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Dozens of CIA “Ghost” Detainees Unaccounted For

by Matt Clarke

A U.S. Dept. of Justice memo, released in April 2009, indicated the CIA had 94 people in secret prisons scattered around the world as of mid-2005, and the agency had “employed enhanced techniques to varying degrees in the interrogations of 28” of those prisoners which is the government definition of torture. The information in the memo dovetails with a September 2007 statement by then-CIA director Michael V. Hayden, who said “fewer than 100 people had been detained at CIA facilities.”

In September 2006, former president George W. Bush admitted the existence of the CIA’s secret detention program. Fourteen CIA prisoners were transferred to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, while other detainees with “little or no additional intelligence value ... [were returned] to their home countries for prosecution or detention by their governments.”

In 2006, Bush announced that he had discontinued the secret CIA prison program and admitted the U.S. had trans-ferred detainees to Pakistan, Egypt and Jordan, but never revealed the individual identities or fate of the 80 prisoners who were not sent to Guantanamo. Thus, the International Committee for the Red Cross was unable to locate those detainees or learn the terms under which they were handed over to foreign governments. Some CIA prisoners were returned to Libya after the U.S. re-established diplomatic relations with that country in mid-2006.

“If these men are now rotting in some Egyptian dungeon, the administration can’t pretend that it’s closed the doors on the CIA program,” said Joanne Mariner, director of Human Rights Watch’s Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program.

The Red Cross has publicly named several dozen people it believes were former prisoners held at CIA facilities, whose locations and fates remain unknown. “Until the U.S. government clarifies the fate and whereabouts of these indi-viduals, these people are still disappeared, and disappearance is one of the most grave international human rights viola-tions,” said New York University law professor Margaret Satterthwaite.

Although the CIA’s secret prison program has supposedly been dismantled, many “ghost” prisoners still remain in U.S. custody at a facility located at Bagram Air Force Base near Kabul, Afghanistan. [See: PLN, Oct. 2009, p.14]. News reports indicate that over 600 detainees are being held at Bagram; they are believed to include non-Afghans captured in other countries, as well as Afghan nationals. Some Bagram prisoners have been held at the facility for six years and at least two were murdered by U.S. personnel. [See. e.g., PLN, March 2010, p.20].

“The U.S. government’s detention of hundreds of prisoners at Bagram has been shrouded in complete secrecy. Bagram houses far more prisoners than Guantanamo, in reportedly worse conditions and with an even less mean-ingful process for challenging their detention, yet very little information about the Bagram facility or the prisoners held there has been made public,” said American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) National Security Project staff attor-ney Melissa Goodman. “Without transparency, we can’t be sure that we’re doing the right thing – or even holding the right people – at Bagram.”

The ACLU has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for information regarding prisoners held by U.S. military of-ficials at the Bagram prison.

In June 2007, human rights groups released the names of three dozen people who were or are in CIA custody outside the U.S., whose fates remain unknown. “The Obama administration must change course from its ‘forward-looking’ path because it leaves too many critical questions unanswered, including those about the fate of ghost prisoners held by the United States,” stated Gitanjali Gutierrez, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights.

On January 27, 2010, a joint report issued by four United Nations officials, including the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Dis-appearances, found that “secret detention in connection with counter-terrorist policies remains a serious problem,” which, “[i]f resorted to in a widespread and systematic manner ... might reach the threshold of a crime against humanity.”

The UN report specifically mentioned the “ghost” detainees held by the CIA in undisclosed prisons, while also citing secret detention practices in 65 other nations.


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