Abu Zubaydah was also placed into the smaller box, in which he was forced to crouch for hours, until "the stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful." This smaller type of box was once called a coubaril. Coubarils often bent the body in an uncomfortable position. They were standard in French penal colonies in New Guinea in the 19th century, where some prisoners were held in them for 16 days at a stretch.
Both kinds of boxes entered American prison and military practice in the 19th century. They were a standard part of naval discipline, and the word sweatbox comes from the Civil War era. In the 1970s, prisoners described sweatboxes in South Vietnam, Iran (tabout, or "coffin"), Israel, and Turkey ("tortoise cell"). In the last three decades, prisoners have reported the use of sweatboxes in Brazil (cofrinho), Honduras (cajones), and Paraguay (guardia). And after 2002, Iraqi prisoners held in U.S. detention centers describe "cells so small that they could neither stand nor lie down," as well as a box known as "the coffin" at the U.S. detention center at Qaim near Syria.
Standing cells.WalidBin Attash says, "I was put in a cell measuring approximately [3 feet 6 inches-by-6 feet 6 inches]. I was kept in a standing position, feet flat on the floor, but with my arms above my head and fixed with handcuffs and a chain to a metal bar running across the width of the cell." Over the last century, many prisons had built-in, tall, narrow, coffin-size cells, in which prisoners were forced to stand for hours, their hands chained to the ceiling. In the early 20th century, the women's prison in Gainesville, Texas, had a standing cell in the dining room so that prisoners could smell the food.
High-cuffing. Detainees routinely describe having their hands cuffed high above their heads while they stand with their feet on the ground. This is less damaging than full suspension by the wrists, which causes permanent nerve damage in 15 minutes to an average-size man. High-cuffing increases the time prisoners may be suspended, elongates the pain, and delays permanent injury. It is a restraint torture, as opposed to a positional torture, which requires prisoners to assume a normal human position (standing or sitting), but for a prolonged period of time.
High-cuffing is an old slave punishment of the Americas, once called "hanging from the rafters." John Brown, a free slave, said of it, "Some tie them up in a very uneasy posture, where they must stand all night, and they will then work them hard all day." American military prisons adopted the practice in World War I. High-cuffing was the standard prescribed military punishment for desertion, insubordination, and conscientious objection. Prisoners were handcuffed to their cell door eight to nine hours a day, in one case for up to 50 days. They described high-cuffing as excruciatingly painful, and the American public, otherwise unsympathetic with these prisoners, found the practice appalling, sparking a newspaper debate over "manacling" in November 1918. A month later, the War Department rescinded high-cuffing as a mode of punishment.
Towels, collars, and plywood. Sometimes torturers come up with something entirely new. "Also," says Abu Zubaydah, "on a daily basis during the first two weeks a collar was looped around my neck and then used to slam me against the walls of the interrogation room. It was also placed around my neck when being taken out of my cell for interrogation and was used to lead me along the corridor. It was also used to slam me against the walls of the corridor during such movements."
This is a novel approach to beating someone in a way that leaves few marks. For 30 years, I've studied a long and remorseless two centuries of torture around the world, and I can find only one instance of an account resembling the collars and plywood technique described in the ICRC report. It's American. During World War I, conscientious objectors in military prisons report that their guards dragged them like animals with a rope around the neck, across rough floors, slamming them into walls. This one, as far as I can tell, is entirely homegrown.
Correction, March 20, 2009: The original sentence misspelled, and thus changed the meaning, of tehuacanazo. (Return to the corrected sentence.)