Guantánamo Prisoner’s Graphic Details of US Torture

Previously unreleased drawings by Abu Zubaydah, featured in a new report, add further evidence of what the authors say the federal government, particularly the C.I.A., tried to conceal. 

The guard tower at Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp Delta in Cuba, 2010. (Joint Task Force Guantanamo, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0)

By Brett Wilkins
Common Dreams

A report published this week featuring previously unreleased drawings by Abu Zubaydah — a 52-year-old Saudi who has been imprisoned by the United States for more than 20 years at C.I.A. “black sites” and Guantánamo Bay — offers new insight into torture suffered by a man caught up in a case of mistaken identity. 

The report — American Torturers: FBI and CIA Abuses at Dark Sites and Guantánamo — is based on sketches and descriptions by Zubaydah and other War on Terror torture victims and was led by Seton Hall University law professor Mark Denbeaux and University of California, San Francisco psychiatry professor Jess Ghannam, with the help of Seton Hall law students. 

“Despite the efforts of the federal government, particularly the Central Intelligence Agency, to conceal evidence of the actual operation of the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (EITs) deployed on detainees in dark sites and at Guantánamo, a steady drumbeat of disclosures has provided an unparalleled view into this disgraceful episode in the nation’s history,” the report states.

The report notes that Zubaydah’s drawings “viscerally convey the brutal reality the C.I.A. sought to hide with its calculated destruction of video recordings of torture conducted by its agents,” and “dovetail with the recent accounts of Dr. James Mitchell, a chief architect of the torture regime, who both wrote a book on EITs and testified in hearings on Guantánamo.”

“These sources, together with the report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, provide the most complete — and compelling — account to date of America’s torture program” in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, the publication states.

Born in Saudi Arabia, Zubaydah moved to the West Bank in Israeli-occupied Palestine as a teenager. He was captured by C.I.A., F.B.I. and Pakistani intelligence agents in Pakistan in late March 2002. Shot in the thigh, testicle and stomach during the raid that led to his capture, Zubaydah — who was mistaken for a high-ranking Al-Qaeda member — was transferred to C.I.A. “black sites” in Pakistan, Thailand, Afghanistan, Poland, Northern Africa and Diego Garcia. In September 2006, he was sent to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he remains imprisoned.

Zubaydah was the first so-called high-value detainee to be tortured by U.S. agents, who treated him as a human guinea pig.

“Everybody agrees, they tortured the wrong guy; they went ahead anyway so they could get permission to torture other people,” Denbeaux told The Guardian, which on Thursday posted the report along with an article by Ed Pilkington on Zubaydah’s experience.

Cheney, Rice & Tenet Approved Zubaydah’s Torture 

Then-Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and C.I.A. Director George Tenet gave the green light for U.S. agents to torture Zubaydah — even after learning that the prisoner was cooperative. During one discussion on the matter, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft reportedly remarked: “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.”

July 10, 2001: From left: CIA Director George Tenet, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and President George W. Bush meeting in the Oval Office. (U.S. National Archives)

Zubaydah was subjected to the interrupted drowning technique known as “waterboarding” 83 times; rape under the pretext of “rectal feeding”; shackling in excruciating “stress positions”; sleep, sensory and food deprivation; confinement in small boxes; exposure to extreme temperatures and loud music; death threats; beatings and being slammed into walls; sexual and religious humiliation; and other abuses.

Most of the torture techniques approved by the George W. Bush administration — which included waterboarding, deprivation, stress positions, the use of loud music and dogs, slamming into walls, solitary confinement, and exposure to extreme temperatures — are illegal under both domestic and international law.

In addition to these approved EITs, U.S. military and intelligence personnel subjected terrorism detainees — many of them innocent men, women, and children — to additional abuses, including homiciderape, imprisonment of relatives as bargaining chips, exposure to sometimes lethally extreme temperatures, and brutal beatings.

“Sexual assault was never approved, nudity was never approved, humiliation by having women present was never approved, and nor was subjecting someone to prolonged torture to the point of exhaustion or worse,” Denbeaux told The Guardian.

National Library of Medicine’s 2005 Report 

According to a 2005 report by the National Library of Medicine — a federal agency — based on reviews of military documents, 26 War on Terror detainees died as a result of “criminal homicide,” although the paper did not say how many prisoners died on the battlefield or while in U.S. custody.

“Prisoners died of torture at Asadadad, Bagram, and Gardez in Afghanistan and at Abu Ghraib, Camp Whitehorse, Basra, Mosul, Tikrit, Bucca, and an unidentified facility in Iraq,” the report stated. “These cases do not include deaths due to medical neglect, mortar attacks on prisons, or the shootings of rioting prisoners.”

Zubaydah has never been charged with any crime or tried. He is what’s known as a “forever prisoner,” as the U.S. has no plans to release him.

Last month, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for Zubaydah’s immediate release while asserting that his continued imprisonment violates the “fundamental rules of international law” and “may constitute crimes against humanity.”

Thirty men remain imprisoned at Guantánamo. Only one has been convicted of a crime. Ten have cases pending before what former military prosecutors have called “rigged” military tribunals, while 16 have been approved or recommended for release.

The administration of President Joe Biden — who has expressed intent to close Guantánamo — has overseen the transfer of a handful of Gitmo prisoners to third countries. 

[Related: Guantánamo’s Forever Elusive Endgame]

Denbeaux said that “Abu Zubaydah is the poster child for America’s torture program.”

“He was the first person to be tortured, having been approved by the Department of Justice based on facts that the C.I.A. knew to be false,” Denbeaux noted. “His drawings are the ultimate repudiation of the failure and abuses of torture.”

Brett Wilkins is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

This article is from  Common Dreams.

The views expressed in this article and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

21 comments for “Guantánamo Prisoner’s Graphic Details of US Torture

  1. Dienne
    May 15, 2023 at 09:20

    The word “detainee” should never be used out of quotes. They weren’t “detained”, they were imprisoned. Similarly with “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” – should always be called torture. And why does Biden get credit for “expressing intent” to close GITMO? Talk to me when he’s actually done it.

  2. Realist
    May 15, 2023 at 02:18

    The reprobate currently infesting the White House has notably called Vladimir Putin a war criminal who will never again be able to travel outside the borders of his own country (which said American president has also indicated that he intends to destroy and cannibalize) simply for the act of evacuating innocent children, sans their parents, from an active war zone where a battle was raging. There are not enough appropriate words in the English language to adequately describe the heinous actions of our country’s recent wartime presidents, all disgusting war criminals.

    • Juan Luchador
      May 15, 2023 at 15:19

      ” . . . our country’s recent wartime presidents . . . all disgusting war criminals.” Agreed. And these same criminals (or creatures just like them) will appear on our ballots in the coming elections and we will vote for them like some of us always have. Since the beginning of “the provoked attack” on Ukraine the war class has amped up the rhetoric to keep the killing and weapons sales in fool swing. Real people are dying on the ground and a country is being destroyed because of our unwillingness to work for a peaceful solution.

  3. LeoSun
    May 15, 2023 at 00:45

    This article describes common Democrat behavior. An unimaginable, despicable, no holds barred, reign of terror, i.e., Use. Abuse. Abandon. An “All Hands on Deck,” bipartisanship, Bush-Cheney, OhBama-Biden, Trump-Pence, Biden-Harris, Co-Operation in cahoots w/CONGRESS!


    i.e., That “Cowboy” from Texas, G.W.Bush & Dick Cheney, started their own war in Iraq.!!! DICK CHENEY arranged the APPOINTMENT of his daughter LIZ to a Senior Post at the STATE Department. LIZ joined in the campaign of BIG LIES that led to the IRAQ WAR;

    AND, “It was the leading Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, then-Senator Joey R Biden, who played a central role in pushing through the A.U.M.F. (Authorization for the Use of Military Force) that provided a congressional rubber stamp for the illegal invasion,” aka Occupation Ira__ L_b_r_tion, uh-uhh, ugh, “You know the thing!”

    No doubt, OhBama’s-Biden’s legacy of Deception. Destruction. Death; PLUS, WAR, in Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, gifted to Trump-Pence. Today, “America’s Back!” Biden-Harris “GOT” WAR in Ukraine. The former Assassins-N-Chief “live free,” under 24/7 $ecurity, paid for by the Taxpayers. One’s running, Biden-Harris 2024; the other’s running, Trump 2024.

    Suffice it to say, the EXPLOSION OF THE NORD STREAM PIPELINE is a crime against humanity. The criminals have been identified; BUT, NOT held to account for the crime! Concluding, “a body of men & women holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody!”

    Besides, “Times Up!” Common Democrats need to be reminded about the reality of who Joey R. Biden & Comma La Harris are & have been, all along!!! THIS IS the same Joey R. Biden, after all, who had to drop out of the 1988 presidential race because of a decades-long pattern of deception!!!”

    “Guantánamo Prisoner’s Graphic Details of US Torture,” No doubt, the WH’s & Biden’s-Harris’ purpose is to make one set of people forget that a certain other set of people are human. Best practice, “Shut the Front Door on Biden-Harris 2024.”

  4. andreairavani
    May 14, 2023 at 20:12

    nbvgOf course we would not have this Gitmo problem if America’s stupid, evil, useless, worthless, insane, pereverted, hideous, disgusting grotesque, monstrous, genetic freaks of nature were nothing other than that that they ridiculously expect to be a state secrets privelge. I refuse to keep their secret and assimilate into their mass psychosis economy consisting of 80 million people or more, in government, the healthcare & mental healthcare workers, Wall St., the military, academia, media, the tech sector, InfraGard, & including the degenerate hackers that have illegally censored me by hacking in a violation of my constitutional rights.   America’s  mass psychosis economy that started in 1992 has totally destroyed my life, & members of my family, ( for refusing to assimilate into it, in a if you oppose us, you are crazy Nazi Storm Trooper, Marxist, Fascist, Red Guard whacked out insane circular logic demented brain fart, )   & the country, & world.  Written by Andrea Iravani- The thing that has gone terribly wrong is that multiple geo catastrophies are occuring beyond anyone’s ability to control, including the end of the glacial period, geo-magnetic reversal, oceans, lakes, rivers, & streams polluted with nuclear waste and other lethally toxic wastes, as well as arable land being polluted with the same, & the depletion of natural resources. Add to that a population of over 8 billion people on the planet that will never agree. It is difficult to get members of the same family or even the same marriage to agree on political topics, so it is irrational & unreasonable to expect to be able to get over 8 billion people to agree on political issues.  Scientists, geo-politicians, & religious people do agree that we are approaching the end of civilization. The U.N. policies demonstrate that governments understand that this is happening & is totally beyond their ability to stop it.  Even if people were to attempt crazy geo-engineering of the weather to control the situation that  leads to droughts, mass flash floodings, & the resulting famines that occur, it fails to address the other things taking place from geo-magnetic reversal including increased earth quakes, volcanic erruptions, tsunamis, & coastal flooding.  People expect government to control all matters beyond their ability to control.  The governments should just hand out lethally dosed fentanyl patches to anyone that decides for any reason, this is just way too fucking sick & evil, & I do not want to be a part of it anymore.  We have over 80 million serial criminal psychopaths roaming around America perpetrating high crimes, treason, crimes against humanity, medical fraud, Munchausen Syndrome, torture, terrorism, financial fraud, pyramid schemes, illegal enslavement, extortion, racketeering, & conspiracy to violate constitutional rights.   It is just too sick and evil for me to tolerate. I would rather die.    by Andrea Iravani

    • Valerie
      May 15, 2023 at 03:16

      I feel your anguish Andrea. I am currently watching a video series by Richard Dawkins, an english evolutionary biologist and science writer, entitled “The Genius of Charles Darwin”. It reveals all the connections we have to the natural world; the one we are destroying, as you say with nuclear and toxic waste, among other things.

      I am so glad i had the opportunity to see the world in a time of reasonable stability. Now it is a daunting prospect to go anywhere; there are so many obstacles. (Not least the near impossibility of achieving anything without it necessitating a computer and online know-how.)

  5. lester
    May 14, 2023 at 18:08

    Bush II founded Guantanamo’s torture regime. Obama, Trump, BIden, have all kept it open. Why?

    • Valerie
      May 15, 2023 at 08:42


  6. Purple Paper Eater
    May 14, 2023 at 11:22

    Since this is just above the headline about how US 8th Graders don’t know squat about history …..

    How many US 8th Graders can correctly answer that the USA has engaged in a policy of torture for at least the last two decades? Not many I’m guessing.

    The Counter-Culture of the 1960’s emerged because that generation did learn what the USA was doing, and was not amused. They even, and I’m sure this will shock modern young minds, they even mounted an effective resistance to the dominant American culture of hate and violence, created an effective antidote to the hypocrisy of that era, and showed the world how democracy could stop a war. Not many US 8th Graders will know it thought.

  7. Alexander
    May 13, 2023 at 20:14

    This is why I have started referring to the U.S. as Uncle Satan instead of Uncle Sam …

  8. Alexander
    May 13, 2023 at 20:08

    Enhanced Interrogation is brought to you courtesy of the home of the Brave and the Land of the Free in it’s noble defence of Freedom and Democracy … Hooah!

  9. HelenB
    May 13, 2023 at 18:27

    Keep looking, Brett. There are horrific crimes in many directions close to home. At home.
    People subjected to … because of NOTHING AGAINST THE LAW? The targets. And their perps. There are not just a few.

    • HelenB
      May 14, 2023 at 16:59

      1. Torture is never acceptable. For anyone.
      2. Torture is about getting people to commit horrific acts under command. It is not created to control the victim. It is created to control the perpetrator, to desensitize public to the will of authority.

      Why didn’t their caretakers refuse to do these things? See what I mean?

  10. Daniel Guyot
    May 13, 2023 at 11:18

    Horrible! Unacceptable! Frightening!

  11. Vera Gottlieb
    May 13, 2023 at 10:34

    Shame on the US!!! SHAME!!!

  12. Tony
    May 13, 2023 at 08:04

    “Zubaydah was subjected to the interrupted drowning technique known as “waterboarding””

    I have sometimes heard the BBC describe it as ‘simulated drowning’!

  13. Valerie
    May 13, 2023 at 02:49

    Animals are better than humans. What sort of mind would inflict this kind of abuse on any other living thing? It has to be a very mentally disturbed being. Another article about these prisoners was published 2 months ago in the Guardian; here is the title:

    “For all of us detained at Guantánamo, making art was a lifeline. Why won’t Joe Biden let us keep our work?”

    Mansoor Adayfi
    March 2023

    • Stephen
      May 13, 2023 at 07:37

      In her book, “Eichmann in Jerusalem”, Hannah Arendt coined the phrase, The Banality of Evil when observing Adolf Eichmann at his trial. I think it is quite plausible that it is easy to get people to torture. Just grant them the authority, insist it is for the greater cause and completely dehumanize the victims. And a certain three letter agency learned how to get people to do it and studied all the above tortures in the 1950’s. Look up MKUltra. Read “The Poisoner in Chief”. Think of all the “black sites” all over the world.
      That three letter agency does actually represent Satanic evil simply because they do it so easily.

      • Valerie
        May 13, 2023 at 15:05

        I suppose you’re right Stephen. The torturers are tortured too. Thanks for the reading suggestions.

    • Vera Gottlieb
      May 13, 2023 at 10:35

      Once more…American hypocrisy on display.

      • Valerie
        May 13, 2023 at 15:13

        I wonder where we’d be without all this hypocrisy Vera. There doesn’t seem to be an antidote.

Comments are closed.