Newly released illustrations depict post-9/11 torture techniques
By Michael Conte, CNN
Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT) December 6, 2019
This article contains illustrations that some may find upsetting.
Washington (CNN)Newly released illustrations drawn this year by Guantanamo Bay detainee Abu Zubaydah depict in graphic detail how he was tortured in 2002 at a Central Intelligence Agency detention "black site," according to his civilian lawyer.
The illustrations were released in a report written by Zubaydah's lawyer, Seton Hall University School of Law Professor Mark Denbeaux and some of his students. The New York Times first published the pictures.
The report, titled "How America Tortures," describes the treatment Zubaydah and others endured. The Bush administration maintained the treatment was not torture, calling it instead "enhanced interrogation techniques."
The program was approved by the Bush Administration in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, as counterterrorism officials tried to obtain information about possible future attacks.
According to a Senate Intelligence report, Zubaydah was waterboarded at least 83 times. The 2014 report on the CIA's detention and interrogation program said that he at one point became "completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth."
The images included in the newly released report depict Zubaydah, an alleged al Qaeda operative who was captured in 2002 in Pakistan and put into CIA custody, in distress, either naked or lightly clothed, often forced into contorted positions, confined to tight spaces, or with his arms shackled above his head.
In a statement, Denbeaux said, "with this report, he is silent no more."
One drawing depicts a technique described in the report as "walling." In it, Zubaydah appears to be standing naked and shackled, while another man, whose face is hidden, appears to be holding something around Zubaydah's neck and slamming Zubaydah's head into a wall.
The CIA declined to comment on the newly released material.
That technique is consistent with what ex-CIA psychologist John "Bruce" Jessen admitted to doing to Zubaydah in his 2016 legal response to a criminal complaint by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Jessen said he "placed a rolled up towel behind Zubaydah's neck and 'walled' him three or four times." The ACLU alleged Jessen and another ex-CIA psychologist, James Elmer Mitchell, were behind "an experimental torture program for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency." Both men denied they had committed torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, but admitted they used techniques many consider to be torture. President Obama banned some so-called "extraordinary interrogation techniques" in 2009, such as waterboarding.
Walling involves an individual being "quickly and firmly pushed into the wall," according to CIA documents declassified in 2016.
The report quotes Zubaydah describing one of his walling sessions: "I fell down on the floor with each banging. I felt for few instants that I was unable to see anything, let alone the short chains that prevented me from standing tall. And every time I fell he would drag me with the towel which caused bleeding on my neck."
There has been a lot of debate about how important a figure Zubaydah was in al Qaeda. Zubaydah, according to government prosecutors. "played a key role in al Qaeda's communications with supporters and operatives abroad and closely interacted with al Qaeda's second in command at the time." The US government has also alleged after the September 11 attacks he played a more active role in attack planning. At a 2016 hearing his military attorney said Zubaydah had no interest in harming the US or any other country.
Other illustrations depict Zubaydah in what the report calls "stress positions," both standing and sitting, allegedly to create "physical pressure."
Another drawing depicts what the report refers to as "wall standing," showing Zubaydah with his arms shackled above his head as he stands on his toes, "to induce extreme pain, sleep deprivation, and mental anguish when used to extremes." The report quotes Zubaydah saying he "passed out" in that position, and felt his hands became "paralyzed or severed."
Several drawings depict Zubaydah confined to cramped boxes of various sizes, which the report quotes him as saying made him "scream unconsciously" from the pain from trying to keep his body contorted to fit in the box.
One illustration depicts Zubaydah undergoing the infamous water boarding technique, strapped to a table with water pouring on a cloth over his face, in order to simulate drowning, according to the report, which quotes Zubaydah as saying, "I felt I was going to die from drowning."‘