There has been much discussion about the implications of the Bush administration’s torture policy: What is it, who is responsible for it, was it appropriate and legal, is it effective, what should be the consequences?

The word torture means different things to different people. Here are descriptions of examples of real-life torture, described by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in its opinion last week in the most recent extreme rendition case.

Plaintiff Agiza, an Egyptian national who had been seeking asylum in Sweden, was captured by Swedish authorities, transferred to American custody, and flown to Egypt. In Egypt, he was held for five weeks “in a squalid, windowless, and frigid cell,” where he was severely and repeatedly beaten” and subjected to electric shock through electrodes attached to his ear lobes, nipples, and genitals. Agiza was held in detention for two and a half years, after which he was given a six-hour trial before a military court, convicted, and sentenced to fifteen years in Egyptian prison.


Plaintiff Britel, a forty-year-old Italian citizen of Moroccan origin, was arrested and detained in Pakistan on immigration charges. After several months in Pakistani detention, Britel was transferred to the custody of American officials. These officials dressed Britel in a diaper and overalls, and shackled and blindfolded him for a flight to Morocco. Once in Morocco, he was detained incommunicado by Moroccan security services at the Tamara prison. There, he was beaten, deprived of sleep and food, and threatened with sexual torture, including sodomy with a bottle and castration. After being released and re-detained, Britel was coerced into signing a false confession, convicted of terrorism-related charges, and sentenced to fifteen years in Moroccan prison.


Plaintiff Mohamed, a twenty-eight-year-old Ethiopian citizen and legal resident of the United Kingdom, was arrested in Karachi, Pakistan, on immigration charges. Mohamed was flown to Morocco under similar conditions, where he was transferred to the custody of Moroccan security agents. Moroccan authorities subjected Mohamed to “severe physical and psychological torture,” including routinely beating him and breaking his bones. Authorities also cut him with a scalpel all over his body, including his penis, and poured “hot stinging liquid” into the open wounds. He was blindfolded and handcuffed while being made to listen to extremely loud music day and night.” After eighteen months in Moroccan custody, Mohamed was transferred back to American custody and flown to Afghanistan. There he was detained in a CIA prison” where he underwent further torture, including being kept in “near permanent darkness” and subjected to loud noise, such as the screams of women and children, for twenty-four per day. His captors also deprived him of food. Eventually, Mohamed was transferred to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he remained for nearly five years. He was released and returned to the United Kingdom during the pendency of this appeal.


Plaintiff al-Rawi, a thirty-nine-year-old Iraqi citizen, and legal resident of the United Kingdom, was arrested in Gambia while traveling on “legitimate” business. Like the other plaintiffs, al-Rawi was placed in a diaper, overalls, and shackles and placed on an airplane, where he was flown to Afghanistan. Detained in the same “dark prison” as Mohamed, loud noises were played twenty-four hours per day to deprive him of sleep. Al-Rawi was eventually transferred to Bagram Air Force Base, where he was “subjected to humiliation, degradation, and physical and psychological torture by U.S. officials,” including being beaten, deprived of sleep, and threatened with death. Al-Rawi was eventually transferred to Guantanamo; in preparation for the flight, he was “shackled and handcuffed in excruciating pain” as a result of his beatings. Al-Rawi was eventually released from Guantanamo and returned to the United Kingdom.


Plaintiff Bashmilah, a thirty-nine year-old Yemeni citizen, was apprehended by agents of the Jordanian government while he was visiting Jordan to assist his ailing mother. After a brief detention during which he was “subjected to severe physical and psychological abuse,” Bashmilah was given over to agents of the United States government, who flew him to Afghanistan in similar fashion as the other plaintiffs. Once in Afghanistan, Bashmilah was placed in solitary confinement, in twenty-four-hour darkness, where he was deprived of sleep and shackled in painful positions. He was subsequently moved to another cell where he was held in twenty-four-hour light and loud noise. Depressed by his conditions, Bashmilah attempted suicide three times. Later, Bashmilah was transferred once more to Yemen, where he was tried and convicted of a trivial crime, sentenced to time served abroad, and released.

Is it any wonder the government wants this case closed as involving state secrets? If you think these case histories sound horrible, wait for the pictures the public is about to see.

This is the second of an ongoing series of articles on torture. See The Torture Questions, April 27, 2009.