Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bush-era torture more systemic

Waterboarding used more than reported

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CAIRO, Egypt -- Human Rights Watch said it has uncovered evidence of a wider use of waterboarding in American interrogations of detainees than has been acknowledged by the U.S., in a report Thursday that details further brutal treatment at secret CIA-run prisons under the Bush administration-era program of detention and rendition of terror suspects.

The report also paints a more complete picture of Washington's close co-operation with the regime of Libya's former dictator Moammar Gadhafi in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The U.S. handed over to Libya the Islamist opponents of Gadhafi that it detained abroad with only thin "diplomatic assurances" they would not be mistreated, and several of them were subsequently tortured in prison, Human Rights Watch said.

The 154-page report features interviews with 14 Libyan dissident exiles. They describe systematic abuses while they were held in U.S.-led detention centres in Afghanistan -- some as long as two years -- or in U.S.-led interrogations in Pakistan, Morocco, Thailand, Sudan and elsewhere before the Americans handed them over to Libya.

"Not only did the U.S. deliver (Gadhafi) his enemies on a silver platter, but it seems the CIA tortured many of them first, said Laura Pitter, counterterrorism adviser at Human Rights Watch and author of the report.

"The scope of the Bush administration abuse appears far broader than previously acknowledged," she said.

The report comes days after the Justice Department announced it would not bring criminal charges against any CIA personnel over severe interrogation methods used in the detention and rendition program. Investigators said they could not prove any interrogators went beyond guidelines authorized by the Bush administration. Rights activists and some Obama administration officials say even the authorized techniques constituted torture, though the CIA and Bush administration argued they do not.

Any new instances of waterboarding, however, would go beyond the three the CIA has said were authorized. Former president George W. Bush, his vice-president Dick Cheney and the CIA have said the method was used on only three senior al-Qaida suspects at secret CIA sites in Thailand and Poland -- Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, Aby Zubayda and Abd al-Rahman al-Nashiri, all currently being held at Guantanamo Bay. The technique involves pouring water on a hooded detainee's nose and mouth until he feels he is drowning.

The 14 Libyans interviewed by Human Rights Watch were swept up in the American hunt for Islamic militants and al-Qaida figures after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. They were mostly members of the anti-Gadhafi Libyan Islamic Fighting Group who fled in the 1980s and 1990s to Pakistan, Afghanistan and African countries. The group ran training camps in Afghanistan at the same time al-Qaida was based there but it largely shunned Osama bin Laden and his campaign against the US., focusing instead on fighting Gadhafi.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 7, 2012 A24

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