“UN Secret Detention Report: CIA Prisons In Afghanistan And Iraq
WRITTEN BY ANDY WORTHINGTON
To complement my recent article, “UN Human Rights Council Discusses Secret Detention Report,” in which I explained how, two weeks ago, the UN Human Rights Council had — after some delays — finally discussed the findings of the “Joint Study on Global Practices in Relation to Secret Detention in the Context of Counter-Terrorism,” a detailed, 186-page report issued in February (PDF), I’m posting the section of the report that deals with US secret detention policies since the 9/11 attacks, in the hope that it might reach a new audience — and provide useful research opportunities — as an HTML document.
I do, however, urge everyone to read the whole report, because the introduction and conclusions are important, as are the sections establishing the legal approach to secret detention and its historical context, the section detailing current practices in 25 other countries worldwide, and the annexes, which contain government responses to a questionnaire about secret detention, and a number of case studies.
Given the length of this section of the report (pp. 43-89), I’m publishing it in three parts. The first, published here, provided an introduction, and dealt with “The ‘high-value detainee’ programme and CIA secret detention facilities,” the second, published below, looks at “CIA detention facilities or facilities operated jointly with United States military in battlefield zones,” and the third looks at “Proxy detention sites,” “Complicity in the practice of secret detention” and “Secret detention and the Obama administration.”
Please note that I have inserted hyperlinks where possible. However, the original report contains footnotes, and not all of these provide links to websites. In most cases, I have added the information contained in the footnotes in square brackets, but for full details, please see the original.
Excerpts from the UN “Joint Study on Global Practices in Relation to Secret Detention in the Context of Counter-Terrorism,” February 2010
Prepared by Martin Scheinin, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Manfred Nowak, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Shaheen Ali, the vice-chair of the Working Group on arbitrary detention, and Jeremy Sarkin, the chair of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances.
B. CIA detention facilities or facilities operated jointly with United States military in battlefield zones
131. Although it is still not possible to identify all 28 of the CIA’s acknowledged high-value detainees, the figures quoted in a memo of the Office of Legal Counsel of 30 May 2005 written by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stephen G. Bradbury [PDF] indicate that the other 66 prisoners in the CIA programme were regarded as less significant. Some of them were subsequently handed over to the United States military and transferred to Guantanamo, while others were rendered to the custody of their home countries or other countries. In very few cases were they released.
132. Outside of the specific “high-value detainee” programme, most detainees were held in a variety of prisons in Afghanistan. Three of these are well-known: a secret prison at Bagram airbase, reportedly identified as “the Hangar” [See also the interview with Murat Kurnaz (annex II, case 14)], and two secret prisons near Kabul, known as the “dark prison” and the “salt pit”. During an interview held with the experts, Bisher al-Rawi indicated that, in the dark prison, there were no lights, heating or decoration. His cell was about 5 x 9 feet with a solid steel door and a hatch towards the bottom of it. He only had a bucket to use as a toilet, an old piece of carpet and a rusty steel bar across the width of the cell to hang people from. All the guards wore hoods with small eye holes, and they never spoke. Very loud music was played continuously. He also indicated that he had been subjected to sleep deprivation for up to three days and received threats. Binyam Mohamed provided a similar account to the experts [see annex II, case 18], as did the lawyer of Khaled El-Masri [annex II, case 9] and Suleiman Abdallah [annex II, case 2]. The experts heard allegations about three lesser-known prisons, including one in the Panjshir valley, north of Kabul, and two others identified as Rissat and Rissat 2, but it was not yet possible to verify these allegations. Of the prisoners identified as having been held in secret CIA custody (in addition to the above-mentioned high-value detainees), seven were eventually released and four escaped from Bagram in July 2005, namely Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan; Omar al-Faruq, a Kuwaiti, captured in Bogor, Indonesia, in 2002; Muhammad Jafar Jamal al-Kahtani, a Saudi, reportedly [re-]captured in Khost province, Afghanistan, in November 2006; and Abdullah Hashimi, a Syrian, also known as Abu Abdullah al-Shami. Five prisoners were reportedly returned to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in 2006: Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi [see para. 146 below]; Hassan Raba’i and Khaled al-Sharif, both captured in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 2003, who had “spent time in a CIA prison in Afghanistan”; Abdallah al-Sadeq, seized in a covert CIA operation in Thailand in the spring of 2004; and Abu Munder al-Saadi, both held briefly before being rendered to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. In May 2009, Human Rights Watch reported that its representatives briefly met Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi on a visit to Abu Salim prison in Tripoli, although he refused to be interviewed. Human Rights Watch interviewed four other men, who claimed that, “before they were sent to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, United States forces had tortured them in detention centers in Afghanistan, and supervised their torture in Pakistan and Thailand”. One of the four was Hassan Raba’i, also known as Mohamed Ahmad Mohamed al-Shoroeiya, who stated that, in mid-2003, in a place he believed was Bagram prison in Afghanistan, “the interpreters who directed the questions to us did it with beatings and insults. They used cold water, ice water. They put us in a tub with cold water. We were forced [to go] for months without clothes. They brought a doctor at the beginning. He put my leg in a plaster. One of the methods of interrogation was to take the plaster off and stand on my leg”.
133. The released detainees are:
• Laid Saidi, an Algerian seized in the United Republic of Tanzania on 10 May 2003, was handed over to Malawians in plain clothes who were accompanied by two middle-aged Caucasian men wearing jeans and T-shirts. Shortly after the expulsion, a lawyer representing Mr. Saidi’s wife filed an affidavit with a Tanzanian court, saying that immigration documents showed that Mr. Saidi had been deported through the border between Kasumulu, United Republic of Tanzania, and Malawi. He was held for a week in a detention facility in the mountains of Malawi, then rendered to Afghanistan, where he was held in the “dark prison”, the “salt pit” and another unidentified prison. About a year after he was seized, he was flown to Tunisia, where he was detained for another 75 days, before being returned to Algeria, where he was released.
• Three Yemenis — Salah Nasser Salim Ali Darwish, seized in Indonesia in October 2003, Mohammed al-Asad and Mohammed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah — were held in a number of CIA detention facilities until their return to Yemen in May 2005, where they continued to be held, apparently at the request of the United States authorities. Mr. Bashmilah was detained by Jordanian intelligence agents in October 2003, when he was in Jordan to assist his mother who was having an operation. From 21 to 26 October 2003, Mr. Bashmilah was detained without charge and subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, including prolonged beatings and being threatened with electric shocks and the rape of his mother and wife [see Declaration of Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah in support of plaintiffs’ opposition to the motion of the United States to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, civil action No. 5:07-cv-02798 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose Division]. A communication was sent by the special rapporteurs on torture and on human rights while countering terrorism to the Governments of the United States, Indonesia, Yemen and Jordan on the cases of Bashmilah and Salim Ali, who were both detained and tortured in Jordan [E/CN.4/2006/6/Add.1, paras. 93, 126, 525 and 550]. Only the latter country responded, declaring that no record showing that the two men had been arrested for the violations of either the penal, disciplinary or administrative codes, and that they did not have documented files indicating that they posed a security concern, eliminating the possibility of their arrest for what may be described as terrorism [A/HRC/4/33/Add.1, para. 123]. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention adopted its opinion No. 47/2005 (Yemen) on the case on 30 November 2005, declaring their detention to be arbitrary as being devoid of any legal basis. In its reply to the allegations, the Government of Yemen confirmed that Mr. Bashmilah and Mr. Salim Ali had been handed over to Yemen by the United States. According to the Government, they had been held in a security police facility because of their alleged involvement in terrorist activities related to Al-Qaida. The Government added that the competent authorities were still dealing with the case pending receipt of the persons’ files from the United States authorities in order to transfer them to the Prosecutor [A/HRC/4/40/Add.1, para. 15].
• Khaled El-Masri, a German seized on the border of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on 31 December 2003, was held in a hotel room by agents of that State for 23 days, then rendered by the CIA to the “salt pit”. He was released in Albania on 29 May 2004 [Also see Interview with the lawyer of Khaled El-Masri (annex II, case 9)].
• Khaled al-Maqtari, a Yemeni seized in Iraq in January 2004, was initially held in Abu Ghraib, then transferred to a secret CIA detention facility in Afghanistan. In April 2004, he was moved to a second secret detention facility, possibly in Eastern Europe, where he remained in complete isolation for 28 months, until he was returned to Yemen and released in May 2007.
• Marwan Jabour, a Jordanian-born Palestinian, was seized in Lahore, Pakistan, on 9 May 2004, and held in a CIA detention facility in Afghanistan for 25 months. He was then transferred to Jordan, where he was held for six weeks, and to Israel, where he was held for another six weeks, before being freed in Gaza.
[Also mentioned:] Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish national residing in Germany, interviewed by the experts for the present study, was arrested in Pakistan in November or December 2001 and initially held by Pakistani police officers and officers of the United States. He was then transferred into the custody of the United States at that country’s airbase in Kandahar, Afghanistan, before being taken to the naval base at Guantanamo Bay on 1 February 2002. He was held secretly until May 2002, and released on 24 August 2006.
134. A total of 23 detainees who ended up in Guantanamo were also held in CIA detention facilities in Afghanistan. They include:
(a) Six men seized in the Islamic Republic of Iran in late 2001:
• Wassam al-Ourdoni, a Jordanian, who was released from Guantanamo in April 2004. In 2006, he told Reprieve that he had been seized by the Iranian authorities while returning from a religious visit to Pakistan with his wife and newborn child in December 2001, then handed over to the Afghan authorities, who handed him on to the CIA. He said that the Americans “asked me about my relationship with Al-Qaida. I told them I had nothing to do with Al-Qaida. They then put me in jail under circumstances that I can only recall with dread. I lived under unimaginable conditions that cannot be tolerated in a civilized society.” He said that he was first placed in an underground prison for 77 days: “this room was so dark that we couldn’t distinguish nights and days. There was no window, and we didn’t see the sun once during the whole time.” He said that he was then moved to “prison number three”, where the food was so bad that his weight dropped substantially. He was then held in Bagram for 40 days before being flown to Guantanamo [Clive Stafford Smith, “Abandoned to their fate in Guantánamo”, Index on Censorship, 2006].
• Aminullah Tukhi, an Afghan who was transferred to Afghan custody from Guantanamo in December 2007. He alleged that he had fled from Herat to the Islamic Republic of Iran to escape the Taliban, and was working as a taxi driver when the Iranians began rounding up illegal immigrants towards the end of 2001 [PDF, pp. 71-7].
• Hussein Almerfedi, a Yemeni, still at Guantanamo. He alleged that he was “kidnapped” in the Islamic Republic of Iran and held for a total of 14 months in three prisons in Afghanistan, “two under Afghani control and one under US control [Bagram]” [PDF, pp. 31-40].
• Tawfiq al-Bihani, a Yemeni, still at Guantanamo. Allegedly, after deciding to flee Pakistan after the 9/11 attacks, he was “arrested by Iranian Police in Zahedan, Iran for entering the country without a visa” and held “in various prisons in Iran and Afghanistan, for approximately one year in total [PDF, pp. 66-9].
• Rafiq Alhami, a Tunisian still held at Guantanamo, who alleged that “I was in an Afghan prison but the interrogation was done by Americans. I was there for about a one-year period, transferring from one place to another. I was tortured for about three months in a prison called the Prison of Darkness or the Dark Prison” [PDF, pp. 147-61]. And further: “Back in Afghanistan I would be tortured. I was threatened. I was left out all night in the cold. It was different here. I spent two months with no water, no shoes, in darkness and in the cold. There was darkness and loud music for two months. I was not allowed to pray. I was not allowed to fast during Ramadan. These things are documented. You have them” [PDF, pp. 20-22].
• Walid al-Qadasi, a Yemeni who was rendered to the “dark prison” and held in other prisons in Afghanistan, together with four other men whose whereabouts are unknown [In addition, Aminullah Tukhi explained that 10 prisoners in total -- six Arabs, two Afghans, an Uzbek and a Tajik -- had been delivered to the Americans. Although six of these men are accounted for above, it is not known what happened to the other four: an Arab, an Afghan, the Uzbek and the Tajik]. An allegation letter was sent in November 2005 by the Special Rapporteur on torture in relation to Walid Muhammad Shahir Muhammad al-Qadasi, a Yemeni citizen, indicating that the following allegations had been received: He was arrested in Iran in late 2001. He was held there for about three months before being handed over to the authorities in Afghanistan who in turn handed him over to the custody of the US. He was held in a prison in Kabul. During US custody, officials cut his clothes with scissors, left him naked and took photos of him before giving him Afghan clothes to wear. They then handcuffed his hands behind his back, blindfolded him and started interrogating him. The apparently Egyptian interrogator, accusing him of belonging to Al-Qaida, threatened him with death. He was put in an underground cell measuring approximately two metres by three metres with very small windows. He shared the cell with ten inmates. They had to sleep in shifts due to lack of space and received food only once a day. He spent three months there without ever leaving the cell. After three months, Walid al-Qadasi was transferred to Bagram, where he was interrogated for one month. His head was shaved, he was blindfolded, made to wear ear muffs and a mouth mask, handcuffed, shackled, loaded on to a plane and flown out to Guantanamo, where he was held in solitary confinement for one more month. In April 2004, after having been detained for two years, he was transferred to Sana’a prison in Yemen. In its response, the Government of the United States reiterated its earlier announcements that no Government agency was allowed to engage in torture and that its actions complied with the non-refoulement principle. Opinion No. 47/2005 of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also concerns Mr. al-Qadasi [See E/CN.4/2006/6/Add.1, paras. 1 and 527, and the response from the Government of the United States (A/HRC/10/44/Add.4, para. 252). See also the report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, opinion No. 47/2005 (A/HRC/4/40/Add.1)].
(b) Two men seized in Georgia in early 2002 and sold to United States forces:
• Soufian al-Huwari, an Algerian, transferred to Algerian custody from Guantanamo in November 2008; and Zakaria al-Baidany, also known as Omar al-Rammah, a Yemeni, still held at Guantanamo. According to Mr. al-Huwari, both were rendered to the “dark prison”, and were also held in other detention facilities in Afghanistan: “The Americans didn’t capture me. The Mafia captured me. They sold me to the Americans”. He added: “When I was captured, a car came around and people inside were talking Russian and Georgian. I also heard a little Chechnyan. We were delivered to another group who spoke perfect Russian. They sold us to the dogs. The Americans came two days later with a briefcase full of money. They took us to a forest, then a private plane to Kabul, Afghanistan” [PDF, pp. 15-23].
(c) Bisher al-Rawi, an Iraqi national and British resident, was seized in the Gambia in November 2002, and rendered to the “dark prison” at the beginning of December 2002. He was kept shackled in complete isolation and darkness for two weeks. On or around 22 December 2002, he was transferred to Bagram, and then to Guantanamo on 7 February 2003. He was finally released on 30 March 2007. At Bagram, he was reportedly threatened and subjected to ill-treatment and sleep deprivation for up to three days at a time [Interview with Bisher al-Rawi (annex II, case 4)].
(d) Jamil El-Banna, a Jordanian national and British resident, was also seized in the Gambia in November 2002 and rendered to the “dark prison”, then to Guantanamo. He was released from Guantanamo in December 2007.
(e) Six other detainees were flown to Guantanamo on 20 September 2004 after having spent one to three years in custody:
• Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani and Mohammed Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani, Pakistani brothers seized in Karachi, who were held in the “salt pit” [Both Laid Saidi and Khaled El-Masri spoke about getting to know the Rabbani brothers in the “salt pit”];
• Abdulsalam al-Hela, a Yemeni colonel and businessman who was seized in Egypt;
• Adil al-Jazeeri, an Algerian seized in Pakistan [PDF, pp. 315-34];
• Sanad al-Kazimi, a Yemeni seized in the United Arab Emirates [PDF. Also on the flight that took these men to Guantanamo were Ali al-Hajj al-Sharqawi, Hassan bin Attash and Binyam Mohamed. See also paras 151 and 159 below];
• Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani businessman seized in Thailand, who was held in isolation in Bagram for a year.
Mr. al-Kazimi was apprehended in Dubai in January 2003 and held at an undisclosed location in or near Dubai for two months. He was then transferred to a different place about two hours away. He was kept naked for 22 days, at times shackled, and subjected to extreme climatic conditions and simulated drowning. After six months, he was transferred to United States custody, allegedly pursuant to the CIA rendition programme. He was taken to Kabul and held in the “dark prison” for nine months, where he suffered severe physical and psychological torture by unidentified persons. He was then transferred to Bagram airbase, where he was held for a further four months in United States custody. Again, he was allegedly subjected to severe physical and psychological torture by what he believed were the same unidentified persons he had encountered in the “dark prison” [See the report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, opinion No. 3/2009 (United States of America) (A/HRC/13/30/Add.1)].
135. Four others detainees, held in Bagram, are known because lawyers established contact with their families and filed habeas corpus petitions on their behalf:
• Redha al-Najar, a Tunisian who was seized in Karachi in May 2002.
• Amin Mohammad al-Bakri, a Yemeni who was seized in Bangkok on 28 December 2002 by agents of the intelligence services of the United States or of Thailand. Throughout 2003, his whereabouts were unknown. The Thai authorities confirmed to Mr. al-Bakri’s relatives that he had entered Thai territory, but denied knowing his whereabouts. In January 2004, Mr. al-Bakri’s relatives received a letter from him through ICRC, informing them that he was being kept in detention at the Bagram airbase. It was reported that Mr. al-Bakri was detained owing to his commercial connections with Mr. Khalifa, a cousin of Osama bin Laden later assassinated in Madagascar [Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, opinion No. 11/2007 (Afghanistan/ United States of America) (A/HRC/7/4/Add.1)].
• Fadi al-Maqaleh, a Yemeni seized in 2004, who was sent to Abu Ghraib before Bagram.
• Haji Wazir, an Afghan seized in the United Arab Emirates in late 2002 [PDF].
136. The whereabouts of 12 others are unknown, and the others remain to be identified. It is probable that some of these men have been returned to their home countries, and that others are still held in Bagram. The experts received allegations that the following men were also held: Issa al-Tanzani (Tanzanian), also identified as Soulayman al-Tanzani, captured in Mogadishu; Abu Naseem (Libyan), captured in Peshawar, Pakistan, in early 2003; Abou Hudeifa (Tunisian), captured in Peshawar, Pakistan, at the end of 2002; and Salah Din al-Bakistani, captured in Baghdad. Marwan Jabour also mentioned eight other prisoners. One was Yassir al-Jazeeri (Algerian), seized in Lahore, March 2003 (whom he met), and he heard about seven others: Ayoub al-Libi (Libyan), seized in Peshawar in January 2004; Mohammed (Afghan, born Saudi), seized in Peshawar in May 2004; Abdul Basit (Saudi or Yemeni), seized before June 2004; Adnan (nationality unknown), seized before June 2004; an unidentified Somali (possibly Shoeab as-Somali or Rethwan as-Somali); another unidentified Somali; and Marwan al-Adeni (Yemeni), seized in or around May 2003.
137. Although the Government of the United States stated that the Geneva Conventions applied to detainees seized during the occupation, an unknown number of persons were deliberately held “off the books” and denied ICRC access. In Abu Ghraib, for example, the abuse scandal that erupted following the publication of photographs in April 2004 involved military personnel who were not only holding supposedly significant detainees delivered by the United States military, but others delivered by the CIA or United States Special Forces units. The existence of “ghost detainees”, who were clearly held incommunicado in secret detention, was later exposed in two United States investigations.
138. In August 2004, a report into detainee detentions in Iraq (chaired by former Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger) noted that “other Government agencies” had brought a number of “ghost detainees” to detention facilities, including Abu Ghraib, “without accounting for them, knowing their identities, or even the reason for their detention”, and that, on one occasion, a “handful” of these detainees had been “moved around the facility to hide them from a visiting ICRC team” [PDF].
139. In another report issued in August 2004, Lieutenant General Anthony R. Jones and Major General George R. Fay noted that eight prisoners in Abu Ghraib had been denied access to ICRC delegates by Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the Commander of the Coalition Joint Task Force in Iraq: “Detainee-14 was detained in a totally darkened cell measuring about 2 metres long and less than a metre across, devoid of any window, latrine or water tap, or bedding. On the door the delegates noticed the inscription ‘the Gollum’, and a picture of the said character from the film trilogy ‘The Lord of the Rings’” [PDF].
140. Although the Schlesinger report noted the use of other facilities for “ghost detainees”, the locations of these other prisons, and the numbers of detainees held, have not yet been thoroughly investigated. In June 2004, the then United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted that a suspected leader of Ansar al-Aslam had been held for more than seven months without ICRC being notified of his detention; he also stated: “He was not at Abu Ghraib. He is not there now. He has never been there to my knowledge” [also see this New York Times report]. According to another report, the prisoner was known as “Triple X” and his secret detention was authorized by Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, who issued a classified order in November 2003 “directing military guards to hide [him] from Red Cross inspectors and keep his name off official rosters”. In addition, some locations may well be those in which prisoners died in United States custody. In 2006, Human Rights First published a report identifying 98 deaths in United States custody in Iraq, describing five deaths in CIA custody, including Manadel al-Jamadi, who died in Abu Ghraib, and others at locations including Forward Operating Base Tiger, in Anbar province, a forward operating base near Al-Asad, a base outside Mosul, a temporary holding camp near Nasiriyah and a forward operating base in Tikrit [PDF].