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Torture Memos vs. Red Cross Report: Prisoners Describe Harsher Treatment Than in Guidelines

 One of the most notable aspects of the recently released Bush-era legal memos on interrogation has been their level of precision: Waterboarding "may not last for more than 40 seconds," and "sleep deprivation may not exceed 180 hours." But debates over these guidelines aside, they raise an obvious question: What actually happened in practice?

In interviews with the Red Cross, some prisoners described treatment beyond what the memos laid out: The "facial slap" is described in memos as when an interrogator "slaps the individual’s face with fingers slightly spread. The hand makes contact with the area directly between the tip of the individual’s chin and the bottom of the corresponding earlobe." By contrast, one prisoner recalled "repeated slapping, punching and, less often, kicking, to the body and face."

Or take the case of "walling," which the memos describe as having interrogators "quickly and firmly push" a prisoner against a "flexible, false wall." A prisoner told the Red Cross that he was "slammed directly against a hard concrete wall" and then thrown against a wall on which a plywood sheet had been placed.  

Other experiences described by the prisoners, while not explicitly rule violations, sound much less benign than the official language. The interrogator’s prerogative to "exploit the detainee's fear of being seen naked," for example, apparently included keeping prisoners naked for months at a time.

See the full side-by-side comparison.