LONDON - Amid a growing row in the United States over torture, a list of "enhanced interrogation techniques" used by CIA agents in secret prisons has been leaked. In at least one case, a prisoner has died.
The techniques have been authorised for use at CIA "black sites" abroad, at which top terror suspects are held.
Last week the US-based organisation Human Rights Watch said "ghost detainees" were held at two military bases, in Poland and Romania. Similar sites in half a dozen other countries, including Afghanistan, Thailand and the Indian Ocean base of Diego Garcia, leased from Britain, are now said to have been closed.
The existence of these detention facilities and what happens inside them are the most secret aspect of America's "war on terror". In contrast to military-run camps and prisons such as Guantanamo Bay in Cuba or Abu Ghraib in Iraq, where it was impossible to hide all CIA activity, the location of the "black sites" and the identities of those held there are known only to a handful of senior US officials. In the host countries, only the President and top intelligence officials are aware of them.
Details of the secret prisons and the methods used in them have emerged mainly from CIA officers, who said the public needed to know "the direction their agency has chosen".
They broke ranks amid a furore in Washington over an amendment to the military spending package going through Congress. Republican Senator John McCain wants an unequivocal ban on all "cruel and inhuman" treatment of prisoners in US custody, including those held by the CIA.
Eighty-nine of the Senate's 100 members voted for his amendment, rejecting attempts by the CIA and Vice-President Dick Cheney to exclude prisoners held at the "black sites".
President George Bush has threatened to exercise his veto on any defence bill that has the amendment attached.
The CIA prisons contain the 30 or so most senior al Qaeda captives. They include Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 2001 attacks; Ramzi Binalshibh, another prime September 11 suspect; and the Indonesian Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, accused of masterminding the Bali nightclub bombings in October 2002. Only the merest hints have emerged about their treatment, but according to the most graphic account, given to ABC News in the US, Mohammed won the admiration of his interrogators by enduring "waterboarding" for up to two and a half minutes before begging to confess.
CIA officers who subjected themselves to the same technique lasted an average of 14 seconds.
ABC's sources said that just over a dozen CIA interrogators were trained and authorised to use the "enhanced interrogation" techniques. At least three had declined involvement. The use of each technique on each prisoner had to be approved, stage by stage, up to the use of the "water board". About a dozen "high-value" al Qaeda targets had been interrogated in this way, and, as one put it: "All of these have confessed, none of them has died, and all of them remain incarcerated".
At least one death has been reported elsewhere, however. In a CIA facility in Kabul known as the "Salt Pit", an officer, described as young and inexperienced, used the "cold treatment" on a detainee, who was left outdoors, naked, throughout a freezing Afghan night. He died of hypothermia.
The case and several others in Afghanistan and Iraq where interrogators - CIA officers, civilian contractors or members of the special forces - went beyond the guidelines and suspects died as a result are being investigated.
SIX WAYS TO BREAK YOUR SUSPECT
The Attention Grab: The prisoner is shaken forcefully by the interrogator.
The Attention Slap: Open-handed slap to cause pain and trigger fear.
The Belly Slap: A hard slap on the stomach to cause pain but not internal injury. Doctors have advised against punches.
Long Time Standing: Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled for more than 40 hours.
The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 10C and doused with cold water.
Waterboarding: The detainee is strapped down, dunked under water and made to believe he might be drowned. CIA agents subjected to the technique lasted about 14 seconds.