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February 05, 2013

A Comprehensive Look at the CIA’s Rendition, Detention & Torture Program

Posted in: Secrecy,War on Terrorism

Cover page for the Open Society Justice Initiative’s report

A major report on the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation (RDI) program was released today by the Open Society Justice Initiative. It is one of the most comprehensive examinations of the program to date.

From “credible public sources and information provided by reputable human rights organizations,” the organization was able to figure out that “as many as 54 foreign governments reportedly” hosted CIA prisons on their territories; detained, interrogated, tortured and abused individuals; assisted in the capture and transport of detainees; permitted the use of domestic airspace and airports for secret flights transporting detainees; provided intelligence leading to the secret detention and extraordinary rendition of individuals and interrogated individuals who were secretly being held in the custody of other governments.

It found that foreign governments “failed to protect detainees from secret detention and extraordinary rendition on their territories and to conduct effective investigations into agencies and officials who participated in these operations.”

The 54 governments identified in the report are the following:

Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, Yemen, and Zimbabwe

The report also provides the most information yet on the individuals who were subjected to these operations. According to the organization, at least “136 individuals were reportedly subjected to these operations.” (It notes, “There may be many more such individuals, but the total number will remain unknown until the United States and its partners make this information publicly available.”)

The Open Society Justice Initiative acknowledges the “extraordinary secrecy” surrounding the CIA’s RDI program and mentions the report is intended to counter that secrecy:

…[T]he extraordinary secrecy maintained by the United States and its partner governments with respect to these operations presents a barrier to accountability. The U.S. government has refused to publicly and meaningfully acknowledge its role in any case of extraordinary rendition or to disclose the locations of its secret overseas CIA prisons. Although President Bush acknowledged that about 100 individuals were secretly detained by the CIA, the U.S. government has only disclosed the identities of 16. It has also refused to identify cooperating governments, and few of those governments have admitted to their role. Consequently, no comprehensive official account exists of foreign government participation in these operations. Nor is there a comprehensive official record of the victims of human rights abuses associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition…

The report examines the evolution of rendition, detention and torture policies providing a background on their development during and prior to the presidency of George W. Bush. It then outlines current practices and procedures being carried out by the Obama administration.

It makes clear the Obama administration has not chosen to end rendition, the process of essentially kidnapping a person and transferring them  to another country for detention where they are likely to be abused or tortured. The administration has not disclosed policies or practices related to “intelligence transfers” (for example, when the CIA ships individuals to other countries). An executive order Obama signed was “crafted to preserve the CIA’s authority to detain terrorist suspects for short periods prior to ‘rendering’ them to another country for interrogation or trial.” This was a loophole that was designed to make it possible for the CIA to keep certain secret prison sites open.

“The administration reportedly intends to continue the Bush administration’s practice of sending terrorist suspects to foreign countries for detention and interrogation while relying on assurances of humane treatment from recipient countries as well as the post-transfer monitoring of detainee treatment,” the report outlines. “However, as demonstrated below in the cases of extraordinary rendition victims Maher Arar, Ahmed Agiza, and Muhammed al-Zery, diplomatic assurances and post-transfer monitoring are not effective safeguards against torture.”

The report also mentions how the United States has declined to conduct criminal investigations into the CIA’s RDI program. The courts have failed to hold any person from the Executive Branch accountable for abuses associated with the RDI program. “To date, not a single case brought by an extraordinary rendition victim has reached the merits stage in a US court,” the report declares.

Meanwhile, there continues to be reports of secret detentions: in April 2011, the “Associated Press reported that suspected terrorists in Afghanistan were being secretly detained and interrogated for weeks at 20 temporary sites including one run by the military’s elite counterterrorism unit, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), at Bagram Air Base”; in July 2011, “it was reported that the Obama administration had secretly detained and interrogated Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali national, for two months aboard a US Navy ship, after seizing him on international waters between Yemen and Somalia”; Jeremy Scahill of The Nation reported in July 2011 the CIA was using a secret prison “in the basement of Somalia’s National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters; and the Washington Post reported in August 2012 that “three European menwith Somali roots were arrested by local authorities in Djibouti, where they were detained and interrogated for months—including by U.S. interrogators—even though no charges were pending against them.”


Various details on victims of the RDI program appear in the report. Beginning on page thirty of the report, a full list of the 136 subjected to it can be found.

Here are just a few of the individuals that were abused, tortured and/or violated by the CIA:

Ahmed Agiza, an Egyptian national, was living in Sweden with his wife and five young children, waiting for a determination on their political asylum application, when, on December 18, 2001, he was secretly apprehended by Swedish Security Police who took him to Bromma airport on the outskirts of Stockholm. Agiza was then handed over to CIA agents, who stripped him, dressed him in overalls, and chained and shackled him before transporting him in a Gulfstream V aircraft (N379P) to Egypt, where he was severely tortured. Agiza was subjected to electric shocks in Egyptian custody, despite Egypt’s assurances to the Swedish government that he would not be tortured, and despite a post-transfer monitoring mechanism that involved Swedish diplomats visiting him while he was held in Egyptian custody.198 According to Agiza, he was imprisoned and tortured for a year in the State Security prison in Nasr City, while being temporarily transferred to Tora prison only for the Swedish ambassador’s visits.199 After that, Agiza says he was held in Tora prison for two years, after which he was transferred to the “Scorpion” prison.200 In April 2004, after a six-hour military trial, Agiza was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for membership in a banned Islamic organization. The court, without explanation, denied his requests for a forensic medical examination to prove his allegations of torture; according to Human Rights Watch, which acted as an independent trial monitor, the proceedings did not fulfill internationally recognized due process requirements.202 In June 2004, Agiza’s prison sentence was reduced to 15 years, again without explanation. Agiza was released from prison in August 2011.  In July 2012, Sweden granted him permanent residency.


Muhammad Farag Ahmed Bashmilah, a Yemeni national, was detained on October 21, 2003, by Jordan’s GID, which interrogated him and subjected him to prolonged beatings and threats of electric shock and the rape of his family members. On October 26, 2003, he was transferred to agents who “beat, kicked, diapered, hooded, and handcuffed him.” The agents secretly transported him to Bagram Air Base, where he was subjected for six months to solitary confinement, torture, and interrogation. He was transferred “through a series of three different cells involving different methods of sensory manipulation, sleep deprivation and shackling in painful positions.” On approximately April 24, 2004, Bashmilah was again diapered, hooded, handcuffed, and flown to another secret CIA black site (likely in Eastern Europe) where he was further tortured and interrogated.300 There, he was held in two different cells while shackled at the ankle and subjected to further interrogation and sensory deprivation. On May 5, 2005, he was flown to Yemen, detained briefly, and transported to another detention center in Aden, Yemen. In February 2006, he was sentenced to two years in prison for using a false identification document in Indonesia and was ordered released immediately because his detention had exceeded his sentence. On March 27, 2006, Bashmilah was freed; he never faced any charges relating to terrorism.

 Wesam Abdulrahman Ahmed al-Deemawi (Wassam al-Ourdoni), a Jordanian national, was seized in Iran in December 2001. He stated in an interview that he was detained in Iran for about a month without being interrogated or told why he was being held.353 In early 2002, al-Deemawi was one of ten men transferred in a prisoner exchange by Iranian authorities to Afghan authorities. Afghan authorities subsequently handed him to the CIA. He was first held in the Dark Prison, where he says he spent 77 days in a room that was so dark that it was impossible to distinguish night from day. At this prison, al-Deemawi further states, the guards were Afghan, but the interrogators were American.357 He was then moved to another prison, “prison number 3,” where the food was so bad that his weight dropped considerably. In the spring of 2003, he was transferred to Bagram, where he was held for 40 days and subjected to sleep deprivation, hung from the ceiling by his arms in the “strappado” position, threatened by dogs, made to watch torture videos, and subjected to sounds of electric sawing accompanied by cries of pain.  Al-Deemawi was flown to Guantanamo Bay on May 8, 2003. He was released in March or April 2004.


Abdu Ali al-Hajj Sharqawi, a Yemeni national, was seized in a joint operation by U.S. and Pakistani forces in Karachi, Pakistan in February 2002. The CIA then extraordinarily rendered him to Jordan, where he was held and tortured for nearly two years. According to a declaration by Sharqawi’s attorney filed in a case challenging the detention of Guant.namo Bay detainee Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman, Sharqawi “was regularly beaten and threatened with electrocution and molestation” while held in Jordan. He was then transferred to the CIA’s Dark Prison near Kabul, Afghanistan, where, according to the declaration, he was “kept in complete darkness and was subject to continuous loud music.” Sharqawi was subsequently detained at Bagram Air Base before being transferred to Guant.namo Bay. U.S. district court judge Henry Kennedy Jr. held in Uthman’s case that the court would not rely on Sharqawi’s statements because “there [was] unrebutted evidence in the record that, at the time of the interrogations at which [he] made the statements, … [he] had recently been tortured.” Sharqawi remains imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay.

The report goes on to go country-by-country and detail what is known about each country’s involvement in the CIA program.

Though much of the information may not seem new to people who have been following news as details trickle out, the report collates all that has happened creating a resource for beginning to understand the scope of the program. Its release should fuel efforts to push the Senate to release the 6,000-page CIA torture report it put together. That report likely contains many more details on the inhumane and unlawful program that deserve to be publicly known.

Read the full report here.


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