Up in Arms

Published — February 5, 2013 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Secret US detention program had many foreign collaborators

A new report details the involvement of dozens of countries in rough treatment, without accountability


At least 54 countries aided the CIA in its sweeping post-9/11 program of secret detentions, renditions and interrogations of more than 136 terror suspects, according to a human rights group report released Tuesday that amounts to the most comprehensive look at the shadowy program to date.

In addition to demonstrating the sheer size of the secret program, the report details the failure of most of the countries involved to hold anyone accountable.

Ranking U.S. officials “bear responsibility for authorizing” violating the rights of those caught up in the CIA’s effort post-9/11 campaign, the Open Society Justice Initiative report says. But the group says the foreign governments who worked with the U.S. are also culpable, because they played a bigger role than previously realized.

Without their help the effort could never have been carried out, said the report, which draws on a host of public sources – including investigations by human rights groups — and previous studies.

It describes extremely rough treatment of detainees, including beatings, sleep-deprivation, water-boardings and the jailing of suspects in coffin-like cells. Moroccan authorities promised to treat British resident Binyam Mohamed humanely after CIA officers delivered him to them for interrogation. But the report says his questioners sliced his genitals, poured hot liquid on his penis, broke his bones and threatened him with rape, electrocution and death.

The author of the Open Society report, Amrit Singh, is a former staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, where she helped pursue a lawsuit against the Defense Department that resulted in the disclosure of thousands of documents about the abuse of prisoners held by the U.S. abroad.

The report comes a day after the leak of a Department of Justice white paper to NBC News detailing the legal basis for the Obama administration’s use of lethal force against terror suspects, including U.S. citizens. The unsigned and undated memo said an informed, high level official could order the death of a ranking terrorist who posed “an imminent threat of violent attack” against the U.S., if it wasn’t possible to capture him.

While the white paper didn’t name any individual, the policy it explains was followed in the case of Anwar al-Aulaqi, an American and a high-level al-Qaida official killed by a U.S. missile in Yemen in 2011. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., hailed the publication of the document in a statement Tuesday, saying now Americans can “review and judge the legality of these operations.”

Former Bush administration officials and others who have defended the rendition and interrogation efforts have said they were a necessary and effective part of the effort to track down terrorists targeting the United States, including the leadership of al Qaida. Critics say that they were illegal and that the harsh interrogations were ineffective in advancing the U.S. war against Islamist militants.

Most of the countries identified in the report as participants in the detention and interrogation program are staunch U.S. allies, among them Canada, Germany, Britain, Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Afghanistan, Lithuania, Morocco, Poland, Romania and Thailand all hosted CIA “black sites,” or secret prisons, it states.

But the report notes that some regimes with at least a history of hostility to the United States, including Syria, Iran and Libya, were also enlisted . At least eight militants were handed over to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, the report says. One detainee spent 10 months in a tiny grave-sized cell, beaten with cables and threatened with electrocution.

Most of the countries involved have never effectively investigated their actions, the report says. Only Italian officials been convicted for their involvement and only Canada has issued an apology to former detainees.

Polish prosecutors are investigating its alleged CIA prison near the town of Szczytno in north eastern Poland, and the European Court of Human Rights has ordered the declassification of some documents about the prison supplied by the Polish government. The country’s deputy foreign minister warned that release of the documents would limit Poland’s ability to cooperate with the investigation.

After President Obama took office he denounced torture but authorized the short-term detention of terror suspects and declined to convene a commission to investigate previous abuses. The Senate Select Committee on intelligence in December approved a comprehensive report on the program, but the report remains classified.

U.S. courts have declined to hear lawsuits brought by detainees, saying that the cases raise major foreign policy and national security issues. The government has released the names of just 16 of the post 9/11 detainees and has refused to confirm the locations of all of the secret CIA prisons abroad.

The black sites and rendition programs didn’t just foster human rights abuses, the report says, they distorted the U.S. response to the threat of terror. Libyan national Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, was arrested in Pakistan in 2001 and later flown to Egypt. While under torture there, he fabricated reports of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons training of Al Qaida – reports on which the U.S. relied in making its case for war against Iraq in 2003.

Egypt is believed to have received the greatest number of prisoners from the U.S. rendition program and cooperated closely with Washington. Al-Libi was only one of a number of suspects detained, interrogated, tortured and abused by Egyptian authorities. Some were executed, the report states. U.S. interrogators would often give questions for detainees in the morning and receive responses that evening.

German intelligence officials helped interrogate at least one of the detainees, Mohammad Haydar Zammar. A German national, he was captured in Morocco in December of 2001 and taken to Syria’s notorious Far’ Falestin prison. According to the report, citing European Parliament and other official accounts, German intelligence officers were allowed to question Zammar after charges were dropped against several Syrians in Germany.

In March 2002 Iran handed over 15 suspects to the government of Afghanistan, which transferred ten of them to U.S. custody. The report said the transfer was part of an arms-length trade of prisoners between Washington and Tehran, an example of the short-lived post-9/11 collaboration between the two nations. The report said one of them, Amin al-Yafia, believed captured in Iran in 2002, “may have been held” in CIA custody at some later date. His current location is unknown.

Documents captured in Tripoli in 2011, after Gaddafi’s fall, suggest that the U.S. sent Libya at least 11 terror suspects after 9/11 despite the regime’s reputation for torturing suspects, the report states. All were held secretly and some abused, it says, despite assurances their rights would be respected. One of the detainees, Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq, claimed he was tortured by two CIA officers in Bangkok before his rendition to Libya. He became the new security chief in Tripoli following the death of the Libyan strongman.

The release of “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition,” drew wide attention Feb. 4 and 5, with articles published in the New York Times, The Guardian, Wired, NBCNews.com and other media. Open Society Foundations is one of the Center for Public Integrity’s major institutional funders.

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