What the C.I.A.’s torture program looked like to the tortured

Date: 
December, 2019
Country: 
United States of America

Drawings done in captivity by the first prisoner known to undergo “enhanced interrogation” portray his account of what happened to him in vivid and disturbing ways.

One shows the prisoner nude and strapped to a crude gurney, his entire body clenched as he is waterboarded by an unseen interrogator. Another shows him with his wrists cuffed to bars so high above his head he is forced on to his tiptoes, with a long wound stitched on his left leg and a howl emerging from his open mouth. Yet another depicts a captor smacking his head against a wall.

They are sketches drawn in captivity by the Guantánamo Bay prisoner known as Abu Zubaydah, self-portraits of the torture he was subjected to during the four years he was held in secret prisons by the C.I.A.

they are gritty and highly personal depictions that put flesh, bones and emotion on what until now had sometimes been portrayed in popular culture in sanitized or inaccurate ways: the so-called enhanced interrogations techniques used by the United States in secret overseas prisons during a feverish pursuit of Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In each illustration, Mr. Zubaydah — the first person to be subject to the interrogation program approved by President George W. Bush’s administration — portrays the particular techniques as he says they were used on him at a C.I.A. black site in Thailand in August 2002.

In this drawing, the prisoner portrays himself as nude on the waterboard, immobilized as water pours down on his hooded head, his right foot contorted in pain. The image contrasts with some others seen in popular culture; an exhibit at the Spy Museum in Washington, for example, shows a guard pouring water onto the face of a prisoner who is neatly clad in what looks like a prison jumpsuit.

Mr. Zubaydah’s self-portrait also shows a design detail not present in most depictions — a drop-down hinge to tilt the prisoner’s head. Restraints hold down his wounded thigh.

Accounts by detainees in different black sites have differed on how this method was used. In his illustration, Mr. Zubaydah shows himself nude and shackled at the wrists to a bar above his head, forced to stand on tiptoe.

In his account, as reported by his lawyers, he was still recovering from what the C.I.A. had described as a large wound in his thigh, and he tried to balance his weight on the other leg.

Mr. Zubaydah, who is not known to have formal art training, drew himself in a hood, shackled in the fetal position and tethered by a chain to a cell bar to constrict his movement.

It shows the prisoner’s captor tightly winding a towel around his neck as he smashes the back of his head against what Mr. Zubaydah recalled was a wooden wall covering a cement wall.

“He kept banging me against the wall,” he said of the experience, which he described as leaving him blind “for a few instants.” With each bang, he said, he would fall to the floor, be dragged by the plastic-tape-wrapped towel “which caused bleeding in my neck,” and then receive a slap on his face.

Source: NYT