Interrogation techniques used by the US on al-Qa'ida suspects in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, including beatings, sleep deprivation and so-called waterboarding, "constituted torture" as well as "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment, according to a secret Red Cross report.
The report, which was not meant for public release, was written after Red Cross observers were allowed to speak to 14 "high value" detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The detainees had been transferred from secret prisons, or black sites, operated by the CIA. The testimony given to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), notably by Abu Zubaydah, who was captured after fighting US soldiers in Pakistan, provides a level of detail about the treatment the men received that has not been seen before.
Zubaydah recalls being slammed repeatedly against a plywood wall in his cell and being confined in dark, coffin-like wooden boxes. He speaks of being left unclothed and struggling to breathe as water was poured on a cloth over his face – a simulated drowning procedure known as waterboarding.
"I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless. I thought I was going to die. I lost control of my urine. Since then I still lose control of my urine when under stress," he is quoted as saying.
The report's authors say all the men gave strikingly similar descriptions of what had happened, even if they had had little or no contact with the others. Excerpts of the report appear in an article written by Mark Danner, a professor of journalism, to be published in New York Review of Books. It is not clear how he obtained the document.
It is legally and politically significant that the ICRC wrote the report, five copies of which were given to White House and CIA officials in early 2007.
"It could not be more important that the ICRC explicitly uses the words 'torture' and 'cruel and degrading'," Mr Danner told The Washington Post. "The ICRC is the guardian of the Geneva conventions, and when it uses those words, they have the force of law."
The report's contents page lists the interrogation techniques used as: "suffocation by water; prolonged stress standing; beatings by use of a collar; beating and kicking; confinement in a box; prolonged nudity; sleep deprivation and use of loud music; exposure to cold temperature/cold water; prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles; threats; forced shaving and deprivation/restricted provision of solid food."
The report concludes: "The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA programme, either singly or in combination, constituted torture... Many other elements of the ill-treatment... constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."
Five years after the 9/11 attacks, George Bush told victims' families that some prisoners had been subjected to interrogation beyond US territory using an "alternative set of methods" but that "the United States does not torture... I will not authorise it". Within hours of taking office, Barack Obama outlawed any further torture.
Torture dossier: The detainees' stories
Abu Zabaydah Al-Qa'ida operative captured in 2002
"I was strapped down with belts. A cloth was placed over my face and the interrogators poured water on it so I could not breathe. After a few minutes the cloth was removed and the bed rotated upright. The pressure of the straps was very painful. I vomited. The bed was lowered and the same torture carried out again... I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless. I thought I was going to die."
Walid Bin Attash Yemeni national who planned the attacks on the USS Cole in 2000
"I was kept in a standing position, feet flat on the floor, but with my arms above my head and fixed with handcuffs and a chain to a metal bar running across the width of the cell. The cell was dark with no light. The toilet consisted of a bucket in the cell... I was not allowed to clean myself after using the bucket. Loud music was playing 24 hours a day."