Libyan Alleges Waterboarding by C.I.A., Report Says
By CHARLIE SAVAGE and SCOTT SHANE
Published: September 6, 2012
Mahmud Turkia/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
No Charges Filed on Harsh Tactics Used by the C.I.A. (August 31, 2012)
Times Topic: Waterboarding
Related in Opinion
Editorial: No Penalty for Torture (September 5, 2012)
A new report by the nonprofit group Human Rights Watch, based on documents and interviews in Libya after the fall of its dictator, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, includes a detailed description of what appears to be a previously unknown instance of waterboarding by the C.I.A. in Afghanistan nine years ago.
That claim clashes with repeated assertions by current and former agency officials that only three high-level terrorism suspects — none of them Libyans — were waterboarded.
The account documented by Human Rights Watch could not be independently corroborated. But the report’s description of interrogation methods, based on individual interviews with former prisoners who had not sought out the human rights workers, match up with official documents on C.I.A.
techniques. It underscores how much is still not known about the United States’ treatment of terrorist suspects during the early years of the Bush administration.
When President Obama took office in 2009, members of Congress and human rights advocates called for a “truth commission” to establish a definitive account of interrogation and detention. But the calls faded after Mr. Obama said he wanted to look forward and not backward.
Last week, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that a three-year criminal investigation of the C.I.A. interrogation program was concluding without any charges being filed. The only remaining inquiry into the program, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, is nearing completion, but its report is classified and it is unclear how much will become public.
The investigation by Human Rights Watch had its origins in a trove of documents related to detainees transferred to Colonel Qaddafi’s prisons, including several by the United States. The papers became available last year as a result of the uprising against the Libyan leader, which was supported by the United States and other NATO allies.
Researchers used the names on the files as part of their broader efforts to track down former prisoners transferred to Libyan custody and interview them, opening an unusual window into American detention, interrogation and rendition operations nearly a decade ago. Many of the former detainees are now living freely in Libya, and some are active in politics or have positions in the new government.
The 156-page report, “Delivered Into Enemy Hands: U.S.-led Abuse and Rendition of Opponents to Gaddafi’s Libya,” written by Laura Pitter, recounts interviews with 14 Libyans who it says are former detainees who were sent back to Libya around 2004, after Colonel Qaddafi agreed to renounce his nuclear ambitions and help fight Islamist terrorism. At least five, Ms. Pitter writes, had been held by the C.I.A. in Afghanistan before their rendition.
Most of the former detainees were members of the Libyan Islamic Fighters Group, who were dedicated to the overthrow of the Qaddafi government. Many had gone to Afghanistan before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and some had come into contact with Al Qaeda. In December 2004, the State Department designated the Libyan group a terrorist organization, but the former detainees denied being allied with Al Qaeda against the Western nations that had largely considered Colonel Qaddafi a pariah.
A particular focus of the report is the account of Mohammed Shoroeiya, who was reportedly detained in Pakistan in April 2003 and held in American custody in Afghanistan before being transferred to Libya. Mr. Shoroeiya gave Ms. Pitter detailed sketches of what he said were prison facilities and techniques.
Mr. Shoroeiya told Human Rights Watch that at one point in Afghanistan, his American captors had put a hood on his head and strapped him to a wooden board, then poured water over his face until he felt as if he was asphyxiating. An American man who appeared to be a doctor was present during the sessions, he said. While he did not use the term “waterboarding,” the description matches that technique.
“They start to pour water to the point where you feel like you are suffocating,” Mr. Shoroeiya said. He was asked questions between sessions, he added, and “they wouldn’t stop until they got some kind of answer from me.” C.I.A. officials have publicly stated that waterboarding was used only on three prisoners: Abu Zubaydah, who helped run a terrorist training camp; Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of plotting the bombing of the American destroyer Cole in Yemen in 2000; and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the organizer of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Ms. Pitter said Mr. Shoroeiya first mentioned a board being used in water torture in 2009 to a Human Rights Watch researcher who spoke with him in a Libyan prison. She said she tracked him down this year hoping to learn more about his treatment in Libya. “All these guys are grateful for the intervention,” she said, referring to the NATO assistance to Libyan rebels. “But they just feel like somebody needs to acknowledge that this happened to them and that it was wrong.”
Asked about the reported fourth case of waterboarding, a C.I.A. spokeswoman, Jennifer Youngblood, said, “The agency has been on the record that there are three substantiated cases in which detainees were subjected to the waterboarding technique under the program.” She said she could not comment on the “specific allegations” in the Human Rights Watch report but noted that the Justice Department had reviewed the treatment of more than 100 detainees held by the agency and “declined prosecution in every case.”
Justice Department officials have declined to discuss which cases they examined or why charges were not brought, referring in general terms to problems with evidence, statutes of limitations and jurisdiction. But it is possible that the treatment of the Libyans, which has not been previously reported, was not part of the investigation.
Mr. Shoroeiya and another detainee imprisoned in Pakistan and held by the Americans in Afghanistan, Khalid al-Sharif, reported other mistreatment, too.
They described being stripped naked and chained to walls; being left in diapers in dark cells for weeks or months at a time without being allowed to bathe; being forced into painful stress positions; being slammed into walls while their necks were protected by a foam collar; being forced into a small box; and being subjected to continuous, loud music.
Many of those techniques match the descriptions of techniques that the Bush administration approved as lawful, despite anti-torture laws. The techniques have been discussed for years and were detailed in Justice Department memorandums that were declassified in 2009.
Several details were new, however. Mr. Shoroeiya said the board to which he was strapped for the suffocation sessions could also be spun around, disorienting him. Mr. Shoroeiya also described being forced to stand, with one leg broken, naked and without food for over a day in a tall, narrow box while music blared from speakers on either side of his head. And both he and Mr. Sharif said interrogators forced them to lie in icy water in a sort of tub improvised from a tarp, with more water poured over their faces.