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Bush Interrogators Used "Abdominal Slaps" To "Instill Fear And Despair"

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The following article was produced by The Raw Story and written by Larisa Alexandrovna.

Recently declassified documents on the Bush administration interrogation program describe several techniques used on detainees in US custody, some of which may have violated the United Nations Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a signatory.

Included in the large cache of documents is one which describes (pdf) stress positions to be used as interrogation techniques, as well as the use of an abdominal slap as a punishment tool.

The documents were requested by the American Civil Liberties Union via a Freedom of Information Act request in 2004 and were made public on October 30, 2009.

While there is no information on when the stress-position document was written or which government agency authored it, the entire cache of documents was in the possession of the Office of Legal Council at the US Department of Justice according to ACLU attorney, Alex Abdo. "We don't know who wrote it," Abdo said in a Monday interview. "It may have been written by the OLC, the CIA, or the DOD."

Abdo further explained that the document may be part of of another set of documents, which could explain its lack of a date and other contextual information. Abdo pointed out that the Central Intelligence Agency had primary declassification responsibilities.

The other documents in the release are from the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Justice Department, and the Central Intelligence Agency, along with communications between these various agencies and the National Security Council. The general time frame of the entire set of documents is from late 2001 until the filing of the FOIA in 2004.

Stress Positions

The document setting forth the use of stress positions and abdominal slapping is short and vague but raises serious questions of human rights abuses. The first part of the document describes the the "purpose" of stress positions without indicating what the desired results are or when the technique should be implemented.

The "purpose" of stress positions is described as follows:

A variety of stress positions are possible. They focus on producing mild physical discomfort from prolonged muscle use, rather than pain associated with contortions or twisting of the body.

There is no further information provided on the length of time stress positions should be used, nor is there any list of prohibitions relating to the overuse of stress positions. The only information provided on the implementation of this technique is under a section called "application":

A). The detainee kneel on the floor and lean back at a 45-degree angle
B). The detainee lean against a wall with only their forehead touching the wall and feet as far away as possible from the wall.

There is no mention of how long a detainee is to lean back at a "45-degree angle" or what signs indicate that the"mild physical discomfort" has become severe or acute.

Abdominal Slap

The "purpose" of the abdominal slap technique is far more defined than the purpose of the stress position technique and it is this portion that raises serious questions of legality, as defined by several treaties to which the United States is a signatory.

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, for example, was adopted by the United Nations in 1984 and ratified by the United States in 1994. It defines torture as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person."

The "purpose" of the abdominal slap is defined in the document as being "to instill fear and despair, to punish selective behavior and to instill humiliation or cause insult."

The document then goes on to describe how a detainee is to be slapped in the abdomen:

The interrogator is positioned directly in front of the detainee. With the interrogator's fingers held tightly together and fully extended, with the palm toward the interrogator's own body and about one foot from the detainee's abdomen, using the wrist as the fixed pivot point, the interrogator slaps the detainee in the detainee's abdomen. The interrogator does not use a fist, nor is the slap delivered either below the navel or above the sternum.

In an email to Raw Story, human rights lawyer and Columbia law professor Scott Horton provided a strongly worded comment in response to the "purpose" of the abdominal slap technique:

In a famous statement, George W. Bush disparaged the international law prohibition on humiliating and degrading treatment saying it was 'vague' and that he 'didn't know what it meant.' But this document demonstrated that the Bush Administration's strenuous efforts to avoid international law were not based on concerns about ambiguity, but rather because they understood precisely what the law meant and they intended to break it. Here, the purpose of one technique is openly described as being 'to instill fear and despair... and to instill humiliation or cause insult.' It's actually one of the milder techniques secretly adopted and used--and clearly forbidden and punished up to the time Bush came to office.

Abdo concurs that this is a serious revelation indicating an intent to violate known human rights laws. "As with all of the enhanced interrogation techniques, it is clear their purpose was to humiliate detainees and instill fear in them them of death and bodily harm and [was] certainly in contradiction to all of the treaties we have signed," Abdo said.

Asked if there are any known cases of death as a result of the abdominal slap technique, Abdo said that there are cases of detainees dying as a result of beatings to the lower regions of the body but he was not aware of any deaths directly related to abdominal slapping.

Larisa Alexandrovna is managing editor of investigative news for Raw Story. Contact: larisa@rawstory.com.