Forced on to the balls of his feet, bent double with his hands handcuffed behind his back, the near-naked man shook violently. From beneath the hood, muted moans were audible. It seemed obscene to stare at this apparently frail, vulnerable man, caught in a stress position reminiscent of the images of Iraqi prisoners being interrogated by US soldiers at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison. Yet this was not torture. It was art.
In an attempt to draw attention to human rights abuses, Amnesty International has filmed a dancer in the positions captives have been forced to adopt by US troops. The resulting film makes shocking viewing. During a break in filming, Jiva Parthipan, a Sri Lankan performance artist, appeared relieved as he rubbed his limbs, which were aching after just a couple of minutes in a position that suspects in President George Bush's "war on terror" are expected to endure for hours.
The star of the Amnesty International film, which is being released online next month to highlight the agony of such interrogation techniques, said he found the experience painful, both physically and psychologically. In secret jails across the world, Amnesty insists, captives in the fight against terrorism are expected to maintain these poses. They are not considered torture, simply "enhanced interrogation techniques". Alfred McCoy, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, argued recently that the photographs from Abu Ghraib reflected standard CIA torture techniques of "stress positions, sensory deprivation, and sexual humiliation".
In August, President Bush issued an order decreeing that Article 3 of the Third Geneva Convention – which prohibits the humiliating or degrading treatment of prisoners of war – should apply to the CIA's detention and interrogation programme. But Amnesty believes the order does not go far enough in specifying what constitutes degrading treatment.
It is calling for an end to all secret detentions, as well as for detainees to be given access to lawyers, medical care and monitors. It wants all allegations of enforced disappearance, torture and ill treatment levelled at the CIA to be investigated independently.
Amnesty's film, entitled Waiting For The Guards, forms the backbone of a new campaign the charity hopes will draw attention to such interrogation techniques. The film, by Marc Hawker and Ishbel Whitaker, does not attempt to document the mental torture of being kept in a secret location with no contact with the outside world, simply the physical agony of such allegedly innocuous methods. The crew expected it to be an arduous task but were shocked and disturbed by how quickly Parthipan found it impossible to endure the stress position.
"He is somebody who is physically fit but suffered excruciating pain. It was shocking how real and visceral the process was," said Hawker, adding: "He was surprised himself just how quickly the position took over. He was in a lot of pain and felt a lot of emotion.
"He was in a safe environment but we said that, if you were just off a jet, did not know where you were or what your future held, how psychologically tortuous it would be."
Richard Lowdon, the actor who plays the interrogator, added: "It was quite unpleasant watching Jiva. There was something unbearable about it. It is degrading to the person who is doing it, as well as to the person to whom it is done. It is very dehumanising."
Amnesty hopes its campaign will prompt people to object to such practices. It recently named 38 men and a woman it claims were whisked away on secret CIA "rendition" flights and disappeared into prisons worldwide. The charity has spoken to former detainees, such as the British al-Qa'ida suspect Moazzam Begg, who was held in the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"The suggestion is that they suffer a bit of discomfort, when in fact they endure quite severe pain," said Sara MacNeice, Amnesty's campaigns co-ordinator. "We are sending the message that this is ill treatment, but we should be calling it by its rightful name."Reuse content