Sunday, May 16, 2004

American Empire of Torture

His daring foot is on land and sea everywhere, he colonizes the Pacific, the archipelagoes,
With the steamship, the electric telegraph, the newspaper, the wholesale engines of war,
With these and the world-spreading factories he interlinks all geography, all lands;
What whispers are these, O lands, running ahead of you, passing under the seas?
-- Walt Whitman, "Years of the Modern," Leaves of Grass, 1891-92, p. 371
Among the "phantoms, / unborn deeds, things soon to be" that filled "the space ahead" in the "Years of the Modern" (Whitman, p. 371) -- the space which Walt Whitman, the ever-optimistic poet of empire of democracy, could not fathom -- is "a worldwide constellation of detention centers" (Dana Priest and Joe Stephens, "Secret World of U.S. Interrogation: Long History of Tactics in Overseas Prisons Is Coming to Light," Washington Post, May 11, 2004, p. A01), a dark underside of "that force advancing with irresistible power on the world's / stage . . ." (Whitman, p. 370):
In Afghanistan, the CIA's secret U.S. interrogation center in Kabul is known as "The Pit," named for its despairing conditions. In Iraq, the most important prisoners are kept in a huge hangar near the runway at Baghdad International Airport, say U.S. government officials, counterterrorism experts and others. In Qatar, U.S. forces have been ferrying some Iraqi prisoners to a remote jail on the gigantic U.S. air base in the desert.

The Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where a unit of U.S. soldiers abused prisoners, is just the largest and suddenly most notorious in a worldwide constellation of detention centers -- many of them secret and all off-limits to public scrutiny -- that the U.S. military and CIA have operated in the name of counterterrorism or counterinsurgency operations since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

These prisons and jails are sometimes as small as shipping containers and as large as the sprawling Guantanamo Bay complex in Cuba. They are part of an elaborate CIA and military infrastructure whose purpose is to hold suspected terrorists or insurgents for interrogation and safekeeping while avoiding U.S. or international court systems, where proceedings and evidence against the accused would be aired in public. Some are even held by foreign governments at the informal request of the United States.

"The number of people who have been detained in the Arab world for the sake of America is much more than in Guantanamo Bay. Really, thousands," said Najeeb Nuaimi, a former justice minister of Qatar who is representing the families of dozens of prisoners.

The largely hidden array includes three systems that only rarely overlap: the Pentagon-run network of prisons, jails and holding facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and elsewhere; small and secret CIA-run facilities where top al Qaeda and other figures are kept; and interrogation rooms of foreign intelligence services -- some with documented records of torture -- to which the U.S. government delivers or "renders" mid- or low-level terrorism suspects for questioning.

All told, more than 9,000 people are held by U.S. authorities overseas, according to Pentagon figures and estimates by intelligence experts, the vast majority under military control. The detainees have no conventional legal rights: no access to a lawyer; no chance for an impartial hearing; and, at least in the case of prisoners held in cellblock 1A at Abu Ghraib, no apparent guarantee of humane treatment accorded prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions or civilians in U.S. jails.

Although some of those held by the military in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo have had visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross, some of the CIA's detainees have, in effect, disappeared, according to interviews with former and current national security officials and to the Army's report of abuses at Abu Ghraib.

The CIA's "ghost detainees," as they were called by members of the 800th MP Brigade, were routinely held by the soldier-guards at Abu Ghraib "without accounting for them, knowing their identities, or even the reason for their detention," the report says. These phantom captives were "moved around within the facility to hide them" from Red Cross teams, a tactic that was "deceptive, contrary to Army doctrine, and in violation of international law."

CIA employees are under investigation by the Justice Department and the CIA inspector general's office in connection with the death of three captives in the past six months, two who died while under interrogation in Iraq, and a third who was being questioned by a CIA contract interrogator in Afghanistan. A CIA spokesman said the hiding of detainees was inappropriate. He declined to comment further.

None of the arrangements that permit U.S. personnel to kidnap, transport, interrogate and hold foreigners are ad hoc or unauthorized, including the so-called renditions. "People tend to regard it as an extra-judicial kidnapping; it's not," former CIA officer Peter Probst said. "There is a long history of this. It has been done for decades. It's absolutely legal."

In fact, every aspect of this new universe -- including maintenance of covert airlines to fly prisoners from place to place, interrogation rules and the legal justification for holding foreigners without due process afforded most U.S. citizens -- has been developed by military or CIA lawyers, vetted by Justice Department's office of legal counsel and, depending on the particular issue, approved by White House general counsel's office or the president himself.

In some cases, such as determining whether a U.S. citizen should be designated an enemy combatant who can be held without charges, the president makes the final decision, said Alberto R. Gonzales, counsel to the president, in a Feb. 24 speech to the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Law and National Security.

Critics of this kind of detention and treatment, Gonzales said, "assumed that there was little or no analysis -- legal or otherwise -- behind the decision to detain a particular person as enemy combatant."

On the contrary, the administration has applied the law of war, he said. "Under these rules, captured enemy combatants, whether soldiers or saboteurs, may be detained for the duration of hostilities."

Because most of the directives and guidelines on these issues are classified, former and current military and intelligence officials who described them to The Washington Post would do so only on the condition that they not be identified.

Along with other CIA and military efforts to disrupt terrorist plots and break up al Qaeda's financial networks, administration officials argue that the interrogations are a key component of their global counterterrorism strategy and counterinsurgency operations in Iraq. As the CIA's deputy director, John McLaughlin, recently told the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks: "The country, with all its capabilities, is now much more orchestrated into an offensive mix that is relentless."

Military Jails and Prisons

Abu Ghraib -- where photographs were taken that have enraged the Arab world and rocked U.S. political and military leadership -- held 6,000 to 7,000 detainees at the time of the documented abuse. Today, it and other sites in Iraq hold more than 8,000 prisoners, U.S. and coalition officials said. They range from those believed to have played key roles in the insurgency to some who are held on suspicion of petty crimes.

Until the current scandal cast some hazy light, little has been publicly known about the Iraq detention sites, their locations and who was being held there. That has been a source of continuing frustration for international monitoring groups such as New York-based Human Rights Watch, which has repeatedly sought to visit the facilities. Even the military's investigative report on abuses at Abu Ghraib remains classified, despite having become public through leaks.

Far better known has been the Defense Department's facility at Guantanamo Bay. The open-air camps there house about 600 detainees, flown in from around the world over the past two years. Secrecy there remains tight, with detainees and most of the facilities off-limits to visitors.

The U.S. Supreme Court is deciding whether detainees held there, whom the Pentagon has declared "enemy combatants" in the war against terrorism, should have access to U.S. courts.

Last week, the U.S. military acknowledged that two Guantanamo Bay guards had been disciplined in connection with use of excessive force against detainees. And U.S. defense officials confirmed the existence of a list of approved interrogation techniques, dating to April 2003, that included reversing sleep patterns, exposing prisoners to hot and cold, and "sensory assault," including use of bright lights and loud music.

The treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan has received less public attention.

The U.S. military holds 300 or so people at Bagram, north of the capital of Kabul, and in Kandahar, Jalalabad and Asadabad. Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 700 people had been released from those sites, most of them held a few weeks or less. Special Forces units also have holding centers at their firebases, including at Gardez and Khost.

In December 2002, two Afghans died in U.S. custody in Afghanistan. The U.S. military classified both as homicides. Another Afghan died in June 2003 at a detention site near Asadabad.

"Afghans detained at Bagram airbase in 2002 have described being held in detention for weeks, continuously shackled, intentionally kept awake for extended periods of time, and forced to kneel or stand in painful positions for extended periods," said a report in March by Human Rights Watch. "Some say they were kicked and beaten when arrested, or later as part of efforts to keep them awake. Some say they were doused with freezing water in the winter."

CIA Detention

Before the U.S. military was imprisoning and interrogating people in Afghanistan and Iraq, the CIA was scooping up suspected al Qaeda leaders in such far-off places as Pakistan, Yemen and Sudan. Today, the CIA probably holds two to three dozen captives around the world, according to knowledgeable current and former officials. Among them are al Qaeda leaders Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh in Pakistan and Abu Zubaida. The CIA is also in charge of interrogating Saddam Hussein, who is believed to be in Baghdad.

The location of CIA interrogation centers is so sensitive that even the four leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees, who are briefed on all covert operations, do not know them, congressional sources said. These members are given periodic reports about the captives, but several members said they do not receive information about conditions under which prisoners are held, and members have not insisted on this information. The CIA has told Congress that it does not engage in torture as a tactic of interrogation.

"There's a black hole on certain information such as location, condition under which they are held," said one congressional official who asked not to be identified. "They are told it's too sensitive."

In Afghanistan, the CIA used to conduct some interrogations in a cluster of metal shipping containers at Bagram air base protected by three layers of concertina wire. It is unclear whether that center is still open, but the CIA's main interrogation center now appears to be in Kabul, at a location nicknamed "The Pit" by agency and Special Forces operators.

"Prisoner abuse is nothing new," said one military officer who has been working closely with CIA interrogators in Afghanistan. A dozen former and current national security officials interviewed by The Washington Post in 2002, including several who had witnessed interrogations, defended the use of stressful interrogation tactics and the use of violence against detainees as just and necessary.

The CIA general counsel's office developed a new set of interrogation rules of engagement after the Sept. 11 attacks. It was vetted by the Justice Department and approved by the National Security Council's general counsel, according to U.S. intelligence officials and other U.S. officials familiar with the process. "There are very specific guidelines that are thoroughly vetted," said one U.S. official who helps oversee the process. "Everyone is on board. It's legal."

The rules call for field operators to seek approval from Washington to use "enhanced measures" -- methods that could cause temporary physical or mental pain.

U.S. intelligence officials say the CIA, contrary to the glamorized view from movies and novels, had no real interrogation specialists on hand to deal with the number of valuable suspects it captured after Sept. 11. The agency relied on analysts, psychologists and profilers. "Two and a half years later," one CIA veteran said, "we have put together a very professional, controlled, deliberate and legally rationalized approach to dealing with the Abu Zubaidas of the world."

U.S. intelligence officials say their strongest suit is not harsh interrogation techniques, but time and patience.


Much larger than the group of prisoners held by the CIA are those who have been captured and transported around the world by the CIA and other agencies of the U.S. government for interrogation by foreign intelligence services. This transnational transfer of people is a key tactic in U.S. counterterrorism operations on five continents, one that often raises the ire of foreign publics when individual cases come to light.

For example, on Jan. 17, 2002, a few hours before Bosnia's Human Rights Chamber was to order the release of five Algerians and a Yemeni for lack of evidence, Bosnian police handed them over to U.S. authorities, who flew them to Guantanamo Bay.

The Bosnian government, faced with public outcry, said it would compensate the families of the men, who were suspected of making threats to the U.S. and British embassies in Bosnia.

The same month, in Indonesia, Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni, suspected of helping Richard C. Reid, the Briton charged with trying to detonate explosives in his shoe on an American Airlines flight, was detained by Indonesian intelligence agents based on information the CIA provided them. On Jan. 11, without a court hearing or a lawyer, he was hustled aboard an unmarked U.S.-registered Gulfstream V jet parked at a military airport in Jakarta and flown to Egypt.

It was no coincidence Madni ended up in Egypt. Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are well-known destinations for suspected terrorists.

"A lot of people they [the U.S.] are taking to Jordan, third-country nationals," a senior Saudi official said. "They can do anything they want with them, and the U.S. can say, 'We don't have them.' "

In the past year, an unusual country joined that list of destinations: Syria.

Last year U.S. immigration authorities, with the approval of then-acting Attorney General Larry Thompson, authorized the expedited removal of Maher Arar to Syria, a country the U.S. government has long condemned as a chronic human rights abuser. Maher, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, was detained at JFK International Airport in New York as he was transferring to the final leg of his flight home to Canada.

U.S. authorities say Arar has links to al Qaeda. Not wanting to return him to Canada for fear he would not be adequately followed, immigration officials took him, in chains and shackles, to a New Jersey airfield, where he was "placed on a small private jet, and flown to Washington D.C.," according to a lawsuit filed recently against the U.S. government. He was flown to Jordan, interrogated and beaten by Jordanian authorities who then turned him over to Syria, according to the lawsuit.

Arar said that for the 10 months he was in prison, he was beaten, tortured and kept in a shallow grave. After much pressure from the Canadian government and human rights activists, he was freed and has returned to Canada.

CIA Director George J. Tenet, testifying earlier this year before the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, said the agency participated in more than 70 renditions in the years before the attacks. In 1999 and 2000 alone, congressional testimony shows, the CIA and FBI participated in two dozen renditions.

Christopher Kojm, a former State Department intelligence official and a staff member of the commission, explained the rendition procedure at a recent hearing: "If a terrorist suspect is outside of the United States, the CIA helps to catch and send him to the United States or a third country," he testified. "Though the FBI is often part of the process, the CIA is usually the main player, building and defining the relationships with the foreign government intelligence agencies and internal security services."

The Saudis currently are detaining and interrogating about 800 terrorism suspects, said a senior Saudi official. Their fate is largely controlled by Saudi-based joint intelligence task forces, whose members include officers from the CIA, FBI and other U.S. law enforcement agencies.

The Saudi official said his country does not participate in renditions and today holds no more than one or two people at the request of the United States. Yet much can hinge on terminology.

In some interrogations, for example, specialists from the United States and Saudi Arabia develop questions and an interrogation strategy before questioning begins, according to one person knowledgeable about the process. During interrogation, U.S. task force members watch through a two-way mirror, he said.

"Technically, the questioning is done by a Saudi citizen. But, for all practical purposes, it is done live," he said. The United States and Saudis "are not 'cooperating' anymore; we're doing it together."

He said the CIA sometimes prefers Saudi interrogation sites and other places in the Arab world because their interrogators speak a detainee's language and can exploit his religion and customs.

"As hard as it is to believe, you can't physically abuse prisoners in Saudi Arabia," the Saudi official said. "You can't beat them; you can't electrocute them."

Instead, he said, the Saudis bring radical imams to the sessions to build a rapport with detainees, who are later passed on to more moderate imams. Working in tandem with relatives of the detainees, the clerics try to convince the subjects over days or weeks that terrorism violates tenets of the Koran and could bar them from heaven.

"According to our guys, almost all of them turn," the Saudi official said. "It's like deprogramming them. There is absolutely no need to put them through stress. It's more of a therapy."

The Saudis don't want or need to be directed by American intelligence specialists, who have difficulty understanding Arab culture and tribal relations, he said. "We know where they grew up," he said of the detainees. "We know their families. We know the furniture in their home."

Research editor Margot Williams contributed to this report. (Dana Priest and Joe Stephens, "Secret World of U.S. Interrogation: Long History of Tactics in Overseas Prisons Is Coming to Light," Washington Post, May 11, 2004, p. A01)
Here is a testimony of one man who endured torture for two years in Guantanamo, a British citizen Tarek Dergoul:
'I was in extreme pain and so weak that I could barely stand. It was freezing cold and I was shaking like a washing machine. They questioned me at gunpoint and told me that if I confessed I could go home.

'They had already searched me and my cell twice that day, gone through my stuff, touched my Koran, felt my body around my private parts. And now they wanted to do it again, just to provoke me, but I said no, because if you submit to everything you turn into a zombie.

'I heard a guard talking into his radio, "ERF, ERF, ERF," and I knew what was coming -- the Extreme Reaction Force. The five cowards, I called them -- five guys running in with riot gear. They pepper-sprayed me in the face and I started vomiting; in all I must have brought up five cupfuls. They pinned me down and attacked me, poking their fingers in my eyes, and forced my head into the toilet pan and flushed. They tied me up like a beast and then they were kneeling on me, kicking and punching. Finally they dragged me out of the cell in chains, into the rec yard, and shaved my beard, my hair, my eyebrows.'

Tarek Dergoul, a British citizen born and brought up in east London and released without charge after almost two years at Guantanamo Bay, was describing one of many alleged assaults he says he suffered in American custody. With the world still reeling from the photographs of prisoner abuse and torture at the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq, Dergoul's testimony suggests that Guantanamo hides another terrible secret -- proof, in the shape of hundreds of videos shot by US guards, that here, too, America's war against terror has led to wanton brutality against helpless detainees.

Dergoul, 26, was released at the same time as four other Britons in March, but was too traumatised by his experiences to tell his story until now. While it is shocking, it is also credible: his description of his interrogations and the 'ERF' squad's violent reprisals closely matches that from other released prisoners, including his fellow Britons, while possibly his most important claim, that the ERF was always filmed, has been confirmed by the US military.

'Much of his story is consistent with other accounts of detention conditions in both Afghanistan and Guantanamo,' said John Sifton, a New York-based official from Human Rights Watch who has interviewed numerous former Guantanamo prisoners in Pakistan and Afghanistan. 'It is now clear that there is a systemic problem of abuse throughout the US military's detention facilities - not merely misbehaviour by a few bad apples.'

Dergoul also disclosed personal experience of the techniques pioneered by the former Guantanamo commandant, General Geoffrey Miller, to 'set the conditions' for detainees' interrogation, which Miller then took to Iraq.

He said they included humiliation, prolonged exposure to intense heat and cold, sleep deprivation, being kept chained in painful positions, and the threat of 'rendition' to an Arab country where, his interrogators said, he would be subjected to full-blown torture.

On Friday Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal, from Tipton in the West Midlands, who told their stories to The Observer when they were released, wrote an open letter to President George Bush, alleging they suffered very similar abusive treatment at Guantanamo. Within hours US military spokesmen denied their allegations, saying they were 'simply false'.

Now, however, Dergoul has revealed a means of proving the claims of violence at Guantanamo, potentially as dramatic as the Abu Ghraib photographs. Every time an ERF squad was deployed, he said, the entire process was recorded on digital video: 'There was always this guy behind the squad, filming everything that happened.'

Last night Lieutenant Colonel Leon Sumpter, the Guantanamo Joint Task Force spokesman, confirmed the videos existed, saying that all ERF actions were filmed so that they could 'be reviewed by the camp commander and the commanding general'.

All of them, he said , were kept in an archive at Guantanamo. He refused to say how many times the ERF squads had been used and would not discuss their training or composition, saying: 'We do not discuss operational aspects of the Joint Task Force mission.'

Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat deputy leader, said the government must demand 'that these videos be delivered up and the truth of these very serious allegations properly determined once and for all. The videos provide an unequalled opportunity to check the veracity of what Mr Dergoul and the other former detainees are saying.'

In Washington, Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, demanded that the videos be shown to Congress. 'If evidence exists that can establish whether there has been mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, it should be provided without delay,' he said. 'That must include any tapes or photos of the activities of the Extreme Reaction Force.'

The effects on Dergoul of his ordeal in Afghanistan and Guantanamo are very visible. A slight, slim man, he has difficulty walking: for weeks his American captors failed to treat his frostbitten feet, until a big toe turned gangrenous and had to be amputated. He has also lost most of his left arm, the result of a shrapnel wound. Two months after regaining his freedom he has nightmares and flashbacks, especially of his many beatings, and is about to begin treatment at the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.

'I get migraines, I'm depressed and I suffer from memory loss. There's stuff that happened, embedded in my head, that I can't remember.'

He has nothing to live on because the Benefits Agency, wrongly believing he is not a British citizen, says he has lost his entitlement because he was out of the country, though a prisoner, for more than two years.

Born to Moroccan parents in Mile End in December 1977, Dergoul was once in trouble for stealing a computer chip, for which he was sentenced to community service. After leaving school at 15 he worked in a succession of jobs: selling double glazing, office cleaning, driving a minicab and as a carer at an old people's home in Suffolk. Living in east London, many of his friends were from Pakistan and he decided to visit the country for an extended holiday in July 2001.

'Before I went I'd never even heard of Osama bin Laden or the Taliban and I didn't know where Afghanistan was,' he said. 'I was not political and I didn't read the papers. My parents are religious but I never went to the mosque.'

After the 11 September attacks, he and two Pakistani friends had an idea for what, in hindsight, was one of the worst-judged business ventures of all time. With war looming, they thought many Afghans would want to flee their homes. Dergoul had £5,000 in cash, which he pooled with his friends' savings. 'The plan was to buy some property away from where the bombing was. We thought we could buy it very cheap, then sell it at a profit after the war.'

They travelled to Jalalabad and looked at several empty homes. On the verge of signing a deal, Dergoul and his friends spent the night in a villa. While they were asleep, he said, a bomb landed on it -- killing his friends. He went outside and was hit by another bomb, sustaining shrapnel wounds.

For at least a week, unable to walk, he lay among the ruins, drinking from a tap that still worked, and living on biscuits and raisins he had in his pocket. Exposed to the freezing weather, his toes turned black from frostbite. At last he was found by troops loyal to the Northern Alliance. They treated him well, taking him to a hospital where he was given food and three operations. However, after five weeks he was driven to an airfield and handed over to Americans, who arrived by helicopter. Dergoul said the Americans paid $5,000 for him -- according to Human Rights Watch, this was the standard fee for a 'terrorist' suspect. They flew him to the US detention camp at Bagram airbase, near Kabul.

As at Abu Ghraib, Dergoul said, violence and sexual humiliation appeared to be routine. 'When I arrived, with a bag over my head, I was stripped naked and taken to a big room with 15 or 20 MPs [military police]. They started taking photos and then they did a full cavity search. As they were doing that they were taking close-ups, concentrating on my private parts.'

Possibly because he was British, Dergoul said he was spared the beatings he saw being administered to others in neighbouring cages. 'Guards with guns and baseball bats would make the detainees squat for hours, and if they fell over from exhaustion, they'd beat them until they lost consciousness. They called it "beat down".'

His interrogators accused him of fighting with al-Qaeda in the Tora Bora mountains towards the end of the main Afghan war. At the time, he insisted, he had no idea of Tora Bora's significance and never went there. But in the course of 20 to 25 interrogations at Bagram -- including one session with a British team from MI5 -- he was told his family's assets would be seized.

'I was in extreme pain from the frostbite and other injuries and I was so weak I could barely stand. It was freezing cold and I was shaking and shivering like a washing machine. The interrogators -- who questioned me at gunpoint -- said if I confessed I'd be going home. Finally I agreed I'd been at Tora Bora -- though I still wouldn't admit I'd ever met bin Laden.'

After about a month, in February 2002, Dergoul was taken south to another camp at Kandahar. His memories of this time are hazy: it was there that his feet, left untreated, went septic and, as the infection spread, he underwent a further amputation.

In three months there, he said, he had only two showers. Finally, on 1 May, he was dressed in goggles and an orange jump suit, injected with a sedative and flown to Guantanamo Bay.

For more than a year of the 22 months Dergoul spent at Camp Delta, he said, he was held in the isolation block, on the worst 'level four' regime -- deprived of all stimulation or 'comfort items,' and sometimes allowed only a blanket between 11.30pm and 5.30am.

For the first time, he was becoming religious 'and my faith in Allah was giving me the strength to resist them'. One way in which he infuriated the guards was by translating their conversations into Arabic for the benefit of other detainees, and he also helped organise a series of hunger and non-co-operation strikes when the prisoners would refuse to go to interrogation or their twice-weekly shower and 15-minute exercise period.

No doubt, he agreed, this made him more of a target for the ERF. But he was never violent, he said, and unlike other prisoners he never tried to use his own excrement as a missile.

The report by General Antonio Taguba into Abu Ghraib states that abuse there began when Miller arrived there with 30 colleagues for a visit last September and instituted the system he had already created at Camp Delta -- turning the guards into an interrogation tool by using them to 'set the conditions' or soften up prisoners before they were questioned.

Last week, General Lance Smith, deputy chief of the US Central Command, told a Senate hearing that some of the 20 techniques Miller authorised were banned in Iraq, because there, unlike Guantanamo, prisoners were supposedly protected by the Geneva Conventions.

So what are these 20 techniques? A US military spokeswoman said: 'They come from a classified document and we don't discuss its contents.' But the Senate has heard they include sleep deprivation, binding in uncomfortable positions and the use of excessive cold or heat. Dergoul said he experienced and witnessed all of them.

For one period of about a month last year, he said, guards would take him every day to an interrogation room in chains, seat him, chain him to a ring in the floor and then leave him alone for eight hours at a time.

'The air conditioning would really be blowing - it was freezing, which was incredibly painful on my amputation stumps. Eventually I'd need to urinate and in the end I would try to tilt my chair and go on the floor. They were watching through a one-way mirror. As soon as I wet myself, a woman MP would come in yelling, "Look what you've done! You're disgusting." '

Afterwards he would be taken back to his cell for about three hours. Then the guards would reappear and in Guantanamo slang tell him he was returning to the interrogation room: 'You have a reservation.' The process would begin again.

Dergoul also described the use of what was known as the 'short shackle' - steel bonds pulled tight to keep the subject bunched up, while chained to the floor. 'After a while, it was agony. You could hear the guards behind the mirror, making jokes, eating and drinking, knocking on the walls. It was not about trying to get information. It was just about trying to break you.' In their letter to Bush, Rasul and Iqbal also said they endured this procedure.

Another technique, applied in periods when Dergoul was being heavily interrogated, was to deny him clean clothes or bedding for up to three weeks, or to provide clothes which were several sizes too small.

Sometimes, Dergoul said, as with the 'attacks' by the ERF squads, interrogation sessions were videoed. Sumpter, the Guantanamo spokesman, said he could not confirm this claim.

Every four or five months, Dergoul said, he was visited by British diplomats and officials from MI5. Each time he complained bitterly about his treatment: 'I told them everything: about the stress positions, the interrogations, the ERF.'

Less than a month after he arrived, the Foreign Office sent a letter to his brother, Halid, which suggested they knew a lot about conditions at Guantanamo: although written in careful language, it described how he had been denied 'comfort items' and reported he felt as if he was 'living in the twilight zone'.

It also said he had lost a toe because he had not been treated with antibiotics. In public, however, the British government continued to defend the Americans' right to hold Dergoul and others at Guantanamo - as it still continues to do.

Dergoul's experiences have changed him forever, turning him into a devout and intensely political Muslim. 'I now look on America as a terrorist state because that's what they have done -- terrorised us -- and I condemn Britain as well for contributing to it. Half the people I met in Cuba had been purchased. If they really had been captured on the battlefield, as the Americans are always saying, maybe I could understand it.

'But maybe now they'll get their comeuppance. After what's happened at Abu Ghraib, if I'd been the Americans I would have destroyed those videos. Let them be shown. Then the world will know I'm telling the truth.' (David Rose, "'They Tied Me Up Like a Beast and Began Kicking Me,'" The Observer, May 16, 2004)

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