Rights group: Evidence of wider U.S. waterboarding

CAIRO — Human Rights Watch said it has uncovered evidence of a wider use of waterboarding in American interrogations of detainees than has been acknowledged by the United States, in a report Thursday that details further brutal treatment at secret CIA-run prisons under the Bush administration-era U.S. program of detention and rendition of terror suspects.

The report also paints a more complete picture of Washington’s close cooperation with the regime of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The U.S. handed over to Libya the Islamist opponents of Gadhafi that it detained abroad with only thin “diplomatic assurances” that they would not be mistreated, and several of them subsequently were tortured in prison, Human Rights Watch said.

The 154-page report features interviews by the New York-based group with 14 Libyan dissident exiles. They describe systematic abuses while they were held in U.S.-led detention centers in Afghanistan — some as long as two years — or in U.S.-led interrogations in Pakistan, Morocco, Thailand, Sudan and elsewhere before the Americans handed them over to Libya.

“Not only did the U.S. deliver (Gadhafi) his enemies on a silver platter, but it seems the CIA tortured many of them first, said Laura Pitter, counterterrorism adviser at Human Rights Watch and author of the report.

“The scope of the Bush administration abuse appears far broader than previously acknowledged,” she said.

The report comes days after the Justice Department announced it would not bring criminal charges against any CIA personnel over severe interrogation methods used in the detention and rendition program. Investigators said they could not prove any interrogators went beyond guidelines authorized by the Bush administration. Rights activists and some Obama administration officials say even the authorized techniques constituted torture, though the CIA and Bush administration argue they do not.

Any new instances of waterboarding, however, would go beyond the three that the CIA has said were authorized.

Former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and the CIA have said that the method was used on only three senior al Qaeda suspects at secret CIA black sites in Thailand and Poland — Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, Aby Zubayda and Abd al-Rahman al-Nashiri, all currently being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The technique involves pouring water on a hooded detainee’s nose and mouth until he feels he is drowning.

The 14 Libyans interviewed by Human Rights Watch were swept up in the American hunt for Islamic militants and al Qaeda figures around the world after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They were mostly members of the anti-Gadhafi Libyan Islamic Fighting Group who fled in the 1980s and 1990s to Pakistan, Afghanistan and African countries. The group ran training camps in Afghanistan at the same time al Qaeda was based there, but it largely shunned Osama bin Laden and his campaign against the United States, focusing instead on fighting Gadhafi.

Ironically, the U.S. turned around and helped the Libyan opposition overthrow Gadhafi in 2011. Now several of the 14 former detainees hold positions in the new Libyan government.

The accounts of new uses of simulated drowning came from two former detainees, Mohammed al-Shoroeiya and Khaled al-Sharif, who also described a gamut of abuses they went through. The two were seized in Pakistan in April 2003 and taken to U.S.-run prisons in Afghanistan, where Mr. al-Shoroeiya was held for 16 months and Mr. al-Sharif for two years before they were handed over to Libya.

In Afghanistan, they were shackled in cells for months in variety of positions, often naked in almost total darkness with music blaring continuously, left to defecate and urinate on themselves. For example, al-Sharif spent three weeks seated on the ground in his cell with his ankles and wrists chained to a ring in the wall, forcing him to keep his arms and legs elevated. He said he was taken out of his shackles once a day for a half-hour to eat.

For the first three months, they were not allowed to bathe.

“We looked like monsters,” Mr. al-Shoroeiya said.

Mr. al-Shoroeiya described being locked naked for a day and a half in a tall, narrow, 1½-foot-wide chamber with his hands chained above his head, with no food as Western music blasted loudly from speakers next to his ears the entire time.

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