The journey into the CIA’s most extreme interrogation program began in darkness.
Blindfolded, hooded and wearing earmuffs, suspected terrorists were shackled and flown to secret interrogation centers. The buildings themselves were quiet, clinical and designed to fill prisoners with dread. Detainees were shaved, stripped and photographed nude.
The questioning began mildly, a shackled detainee facing a non-threatening CIA interrogator. But for detainees who refused to cooperate, the interrogation escalated in terrifying ways.
Few people have ever witnessed the process, which was designed to extract secrets from “high value” suspects during the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks on the U.S. But Justice Department documents, which the Obama administration simultaneously released and repudiated Thursday, describe the process from darkness to waterboarding in skin-crawling detail.
Prisoners were naked, shackled and hooded to start their interrogation sessions. When the CIA interrogator removed the hood, the questioning began. Whenever the prisoner resisted, the documents outlined a series of techniques the CIA could use to bring him back in line:
_ Nudity, sleep deprivation and dietary restrictions kept prisoners compliant and reminded them they had no control over their basic needs. Clothes and food could be used as rewards for cooperation.
_ Slapping prisoners on the face or abdomen was allowed. So was grabbing them forcefully by the collar or slamming them into a false wall, a technique called “walling” that had a goal of fear more than pain.
_ Water hoses were used to douse the prisoners for minutes at a time. The hoses were turned on and off as the interrogation continued.
_ Prisoners were put into one of three in “stress positions,” such as sitting on the floor with legs out straight and arms raised in the air to cause discomfort.
At night, the detainees were shackled, standing naked or wearing a diaper. The length of sleep deprivation varied by prisoner but was authorized for up to 180 hours, or 7 1/2 days. Interrogation sessions ranged from 30 minutes to several hours and could be repeated as necessary and as approved by psychological and medical teams.
Some of these techniques, such as stripping a detainee naked, depriving him of sleep and putting a hood over his head, are prohibited under the U.S. Army Field Manual. But in 2002, the Justice Department authorized CIA interrogators to step up the pressure even further on suspected terrorist Abu Zubaydah.