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Records show U.S. kept tight rules on interrogations

WASHINGTON — Two 17-watt fluorescent-tube bulbs — no more, no less — illuminated each cell, 24 hours a day. White noise played constantly but was never to exceed 79 decibels. A prisoner could be doused with 41-degree water but only for 20 minutes at a stretch.

The CIA's secret interrogation program operated under strict rules, and the rules were dictated from Washington with the painstaking, eye-glazing detail beloved by any bureaucracy.

The first news reports this week about hundreds of pages of newly released documents on the CIA program focused on aberrations in the field: threats of execution by handgun or assault by power drill; a prisoner lifted off the ground by his arms, which were tied behind his back; another detainee repeatedly knocked out with pressure applied to the carotid artery.

But the strong impression that emerges from the documents, many with long passages blacked out for secrecy, is a portrait of overwhelming control exercised from CIA headquarters and the Department of Justice — control Bush administration officials say was intended to ensure that the program was safe and legal.

Managers, doctors and lawyers not only set the program's parameters but dictated every facet of a detainee's daily routine: the number of calories a prisoner consumed daily (1,500); the number of hours he could be kept in a box; the proper time when his enforced nudity should be ended.

The detainee "finds himself in the complete control of Americans; the procedures he is subjected to are precise, quiet, and almost clinical," said one document.

The records suggest one quandary prosecutors face as they begin a review of the CIA program, part of the larger inquiry into abuse cases ordered Monday by Attorney General Eric Holder. Any prosecution that focuses narrowly on low-level interrogators who on a few occasions broke the rules may appear unfair, since most of the brutal treatment was authorized from the White House on down.

Defenders of the program say the rules show the government's attempt to keep the program within the law. "Elaborate care went into figuring out the precise gradations of coercion," said David B. Rivkin, Jr., a lawyer who served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. "Yes, it's jarring. But it shows how both the lawyers and the nonlawyers tried to do the right thing."

A 2004 background paper the CIA sent to the Justice Department gives the fullest account to date of the oversight of every step that followed the capture of a man suspected of being a top member of al-Qaida.

Brought to the "black site" in diapers, the paper says, the prisoner's head and face were shaved, he was stripped and photographed and sleep deprived and had a diet limited to Ensure Plus, a dietary drink.

"The interrogators' objective," the background paper says, "is to transition the (detainee) to a point where he is participating in a predictable, reliable, and sustainable manner." The policy was to use the "least coercive measure" to achieve the goal. The harsh treatment began with the "attention slap," and for three prisoners of the nearly 100 who passed through the program, the endpoint was waterboarding.

Records show U.S. kept tight rules on interrogations 08/25/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 26, 2009 1:04am]
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