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The CIA's Global Torture Program

Powerful Groups Love Torture

I recently read a book called ‘How the Rich are Destroying the Earth’ by French journalist Hervé Kempf. His book discusses in length about how our current lifestyles are actively destroying the planet. The automobile, suburbia, city design, mass consumption, the dependency on fossil fuels, etc.

But more importantly, Kempf discusses the implications of the current class structure of our societies. Arguing that the current hyper-rich, upper class, and developed countries are enticing the lower class and developing countries to mimic the unsustainable consumption that has become so prevalent in Europe and North America.

But even more than that, Kempf claims that governmental organizations (CIA, CSIS, ISI, M16) are actively undermining rights and freedoms all over the world. Showcasing the stark contrast between ordinary people and the powerful governmental organization that are meant to represent those people.

Kempf brings up the notorious secret prisons of the world. Citing the US secret prison network in countries like Morrocco, Syria, and Afghanistan as a way to detain prisoners deemed “suspect” in the eyes of the government military complex of the United States.  

In this article, I’m going to go over the most notorious secret prisons operated by the United States. I’m also going to try to expose whatever country or governmental agency that has stayed complicit or has put “blind eyes” to the atrocities committed in these secret prisons.  

I will be summarizing these secret prisons as much as I can so that readers aren’t overwhelmed by the amount of information provided by journalists, declassified documents, and reports. At the same time, if any reader wants to fact-check or read further details, the links to all of my sources are provided.

The Morroco Temara Interogation Centre

Perhaps one of the more famous secret prisons has had several non-governmental agencies like Amnesty Internation and the UN to report on the conditions of the Temara secret prison. Their 2010 report states, “Moroccan authorities’ failure to implement the recommendations set out by the organization in its 2004 report…Torture in the “anti-terrorism” campaign - the case of the Témara detention centre”.

Thus, Amnesty International was previously aware of the heinous circumstances but reported that there had been a sharp rise of cases of torture or other ill-treatment and other human rights violations in the context of countering terrorism since 2002”.

The report further mentions the names of Mohammad Hajib, Anwar Majrar Abdel Aziz, Khaled Kaddar, Mohammad Gatit, and Youssef al-Taba’i. All these individuals were detained on the basis of terrorism charges and have all suffered some form of prolonged hunger strikes, unlawful torture, beatings, interrogation, threats of sexual abuse, and denial of food, sleep, or prayer for a period of time.  

According to the Associated Press, although much of the Temara Interrogation Centre is operated by Moroccon authorities, the “US officials told the AP that the prison was run by Moroccans but largely financed by the CIA”.

AP further reports that after the 9/11 attacks, Morocco acted as a “secret proxy detention site, ”with the Temara Interrogation Centre being the helm of this proxy. For proof of this alleged proxy, take Binyam Mohamed.

Binyam Mohamed, an accused plotter of the 9/11 attacks, was detained in the Moroccon secret prison for 5 months before he was transferred for 5-year detention in Guantanamo Bay. Mohamed claims that he had undergone torture during his time in both of these facilities. He was eventually released due to there being no evidence of any collusion with the 9/11 attacks.

Thus, Moroccan authorities and American authorities had to have known of Mohamed’s transfer since, otherwise, there would be no reason to transfer him to the country in which the 9/11 attacks took place. If Temara was truly independent, then why is there a connection between two secret prisons with a history of torturing their detainees.

Therefore, both of these countries had colluded in unlawfully detaining and torturing alleged 9/11 plotters. However, Morroco denies the existence of the secret prison.

Stare Kiejkuty, Poland

A secret prison that operated in Poland between 2002 and 2005. This secret prison was home to the infamous “mastermind of the 9/11 attacks”; Khalid Shaikh Mohammad. He and other detainees who were also suspects of plotting the 9/11 attacks were all tortured in various methods.  

The CIA had apparently paid Polish authorities $15 million to $50 million as payment to create the secret prison on one of their military bases and to serve as a bribe for Polish authorities to turn a blind eye to the secret prison.

Former Minister Sikorski claims the government had done it out of “friendship” with the United States. At the same, he also states Poland authorities “have been embarrassed by it, but even so [we] do not apologize for having the closest possible security and intelligence relationship with the United States.” 

The LA Times reports that among the common torture methods used against the 9/11 plotters were “waterboarding,” in which the subject’s breathing passages are flooded until vital signs cease, and “rectal packing”. Khalid Shaikh was waterboarded 183 times, according to The Washington Post. Human rights groups have taken Polish authorities to court to provide compensation for the victims of these torture methods.  

The Polish secret prison was emptied as of 2003, but the detainees were transferred to other secret prisons in Romania, Morocco, and Lithuania. The facilities in Romania and Lithuania had also closed at a later date according to the Washington Post. 

Interestingly, the PM and President of Poland at the time were aware of the secret prison’s existence. However,  the BBC reports that the Polish had no influence in the secret prison’s torture or interrogation.

Even more telling, the President of Poland at the time had denied the existence of the facility but later admitted to its existence in 2014. One study argues that the Polish political elite had, in fact, “endorsed” the secret prisons.

Salt Pit/Camp Cobalt, Afghanistan

There is a lot to uncover in this secret prison. In regard to its development, the secret prison was constructed by the CIA for more than $200,000” in June 2002, according to the DailyBeast. In addition, the secret prison was “overseen by the CIA from the start” and started to detain individuals starting September of 2002. 

According to a declassified document provided by The Guardian, one particular victim - Gul Rahman - suffered from heinous acts of torture at the hands of John Jessen (a psychologist), who was tasked with designing “enhanced interrogation techniques” (a synonym for torture) in the secret prison.

The Guardian notes that the secret prison was designed for sensory deprivation. The site was intentionally completely dark with no windows, blinds, or any semblance of light. The Guardian also notes “blaring music” as a way to deprive the torture victims of hearing.  

According to a declassified memo, Rahman used “a sophisticated level of resistance training including”. Some of these “resistance” included “complained about poor treatment”, “complained about the violation of his human rights”, and “claimed inability to think due to cold”.

However, at the same time, the site manager reports that Rahman was “consistently unemotional, calm, and composed”, “displayed no anxiety”, and “was unfazed by physical and psychological confrontations”. Based on this ‘evidence’, the memo concludes that Rahman was “likely withholding threat-related information” regarding Al-Qaeda and Hekmatyar.  

On page 3 of the declassified memo, the site manager - Matthew Zirbel - blatantly admits the kind of torture acts conducted against Rahman, including “48 hours·of sleep deprivation, auditory overload, total darkness, isolation, a cold shower, and rough treatment”. The memo goes on to say that Rahman was highly resistant to interrogation, and thus the “interrogators will continue to keep pressure upon Rahman”. This means that the interrogators would continue the torture for as long as necessary until they got the information they needed.

All of these memos so far give special attention to John Jessen. Jessen was, in particular, very much involved with the interrogation of Rahman. After Jessen’s sixth session with Rahman, the interrogators (Jessen, Mitchell, and Zirbel) left the site presumably because they received the information they needed from him (personal identity admittance of Rahman).  

At the time, the document of “chronological events” mentions the existence of other detainees within the secret prison. But Rahman was one of the detainees not given any treatment. Finally, Rahman dies from hypothermia six days after the interrogators leave, according to the guards on standby.

Although this specific case of Rahman is quite well documented in his torture conditions, information on other detainees is sparsely available. However, we do know that there were “high-value targets” within the Afghan secret prison before being transferred to the infamous Guantanamo Bay, such as Hassin Attash (who was 17 when captured), Binyam Mohammed, and Hayatullah (who spent 40 days in the black prison).  

The New York Times reports that this secret prison was acutely destroyed before the Taliban had taken over Afghanistan beginning in April 2021 (the fall of Kabul was in August 2021).

Camp Lominier, Djibouti Africa

Strategically placed as the country harbours a border between Yemen and Somalia (countries with large semblances of terrorist activities). As of 2015, the most comprehensive report detailing the activities of Djibouti includes reports of capture, extraordinary rendition, and torture through the testimony of the victims themselves.

This report was done through the collaboration of Justice Forum, Haki Africa, and The Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ Kenya). The report details the victims the organizations were able to interview, provide methods of torture done in the Djibouti secret prison, and records suspicious activity by US military operatives transporting prisoners to the Djibouti secret prison. The secret prison is officially titled Camp Lominier, according to the Senate Committee Report.

I will only be reporting the summary of the Djibouti report concluded. According to the Djibouti report, the secret prison has “Secretly detained at least 6 individuals incommunicado, subjecting them to torture and/or inhuman or degrading treatment”, including Guleed Hassan Dourad (in Guantanamo bay), Suleiman Abdullah, Mohammed Al-Assad, Mohammad Ali-Isse, Mohammed Abdulmalik (in Guantanamo Bay), and Ismail Mohamed (released).

As an extrajudicial prison, the report confirms Djibouti prison had “denied prisoners access to adequate judicial process” and “transferred prisoners and/or allowed them to be refouled from Djibouti with no judicial oversight or opportunity to challenge their transfer and to circumstances likely to involve further mistreatment including torture;”. In other words, the report indicates that detainees were not only subject to torture in the Djibouti secret prison but also were transferred between secret prisons (most notably to Guantanamo Bay) for further interrogation and presumably, torture.

In addition, the Senate Committee Investigation probed into an alleged threat to the Djibouti secret prison which supposedly led to the detention of Guleed, and concluded the following important points:

“(A) “the CIA was aware of and reported on the terrorist threat to Camp Lemonier prior to receiving any information from CIA detainees; and (B) contrary to CIA  representations, the plotting did not "stop" because of information acquired from CIA detainee Guleed in 2004, but rather, continued well into 2007. (pg 338, Senate Committee Report).” 

To explain, the CIA had represented to legislative officials that some of the detainees were crucial to the stoppage of a threat to the Djibouti secret prison. But this investigation challenges that claim, arguing that the information and detention of Guleed were not crucial to the stoppage of the Djibouti threat and that any information regarding the threat was already known by the CIA prior to the capture of the detainees. 

Moreover, the report cites a UN report to conclude that the Djibouti secret prison had been used as a “stop-over point between regional renditions” and “a gateway to the wider global CIA detention programme”.

Another report by the Open Society Justice Initiative concludes that “Djibouti allowed the use of its territory for the secret detention of individuals, and allowed its airspace and airports to be used for flights associated with CIA extraordinary rendition operations”.

European Complicity in the CIA’s Torture Program

Talking about Europe as a whole in their complicity in extraordinary rendition can’t be stressed enough. The Open Society Justice Initiative’s Globalizing Torture Report - which is one of the most comprehensive reports on extraordinary rendition and the exposition of complicit countries - showcases 54 countries that have been linked to the CIA’s global detention/torture program by:

“hosting CIA prisons on their territories; detaining, interrogating, torturing, and abusing individuals; assisting in the capture and transport of detainees; permitting the use of domestic airspace and airports for secret flights transporting detainees; providing intelligence leading to the secret detention and extraordinary rendition of individuals, and interrogating individuals who were secretly being held in the custody of other governments.“

Of the 54 countries, European countries that have been linked to this program include: Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.  

The report is free to view here. For the full list of countries, refer to page 6. For details on how the countries were involved with extraordinary rendition, detention, and torture, refer to ‘Section V’ of the report. Frankly, there is way too much information that is already provided by journalists in this report in a cohesive manner that would make my retelling of their information a disservice to their report. So I implore readers to go through this report and see what your own country or neighbouring countries have done in being complicit in the CIA’s secret prisons and torture program.

I’ll try to summarize the important bits in the report. The report calls out certain European countries that have - as a result of their complicity with the CIA - been subjected to “legal challenges to secret detention and extraordinary rendition before the European Court of Human Rights”.

The countries battling these legal challenges include Poland, Lithuania, Romania, and Italy on the basis of facilitating “acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture as defined by the U.N Convention against Torture (or CAT for short).

In addition, investigations and lawsuits against states from the European Court of Human Rights and international human rights organizations have stated that many countries are unwilling to conduct effective investigations, and/or provide information on the basis of “state secrecy”.

The report also mentions the violation of article 3 of CAT, which states “no State Party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture”. Citing Sweden, Poland, Lithuania, Romania, and the United Kingdom being some of the common perpetrators of breaching articles 2, 3 and 7 of CAT.

At the basic level, the CAT specifically prohibits “complacency and participation in acts of torture”. All of the European countries mentioned above that I have listed have failed to comply according to the report. Surely, when thinking about the torture of people - regardless of their crimes - is simply wrong. As a Canadian, if my fellow Western allies are espousing values of justice, freedom, human rights, and democracy, then I hope that the actions of those states reflect those espoused values. Unfortunately, any political pundit will tell you that this is far from the reality in any country among our allies, be it the US, the UK, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Germany, Finland, or my home country - Canada.

More Still to Come

There is still a lot I haven’t talked about in regards to the CIA’s secret prison regime. And I haven’t even discussed Guantanamo Bay, the most famous and horrid secret prison of all located in Cuba. It suffices to say that Guantanamo Bay is the central HQ of the CIA’s global torture program. From what I’ve gathered, many of the prisoners that are detained and tortured in secret prisons internationally are eventually relayed to Guantanamo Bay on behalf of the US. Guantanamo Bay, as well any other secret prison, is an avid user of the infamous Patriot Act - which allows indefinite detention without trial of aliens and immigrants. The Patriot Act is the act that legally justifies and authorizes the CIA to operate and use secret prisons in the first place. 




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