval of Category III techniques is not warranted at this time." (Emphasis added.)

Water Torture at Guantanamo

Evidence regarding waterboarding or other forms of water torture by suffocation or choking at Guantanamo has been reported, but this article is the first collection of the various reports in one place.

Last April, a report by two doctors who were allowed to examine "medical records and relevant case files ... of nine individuals for evidence of torture and ill treatment," found at least one case of "near asphyxiation from water (i.e., hose forced into the detainee's mouth)" and another case where a detainee's head was forced into a toilet.

The report, by doctors Vincent Iacopino and Stephen N. Xenakis, was published at PLoS Medicine. Dr. Xenakis is also a retired brigadier general in the Army, who has worked as a medical consultant on a number of Guantanamo legal cases.

Additionally, accusations of military waterboarding turned up in a Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) report on "FBI Involvement in and Observations of Detainee Interrogations" that was released at almost the same time as Kurnaz's testimony (May 2008). The IG noted that the chief of the FBI's Military Liaison and Detainee Unit at Guantanamo told DoD Assistant Attorney General Dave Nahmias, "one of the planned or actual techniques used on [purported 9/11 would-be hijacker, Mohammed] Al Qahtani was simulated drowning."

In fact, the military admits the use of pouring water over al Qahtani's head, as is discussed below.

At another point in the report, the IG describes one FBI agent who "once heard a discussion at GTMO when someone mentioned using water as an interrogation tool and someone else in the group said, 'Yeah, I've seen that.'" According to the IG report, no FBI agent actually reported seeing waterboarding or water torture him or herself.

Whether or not waterboarding was observed by FBI agents at Guantanamo, we know from the minutes of a "Counter-resistance Strategy meeting" at Guantanamo on October 22, 2002, that waterboarding (called the "wet towel" technique) was discussed (see Tab 7 at link). The meeting included legal officials from the CIA, DIA, the Guantanamo intelligence chief, as well as members of the Guantanamo Behavioral Science Consulting Team (BSCT).

At one point, Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, the Staff Judge Advocate at Guantanamo asked whether SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) employed "the 'wet towel' technique." Jonathan Fredman, then chief counsel to the CIA's counter-terrorism center, replied:

"If a well-trained individual is used to perform [sic] this technique it can feel like you're drowning. The lymphatic system will react as if you're suffocating, but your body will not cease to function. It is very effective to identify phobias and use them (ie, insects, snakes, claustrophobia). The level of resistance is directly related to person's experience."

At this point, a BSCT psychiatrist noted, "Whether or not significant stress occurs lies in the eye of the beholder. The burden of proof is the big issue." Fredman replied, "These techniques need involvement from interrogators, psych, medical, legal, etc."

Fredman continued "The CIA makes the call internally on most of the types of techniques found in the BSCT paper and this discussion." In a reference to the approvals for waterboarding and other techniques given the CIA by Office of Legal Counsel memos a few months before, he added, "Significantly harsh techniques are approved through the DOJ." There was no indication in the minutes from the meeting that waterboarding was not allowed for Defense Department use.

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