UN Secret Detention Report Asks, “Where Are The CIA Ghost Prisoners?”


The logo of the UNA major new report on secret detention policies around the world, conducted by four independent UN human rights experts, concludes that, “On a global scale, secret detention in connection with counter-terrorist policies remains a serious problem,” and that, “If resorted to in a widespread and systematic manner, secret detention might reach the threshold of a crime against humanity.”

The 226-page report, published on Wednesday in an advance unedited version, is the culmination of a year-long Joint Study by the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. It will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in March.

The advance unedited version of the report is available here: UN Secret Detention Report.

In an introduction, the UN experts established that:

a person is kept in secret detention if State authorities acting in their official capacity, or persons acting under the orders thereof, with the authorization, consent, support or acquiescence of the State, or in any other situation where the action or omission of the detaining person is attributable to the State, deprive persons of their liberty; where the person is not permitted any contact with the outside world (“incommunicado detention”); and when the detaining or otherwise competent authority denies, refuses to confirm or deny or actively conceals the fact that the person is deprived of his/her liberty, hidden from the outside world, including, for example, family, independent lawyers or non-governmental organizations, or refuses to provide or actively conceals information about the fate or whereabouts of the detainee.

After running through the historical background to secret detention — both in a legal context, and through numerous examples from the twentieth century — the report focuses primarily on secret detention in the last nine years, providing a detailed account of US policies in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and also running through the practice of secret detention in 25 other countries, including Algeria, China, Egypt, India, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Libya, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

These sections contain valuable summaries, explaining how, in many cases, terrorism is used as a cover for secret detention policies of a political nature. However, the heart of the report is a detailed analysis of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” policies.

Of particular concern to the authors of the Joint Study — beyond the overall illegality of the entire project conceived and executed by the Bush administration — is the fate of dozens of men held in secret prisons run by the CIA, or transferred by the CIA to prisons in other countries. Based on figures disclosed in one of the Office of Legal Counsel’s notorious “torture memos” (PDF), written in May 2005 by Assistant Attorney General Stephen Bradbury, the CIA had, by May 2005, “taken custody of 94 prisoners [redacted] and ha[d] employed enhanced techniques to varying degrees in the interrogations of 28 of these detainees.”

The 28 men subjected to “enhanced techniques” are clearly the “high-value detainees” — including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Abu Zubaydah and twelve others — who were transferred to Guantánamo in September 2006, but no official account has ever explained what happened to the other 14 “high-value detainees,” or, indeed, to the majority of the other 66 men.

The report also establishes that, at a minimum, many dozens of other prisoners were rendered to prisons in other countries.

In tracking these men, the report traces the development of the US secret detention program, drawing on new research into flight records to demonstrate that rendition flights, carefully disguised in the records, flew to Poland, Romania and Lithuania. The report also touches on the existence of a secret facility within Guantánamo, exposed by Scott Horton for Harper’s Magazine last week, which prompted the experts to note that they were “very concerned about the possibility that three Guantánamo detainees (Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani) might have died during interrogations at this facility, instead of in their own cells, on 9 June 2006.”

Also mentioned are two little-reported facilities in the Balkans — Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo and Eagle Base in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina — and a claim that Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean (a British territory leased to the US) was used in 2005-06 to hold Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, a joint Syrian-Spanish national.

Accounting for other prisoners, the report focuses on a number of secret prisons in Afghanistan; in particular, the “Dark Prison,” the “Salt Pit,” and a secret facility within Bagram airbase. Of the 94 men mentioned by Stephen Bradbury — minus the 14 transferred to Guantánamo in September 2006 — the report establishes that eight were released, that 23 others were transferred to Guantánamo (mostly in 2004), that four escaped from Bagram in July 2005, that four others are still in Bagram (three of whom are awaiting a US appeals court ruling on their successful habeas corpus petition last March), and that five others were returned to Libya in 2006.

Ibn al-Shaykh al-LibiThese five include Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the CIA’s most notorious “ghost prisoner,” who falsely confessed, under torture in Egypt, that there were connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, which were subsequently used to justify the invasion of Iraq. After multiple renditions to other countries (which I exposed last June), al-Libi’s return to Libya came to a dark end last May, when he died under mysterious circumstances.

Discussing the other prisoners, whose current whereabouts are unexplained, the experts noted, “It is probable that some of these men have been returned to their home countries, and that others are still held in Bagram.” As I explained in an article last week, following the publication of the first ever list of prisoners held in Bagram (PDF), it appears that a handful of these men may indeed be in Bagram, but not all of them, and it is, therefore, imperative that the publication of this list leads to pressure on the Obama administration to reveal details of all the “disappeared” detainees.

The report also examines the cases of 35 men rendered by the CIA to Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Morocco, between 2001 and 2004. As with the “ghost prisoners” in Afghanistan, many of these men later surfaced in Guantánamo, or were freed, but the whereabouts of others — particularly those in Syria, and, probably, other completely unknown men rendered to Egypt — have never been disclosed, even though some of the prisoners rendered to Syria were flown there as long ago as 2002, and, in at least two cases, were only teenagers at the time.

There are also sections on secret detention in Ethiopia, Djibouti and Uzbekistan, and the experts also criticized other countries for their involvement in the program, including Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, Kenya and the UK. According to Reuters, throughout the report, 66 countries in total are implicated in one way or another in secret detention practices — either independently, or as part of the US-led “War on Terror.”

In concluding their review of US detention policies since 9/11, the experts welcomed President Obama’s commitment to revoke and repudiate many of the Bush administration’s policies, including the closure of all CIA black sites, but requested clarification “as to whether detainees were held in CIA ‘black sites’ in Iraq and Afghanistan or elsewhere when President Obama took office, and, if so, what happened to the detainees who were held at that time.” They were also “concerned that the Executive Order which instructed the CIA ‘to close any detention facilities that it currently operates’ does not extend to the facilities where the CIA detains individuals on ‘a short-term transitory basis,’” and, in the light of suggestions by Scott Horton that the secret facility at Guantánamo may have been run by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), noted that the order “does not seem to extend to detention facilities operated by” JSOC.

These were not their only concerns. Although they welcomed the implementation in August 2009 of a new policy whereby the International Committee of the Red Cross must be notified of all prisoners’ names within two weeks of capture, they noted that “there is no legal justification for this two-week period of secret detention,” because the Geneva Conventions allow only a week, and also because of their fears that some prisoners are being held who were not captured on the battlefield, and who may, as I noted in an article in September, in fact be prisoners who have been rendered to facilities outside of the military’s control (at Bagram in Afghanistan and Camp Nama in Iraq). The experts explained that they had “noted with concern news reports which quoted current government officials saying that ‘the importance of Bagram as a holding site for terrorism suspects captured outside Afghanistan and Iraq has risen under the Obama administration, which barred the Central Intelligence Agency from using its secret prisons for long-term detention.’”

The experts’ final concern was with Bagram’s new review system for prisoners. They noted that the decision to replace the existing system, which the judge in the habeas cases last March described as a process that “falls well short of what the Supreme Court found inadequate at Guantánamo,” was still inadequate. As they explained:

[T]he new review system fails to address the fact that detainees in an active war zone should be held according to the Geneva Conventions, screened close to the time and place of capture if there is any doubt about their status, and not be subjected to reviews at some point after their capture to determine whether they should continue to be held.

They were also “concerned that the system appears to specifically aim to prevent US courts from having access to foreign detainees captured in other countries and rendered to Bagram,” and, despite welcoming the release of the names of 645 prisoners at Bagram (an annotated version is here), urged the US government “to provide information on the citizenship, length of detention and place of capture of all detainees currently held within Bagram Air Base.”

While the report spreads its net wide, the US administration’s response to its findings about the Bush administration’s legacy of “disappeared” prisoners, and its focus on the gray areas of Obama’s current policies, is particularly anticipated. So far, however, there has been silence from US officials, and only the British, moaning about “unsubstantiated and irresponsible” claims, have dared to challenge their well-chronicled complicity in the secret detention policies underpinning the whole of the “War on Terror, which do not appear to have been thoroughly banished, one year after Barack Obama took office.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on Truthout.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the use of torture by the CIA, on “high-value detainees,” and in the secret prisons, see: Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man (July 2007), Jane Mayer on the CIA’s “black sites,” condemnation by the Red Cross, and Guantánamo’s “high-value” detainees (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) (August 2007), Waterboarding: two questions for Michael Hayden about three “high-value” detainees now in Guantánamo (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now? And What About the Torture? (February 2008), The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts (April 2008), Guantánamo Trials: Another Torture Victim Charged (Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, July 2008), Secret Prison on Diego Garcia Confirmed: Six “High-Value” Guantánamo Prisoners Held, Plus “Ghost Prisoner” Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (August 2008), Will the Bush administration be held accountable for war crimes? (December 2008), The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part One) and The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part Two) (December 2008), Prosecuting the Bush Administration’s Torturers (March 2009), Abu Zubaydah: The Futility Of Torture and A Trail of Broken Lives (March 2009), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part One), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part Two), 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow Condemns Bush Torture Program, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah?, CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months before DoJ Approval, Even In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low (all April 2009), Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi Has Died In A Libyan Prison , Dick Cheney And The Death Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, The “Suicide” Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence?, Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s “Suicide”, Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney On Use Of Torture To Invade Iraq, In the Guardian: Death in Libya, betrayal by the West (in the Guardian here), Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney’s Iraq Lies Again (And Rumsfeld And The CIA) (all May 2009) and WORLD EXCLUSIVE: New Revelations About The Torture Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (June 2009), The Logic of the 9/11 Trials, The Madness of the Military Commissions (November 2009), UK Judges Compare Binyam Mohamed’s Torture To That Of Abu Zubaydah (November 2009). Also see the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

For other stories discussing the use of torture in secret prisons, see: An unreported story from Guantánamo: the tale of Sanad al-Kazimi (August 2007), Rendered to Egypt for torture, Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni is released from Guantánamo (September 2008), A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” (December 2008), Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story (March 2009), When Torture Kills: Ten Murders In US Prisons In Afghanistan (July 2009), US Torture Under Scrutiny In British Courts (July 2009), What The British Government Knew About The Torture Of Binyam Mohamed (August 2009), Torture in Bagram and Guantánamo: The Declaration of Ahmed al-Darbi (September 2009), UK Judges Order Release Of Details About The Torture Of Binyam Mohamed By US Agents (October 2009), “Model Prisoner” at Guantánamo, Tortured in the “Dark Prison,” Loses Habeas Corpus Petition (December 2009), Dark Revelations in the Bagram Prisoner List (January 2010), and also see the extensive Binyam Mohamed archive.

And for other stories discussing torture at Guantánamo and/or in “conventional” US prisons in Afghanistan, see: The testimony of Guantánamo detainee Omar Deghayes: includes allegations of previously unreported murders in the US prison at Bagram airbase (August 2007), Guantánamo Transcripts: “Ghost” Prisoners Speak After Five And A Half Years, And “9/11 hijacker” Recants His Tortured Confession (September 2007), The Trials of Omar Khadr, Guantánamo’s “child soldier” (November 2007), Former US interrogator Damien Corsetti recalls the torture of prisoners in Bagram and Abu Ghraib (December 2007), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo (April 2008), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns “Chaotic” Trials in Case of Teenage Torture Victim (Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child (Mohammed El-Gharani, January 2009), Bush Era Ends With Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Forgotten in Guantánamo: British Resident Shaker Aamer (March 2009), A Child At Guantánamo: The Unending Torment of Mohamed Jawad (June 2009), Torture In Guantánamo: The Force-feeding Of Hunger Strikers (June 2009), As Judge Orders Release Of Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner, Government Refuses To Concede Defeat (Mohamed Jawad, July 2009), Torture And Futility: Is This The End Of The Military Commissions At Guantánamo? (September 2009), A Truly Shocking Guantánamo Story: Judge Confirms That An Innocent Man Was Tortured To Make False Confessions (Fouad al-Rabiah, September 2009), UK Court Orders Release Of Torture Evidence In The Case Of Shaker Aamer, The Last British Resident In Guantánamo (December 2009), Shaker Aamer: UK Government Drops Opposition To Release Of Torture Evidence (December 2009), Afghan Nobody Faces Trial by Military Commission (January 2010), Murders at Guantánamo: Scott Horton of Harper’s Exposes the Truth about the 2006 “Suicides” (January 2010), Two Algerian Torture Victims Are Freed from Guantánamo (January 2010), and the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

11 Responses

  1. UN Secret Detention Report Asks, “Where Are The CIA Ghost Prisoners?” by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] Andy Worthington Featured Writer Dandelion Salad http://www.andyworthington.co.uk 29 January […]

  2. the talking dog says...

    Well, the intrinsic paradox of “secret detention” is that we want it known (1) to “the bad guys” to show that we are the kind of psychopathic maniacs who would run such facilities, in order to get them to behave more pliably, and MORE IMPORTANTLY– FAR MORE IMPORTANTLY– (2) to our own citizenry to show that we are the kind of TOUGH psychopathic maniacs (WHO THEY WILL THEREFORE VOTE FOR) who would run such facilities, in order to get them to behave more pliably. Hence, the “secret” part begins to break down after a while, through a combination of both intentionality and negligence.

    Those of us who have been following these things for years were reasonably certain of the broad outlines of these shadowy goings-on; kudos to the UN for starting to fill in some of the fuzzier details for us.

    Americans, in particular those who would either insist that these sorts of things are “necessary for national security” or otherwise avert their eyes entirely from unpleasantness need to ask themselves about the kind of national character it takes to devote roughly a trillion dollars a year to the task of torturing and murdering foreign peoples in a world where any actual enemies of substance that require actual military might have been vanquished or out of business for decades.

    It would seem that in our very deranged need to overstate the super-powers of our new enemies, we have made “deranged” the essence of our response. I suppose acknowledging this is a necessary first step; figuring out how to stop it and behave like morally responsible people– there’s the rub.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, TD. Our “deranged need to overstate the super-powers of our new enemies” spreads into every aspect of our lives, doesn’t it? On today’s morning news, we had a presenter justifying full body scans for children — they might be “mules” — even though the scans, alrwady installed, don’t detect anything they need to detect. As one guest on the show pointed out, Britain’s success against IRA terrorism in the ’70s and ’80s was because we didn’t let them alter our way of life. Now we get some dimwit “journalist” explaining why my son will be scanned at an airport …

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Over on Truthout, an anonymous reader wrote:

    Check out the list of the countries in this report. This is the company the US keeps. At least these horrible events expose the US govt. as a putrid monster. So much for its “superior” civilization.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Linda Ghaliyya Richard wrote:

    The Obama administration is even more evil than the Bush one was, Andy. Perhaps not more evil, but at least as evil as its predecessor. Now they just lie better — but we see the results anyway, like Yemen, and here in the US 2009 — more Muslims were arrested than any other year since 2001. A year ago, he tried to tell everyone that the nation was not at war with Islam — but how is anyone supposed to believe that when actions speak so much louder than words?

    Anyway I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your work, Andy. Are you going to do a book on the Bagram detainees?

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    This was my reply:

    Maybe one day, Linda. At present I’m just trying to establish who’s there, and anyone with any information is invited to help me compile a collaborative annotated list:

  7. Bagram: Graveyard of the Geneva Conventions « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] I also explained the use of a secret facility within Bagram as part of a network of secret CIA prisons in Afghanistan, and asked pointed questions about the whereabouts of a number of men, known to have been held in secret prisons in Afghanistan, who are not on the list and whose apparent disappearance has never been explained — and also covered this topic in another recent article, “UN Secret Detention Report Asks, ‘Where Are The CIA Ghost Prisoners?’” […]

  8. The People’s Campaign for the Constitution Blog » War on Torture? says...

    […] due process and withstood a multitude of torture techniques, as reported by the UN and detailed by Andy Worthington, On a global scale, secret detention in connection with counter-terrorist policies remains a serious […]

  9. Guantanamo and Habeas Corpus: Judge Rules Yemeni’s Detention Based Solely on Torture – Dark Politricks says...

    […] was seized in a house raid in Pakistan in February 2002 and was then rendered to Jordan, one of at least 15 prisoners whose torture was outsourced to the Jordanian authorities between 2001 and 2004, where he was held […]

  10. Fahad Hashmi And Terrorist Hysteria In US Courts | FlipTrends-Following the Hottest Google Trends says...

    […] agencies’ inability to communicate with one another), Guantánamo, Bagram, Abu Ghraib and the CIA’s torture dungeons are not the only places where the rule of law was […]

  11. What is Obama Doing at Bagram? (Part One): Torture and the “Black Prison” « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] prisoners regarded as more significant than the general population, who had mostly passed through a number of other secret prisons run by the CIA, were also held, and for the last six and a half years Bagram has, in addition, been the US […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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