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Breaking Down U.S. Interrogation Tactics

Whether the term torture or the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques” is used, it refers to a specific set of techniques that the Department of Justice told the CIA were permissible when interrogating detainees after the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Some of the 10 techniques listed are self-explanatory such as “facial slap” and “sleep deprivation.” Waterboarding has received a great deal of attention over the last decade. However, others may not be as well known to people. Here are some of the descriptions, per a previously released government memo, of the less familiar techniques:

Attention Grasp

“The attention grasp consists of grasping the detainee with both hands, with one hand on each side of the collar opening, in a controlled and quick motion. In the same motion as the grasp, the detainee is drawn toward the interrogator.”


“During the walling technique, the detainee is pulled forward and then quickly and firmly pushed into a flexible false wall so that his shoulder blades hit the wall. His head and neck are supported with a rolled towel to prevent whiplash.”

Wall Standing

“During wall standing, the detainee may stand about 4 to 5 feet from a wall with his feet spread approximately to his shoulder width. His arms are stretched out in front of him and his fingers rest on the wall to support all of his body weight. The detainee is not allowed to reposition his hands or feet.”

Those three techniques along with the other seven are not listed in the methods that President Obama endorsed in his January 2009 executive order that points to the Army Field Manual as the guideline for the interrogation of detainees.

The Army Field Manual’s list contains 19 techniques. Only one of which, “separation,” is an overtly physical tactic. The other 18 are various forms of psychological interrogation.

But it’s that 19th technique known as separation that still gives human rights activists pause. Here’s how the Army Field Manual explains it:

“Separation will only be used during the interrogation of specific unlawful enemy combatants for whom proper approvals have been granted in accordance with this appendix. However, separation may not be employed on detainees covered by Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (GPW), primarily enemy prisoners of war (EPWs). The separation technique will be used only at COCOM [Combatant Command]-approved locations. Separation may be employed in combination with authorized interrogation approaches—

  • On specific unlawful enemy combatants.
  • To help overcome resistance and gain actionable intelligence.
  • To safeguard US and coalition forces.
  • To protect US interests.”

Appendix M, which is where the separation technique is described, allows interrogators to isolate detainees in an effort to “foster a feeling of futility” as well as “prolong the shock of capture.” The initial duration of isolation is limited to 30 days but the appendix allows for extensions.

And while it specifically says that “use of separation must not preclude the detainee getting four hours of continuous sleep every 24 hours,” this can be interpreted to mean depriving a detainee of sleep for up to 40 hours is lawful.

But it’s the tactics that interrogators freelanced, which aren’t listed on either of these lists that particularly stand out from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. The report is filled with anecdotes referring to “rectal feeding” and “rough takedowns.”

“At least five CIA detainees were subjected to ‘rectal rehydration’ or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity,” according to the almost 500-page report. And “rough takedowns” were described as “taking a naked detainee outside of his cell, placing a hood over his head, and dragging him up and down a long corridor while slapping and punching him.”

— Shawna Thomas and Joe Toohey