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10 Ways the CIA Tried to Get One Terror Suspect to Talk

6 years ago
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WASHINGTON-Whether you call it "torture" or harsh methods, the CIA had ways to try to get terrorist suspects to talk-10 of them specifically for al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah.

Recently released top secret memos from the Bush Justice Department detail the variety of coercive interrogation techniques used by the CIA on detainees.

One memo reveals a customized plan for Zubaydah, evaluating and approving techniques the CIA proposed to force him to divulge information about terrorist networks.

The memos are part of a red-hot debate over whether these methods amounted to torture, and if Congress should convene a "war crimes" or "truth" commission and prosecute officials who authorized the harsh methods.

The Bush Justice Department said these techniques-for Zubaydah and others-did not constitute torture. Without getting bogged down in definitions, President Obama ordered them not to be used anymore. Obama does not want an independent commission to investigate abuses.

"I think the president believes we should look forward, and I think the president strongly believes that the investigation that is ongoing in the (Senate) Intelligence Committee is an appropriate place for anything to be looked at," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday.

Further fueling the debate: the Obama administration expects to release photos of Bush-era abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The plan for Zubaydah, outlined in an Aug. 1, 2002 memo from the Bush Justice Department to the CIA, was written at a time Zubaydah displayed "no signs" of talking, and the CIA wanted to move to what it called "an increased pressure phrase."

The 10 techniques described below, as detailed in that memo, were "to be used in some sort of escalating fashion."

"Consists of grasping the individual with both hands, one hand on each side of the collar opening, in a controlled and quick motion. In the same motion as the grasp, the individual is drawn towards the interrogator."


The individual is placed with heels next to a specially built fake wall. The interrogator then slams the person's shoulder blades to the wall. "In part, the idea is to create a sound that will make the impact seem far worse than it is, and that will be far worse than any injury that might result from the action."

The goal is to immobilize the head, with one open palm "placed on either side of the individual's face."

The point of this slap is to "invade" personal space. "The goal of the facial slap is not to inflict physical pain that is severe or lasting. Instead, the purpose of the facial slap is to induce shock, surprise and/or humiliation."

A cramped space-usually dark. The larger version is big enough to stand or sit up to 18 hours; the smaller box allows only sitting for no more than two hours.

Standing a few feet from a wall, with feet spread and fingers resting on a wall. "Used to induce muscle fatigue."

Used "to produce the physical discomfort associated with muscle fatigue." There are several variations, including for Zubaydah, sitting on the floor "with his arms raised above his head."


The goal is to "motivate" cooperation. In the case of Zubaydah, sleep deprivation would be for no more "than eleven days at a time."

Used in combination with a cramped confinement box. Informed that Zubaydah "appears to have a fear of insects," he would be told that a stinging insect would be placed in the box with him. "You would, however, place a harmless insect in the box."


The most severe and controversial method, waterboarding simulates drowning. A person is bound to an inclined bench and gagged while water is poured over the face for 20 to 40 seconds. The gag is lifted for "three or four" full breaths then the process is repeated. For Zubaydah, each session was to last no longer than 20 minutes.

"This procedure triggers an automatic physiological sensation of drowning that the individual cannot control even though he may be aware that he is, in fact, not drowning."
Filed Under: Foreign Policy
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