Two Reports Find at Least 54 Countries Complicit in Secret CIA Prisons
by Matt Clarke
The Central Intelligence Agency operated a network of prisons around the globe where suspected terrorists were routinely tortured, and in some cases the agency secured funding for foreign governments to pave the way for greater cooperation, including turning a blind eye to the alleged abuses, according to a recently-released U.S. Senate report.
The interrogation tactics employed by the CIA were “far more brutal than people were led to believe” and “coercive techniques regularly resulted in fabricated information” from prisoners, said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairperson Dianne Feinstein.
The heavily censored Senate report, released on December 9, 2014, reaffirmed a 2013 study published by the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) that concluded at least 54 nations around the world had provided assistance to the CIA in detaining, interrogating and transporting prisoners. Both reports dealt with the CIA’s treatment of detainees between 2001 and 2009.
“The moral cost of these programs was borne not just by the U.S., but by the 54 other countries it recruited to help,” stated Amrit Singh, an OSJI attorney and author of the organization’s report, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition.”
The OSJI report cited human rights abuses of terrorism suspects, including kidnapping and the routine use of torture as an interrogation technique. The CIA’s secret detention and rendition operations violated international law because they entailed the arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance of suspects.
The report included the names of 136 people who were believed to have been subjected to secret detention, torture and transport by the CIA. In contrast, the Senate report described the treatment of around 119 suspects detained by U.S. officials.
The “black site” described in the Senate report as the most brutal was located outside Kabul, Afghanistan. Built in 2002 at a cost of $200,000, “Detention Site Cobalt” was described in the report as the “Salt Pit” and the CIA prison that most resembled a “dungeon” because it was constantly dark inside. The report described tactics used by interrogators that included dousing terrorism suspects in water, putting prisoners in cold cells, and subjecting them to forced rectal feedings and sleep deprivation by blasting music to keep them awake for days at a time. [See related article on p.42].
An international scandal and criminal charges against a number of U.S. soldiers grew out of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq that housed terrorism suspects between 2003 and 2006. Graphic photos and detailed accounts of torture were revealed by former prisoners and interrogators alike. CIA interrogation techniques at the facility included forced nudity, sodomy and waterboarding, a form of torture in which water poured over a cloth covering the face of a bound prisoner causes the sensation of drowning. Courts-martial sent several U.S. soldiers to prison for crimes that included aggravated assault, battery and maltreatment. [See: PLN, May 2006, p.14].
In July 2014, the European Court of Human Rights awarded monetary damages to two suspected terrorists held in a secret CIA prison, code named “Quartz,” located somewhere in a remote forest in Poland. The Court held the Polish government was responsible for violating an international human rights treaty by agreeing to host the facility within its borders.
The case was filed by Abu Zubaydah, accused of running a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan where some of the hijackers who participated in the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center were trained, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of masterminding the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden, killing 17 U.S. sailors.
According to Amnesty International, Zubaydah and al-Nashiri both claimed they were taken to the CIA prison in Poland in December 2002 and subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which included waterboarding and treatment “such as a ‘mock execution’ with a gun and threats of sexual assault against” their family members. Both men are currently being held at the U.S.-operated prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The European Court of Human Rights ordered the government of Poland to pay 100,000 euros in damages to al-Nashiri and 130,000 euros to Zubaydah (including 30,000 in costs) after it concluded that Poland had cooperated with the CIA. “For all practical purposes, Poland had facilitated the whole process, had created the conditions for it to happen and had made no attempt to prevent it from occurring,” the court wrote.
“It’s an historic ruling,” stated Singh. In an interview with Reuters, she said the ruling established beyond a reasonable doubt that Poland allowed a secret U.S. prison to operate within its territory. “It’s time for them to own up to the truth,” she added.
The Senate report detailed how Polish officials at first refused to allow the transfer of the two detainees to the facility, but how Warsaw then changed its mind after the U.S. ambassador “intervened” and the CIA paid the Polish government to become more “flexible.”
“The CIA provided $X million to [Poland],” and the “political leadership indicated that [the] Country was now flexible with regard to the number of CIA detainees at the facility,” the report indicated. The amount of the payment was redacted.
The OSJI report described assistance provided to the CIA by 25 European countries, 14 counties in Asia and 13 in Africa, as well as Canada and Australia. It described the most common form of assistance as permitting the use of airspace and airports, although six countries were listed as allowing the intelligence agency to operate prisons within their territory.
Italy was the only nation to press criminal charges against CIA or local intelligence agents. In November 2009, an Italian court tried and convicted 22 CIA agents and a U.S. military official in absentia on kidnapping and other criminal charges after finding them responsible for abducting alleged terrorism suspects during an operation in Milan. The court also convicted seven Italian intelligence operatives, though five of those convictions were reversed on appeal. Cases against five other Italians, including the head of the military intelligence service and his deputy, were dismissed on “state secrets privilege” grounds prior to trial.
The CIA was given authorization to operate its network of secret prisons outside U.S. territory within days of the 9/11 attacks, with President George W. Bush signing a directive to that effect on September 17, 2001. President Obama ordered the secret prisons closed and the torture of prisoners to cease soon after he took office in 2009; however, the Senate report noted that some facilities are still operating, including the infamous prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, one of the most notorious locations for detaining terrorism suspects.
The OSJI report listed 136 prisoners who had been secretly detained, names which were gleaned from published government reports and media articles. Of those, the report said, 46 were released without ever being charged with terrorism-related crimes despite years of imprisonment and torture. The whereabouts of 24 other prisoners were unknown, and three died while in secret detention.
The OSJI report went on to document assistance provided to the CIA by individual nations, including Egypt, which by 2005 had received the most terrorism suspects from the U.S. – “60 or 70,” according to then-Egyptian Prime Minister Abu Nazif. During the period covered by the OSJI report, Germany recorded the most CIA stopover flights transporting terrorism suspects, at 336.
In addition, the CIA operated up to 20 “black site” prisons in Afghanistan as well as secret facilities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Thailand, the report stated. Three countries – Ethiopia, Morocco and Pakistan – detained CIA prisoners in their own prisons, and Djibouti allowed the detention of terrorism suspects at a U.S. military base on its territory. Somalia was also identified as the location of a possible CIA “black site.”
Only 14 countries conducted investigations into assistance provided to the CIA, and just four (Australia, Canada, Sweden and the UK) offered compensation to illegally transported suspects. Canada was the sole nation to issue an apology, to an innocent Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, who was arrested in the U.S. based on false intelligence and flown to Syria, where he suffered torture and lengthy incarceration. Arar was later cleared of any connection to terrorism and received a C$10.5 million settlement from the Canadian government in 2007.
Sources: “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition,” Open Society Justice Initiative (Feb. 2013); www.opensocietyfoundations.org; www.ibtimes.com; www.rt.com; Reuters; Associated Press; “The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture: Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (Dec. 2014)
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