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Former Detainees Detail Alleged Torture

Former detainees from American military jails in Iraq and Guantanamo are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and lingering physical injuries and scars that can be traced to their imprisonment, according to a human rights group.

One Iraqi prisoner, identified only as Yasser, reported being subjected to electric shocks three times and being sodomized with a stick. His thumbs bore round scars consistent with shocking, Physicians for Human Rights said in a report obtained by The Associated Press before its official release. He would not allow a full rectal exam.

Another Iraqi, identified only as Rahman, reported he was humiliated by being forced to wear women's underwear, stripped naked and paraded in front of female guards, and was shown pictures of other naked detainees. The psychological exam found that Rahman suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and has enduring sexual problems related to his humiliation, the report said.

"Some of these men really are, several years later, very severely scarred," said Barry Rosenfeld, a psychology professor at Fordham University who conducted psychological tests on six of the 11 detainees covered by the study from Physicians for Human Rights. "It's a testimony to how bad those conditions were and how personal the abuse was."

All the prisoners were freed without charges, either because they were innocent or not valuable enough to the military to hold.

The report from the advocacy group based in Cambridge, Mass., that investigates abuse around the world and advocates for global health and human rights, is the most extensive medical study of former detainees published so far to determine whether their stories of abuse at American hands could be corroborated with physical evidence. It followed standards and methods used worldwide to document torture.

Doctors and mental health professionals examined 11 former prisoners in intensive two-day sessions. The group alleges it found evidence of U.S. torture and war crimes, and said some U.S. military health professionals allowed the abuse of detainees, denying them medical care and providing confidential medical information to interrogators which was then exploited.

The report came as the Senate Armed Services Committee revealed documents showing military lawyers warned the Pentagon that some of the methods it used to interrogate and hold detainees post-9/11 violated military, U.S. and international law. Those objections were overruled by the top Pentagon lawyer, who said he was unaware of the criticism.

President Bush said in 2004, when the prison abuse was revealed, that it was the work of "a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values." Mr. Bush and other U.S. officials have consistently denied that the U.S. tortures its detainees.

Seven of the former detainees in the study were held at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq between late 2003 and summer of 2004, a period that coincides with the known abuse of prisoners at the hands of some of their American jailers. Four of the former detainees were held in the detention center at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, beginning in 2002 for one to almost five years. All 11 were released without criminal charges. None are identified in the report to respect their privacy.

Those examined alleged that they were tortured or abused, including sexually, and described being shocked with electrodes, beaten, shackled, stripped of their clothes, deprived of food and sleep, and spit and urinated on.

The abuse of some prisoners by their American captors is well documented by the government's own reports. Once-secret documents show that the Pentagon and Justice Department allowed, at least for a time, forced nakedness, isolation, sleep deprivation and humiliation both at the detention center at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Because the medical examiners did not have access to the 11 patients' medical histories prior to their imprisonment, it was not possible to know whether any of the prisoners' ailments, disabilities and scars pre-dated their confinement. The U.S. military says an al Qaeda training manual instructs members, if captured, to assert they were tortured during interrogation.

However, doctors and mental health professionals stated they could link the prisoners' claims of abuse while in U.S. detention to injuries documented by X-rays, medical exams and psychological tests.

"The level of the time, thoroughness and rigor of the exams left me personally without question about the credibility of the individuals," said Dr. Allen Keller, one of the doctors who conducted the exams, in an interview with the AP. "The findings on the physical and psychological exams were consistent with what they reported."

All 11 former detainees reported being subjected to:

  • Stress positions, including being suspended for hours by the arms or tightly shackled for days.
  • Prolonged isolation and hooding or blindfolding, a form of sensory deprivation.
  • Extreme heat or cold.
  • Threats against themselves, their families or friends from interrogators or guards.

    Ten said they were forced to be naked, some for days or weeks. Nine said they were subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation. At least six said they were threatened with military working dogs, often while naked. Four reported being sodomized, subjected to anal probing, or threatened with rape.

    "We found clear physical and psychological evidence of torture and abuse, often causing lasting suffering," he said.

    Said Rosenfeld: "If anything I think some of these guys really downplayed the severity of the symptoms and the severity of what happened to them, because it's embarrassing. If you are proud macho man its very hard to admit you've been victimized in that way."

    Keller, who directs the Bellevue/New York University Program for Survivors of Torture, said the treatment the detainees reported were "eerily familiar" to stories from other torture survivors around the world. He said the sexual humiliation of the prisoners was often the most traumatic experience.

    Most former detainees are out of reach of Western doctors because they are either in Iraq or have been returned to their home countries from Guantanamo.