New Reporting Reveals Much More Expansive CIA Water Torture Program

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New Reporting Reveals Much More Expansive CIA Water Torture Program

"Whether you call it 'waterboarding' or 'water dousing', that’s torture—plain and simple," says Human Rights Watch

Demonstrator Maboud Ebrahimzadeh is held down during a simulation of waterboarding in 2007 outside the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Reuters)

While the CIA claims it subjected just three prisoners to waterboarding, new lawsuits and documents as well as a further analysis of last year's Senate Torture Report show that a separate water-torture technique known as "water dousing" was used on at least 13 men, the Guardian reported Friday.

That tactic, according to journalist Spencer Ackerman, "created a drowning sensation or chilled a person’s body temperature—sometimes through 'immersion' in water, and often without use of a board."

What's more, Ackerman adds, water dousing often "added an element of hypothermia. Some detainees reported their CIA captors dousing them with 'cold or refrigerated' water, then wrapping them in similarly frigid sheets of plastic, keeping their temperatures low."

"Those familiar with their cases and an interrogator cited in the Senate report consider water dousing's departure from waterboarding to be 'a distinction without a difference'," the Guardian states.

The reporting continues:

The CIA did not ask the Justice Department for approval to use water dousing until summer 2004, two years after the torture program began. The description of the technique provided to department attorneys "made no mention of cold water immersion, which was used on CIA detainees and taught in CIA interrogator training", according to the Senate report.

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McClatchy reported on water dousing last year, citing the Senate investigation.

"Interrogators used the water dousing technique in various ways," the Senate report reads. "At detention site Cobalt (in Afghanistan), detainees were often held down, naked, on a tarp on the floor, with the tarp pulled up around them to form a makeshift tub, while cold or refrigerated water was poured on them. Others were hosed down repeatedly while they were shackled naked, in the standing sleep deprivation position."

A lawsuit filed this week by torture survivors Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, as well as the family of Gul Rahman, who died of hypothermia in his cell as result of the torture he endured, describes water dousing as "a form of waterboarding."

The Guardian writes:

Rahman, an Afghan, is the only detainee known to have died in CIA custody, of hypothermia. A footnote in the Senate report cites a CIA linguist, quoted in an agency inspector general study, describing Rahman’s dousing, referred to as a "shower".

"Rahman was placed back under the cold water by the guards at [redacted CIA officer]’s direction. Rahman was so cold that he could barely utter his alias. According to [the on-site linguist], the entire process lasted no more than 20 minutes. It was intended to lower Rahman’s resistance and was not for hygienic reasons."

Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch, who has investigated the U.S. government's torture program established by President George W. Bush, told the Guardian the CIA was being "entirely disingenuous" in claiming it only waterboarded three people.

"First, more than three people were waterboarded," she said. "But second, the CIA used water to torture detainees in a variety of ways that cannot escape classification as torture. Whether on a board or on the floor, they induced near suffocation using water. And whether you call it 'waterboarding' or 'water dousing', that’s torture—plain and simple."

According to Ackerman, "CIA officials did not address questions from the Guardian as to why the agency considers the difference between waterboarding and water dousing to be substantive"—nor did they challenge the Guardian’s tally of detainees subjected to water dousing.

As Common Dreams noted this week, despite the brutality detailed in the Senate Torture Report, the government has prosecuted only a handful of low-level soldiers and one CIA contractor for prisoner abuse. Meanwhile, the architects of the CIA’s torture program have escaped any form of accountability. 

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