Abu Zubaydah, the alleged al-Qaeda mastermind, is the only known “war on terror” detainee to have gone through the gamut of torture methods adopted by the CIA – months before they were legally endorsed.
Accounts he gave to the International Committee of the Red Cross, leaked on the internet last week, reveal he believed he was being used as a guinea pig for a range of new techniques of “coercive interrogation”.
Nine of the ten methods approved in the CIA memo of August 2002 had already been repeatedly used on Abu Zubaydah in the weeks following his arrival at the US airbase at Bagram in Afghanistan in May 2002.
These included waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique, and walling, which involves pounding a detainee’s head against a wall. Some of the methods, such as enclosing him in a series of boxes, were apparently abandoned as ineffective, but none of the 13 other high-profile detainees was treated in this way. “I was told during this period that I was one of the first to receive these interrogation techniques, so no rules applied,” Abu Zubaydah told the Red Cross at Guantánamo Bay in 2006.
Rather than escalating the brutality, CIA agents doled out their harshest methods first, using the threat of them later to try to extract information. According to the Red Cross, Abu Zubaydah was kept naked for his first two months and cold for the next nine months. Stress positioning included being “kept on a chair, shackled by hands and feet for two-three weeks”.
Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded for the first time three months into his time at Bagram, in July 2002. He described how he was taken from the small box he was kept in and strapped down “very tightly with belts”, despite unhealed multiple gunshot wounds. “I thought I was going to die,” he said.