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Missing CIA Prisoners: Part Two of a Two-Part Series


Monday, Mar. 12, 2007

Part One of this series appeared on on March 5, 2007. - Ed.

Last September, 14 detainees were transferred from secret CIA prisons to military custody at Guantanamo Bay. In a televised speech on September 6, President Bush declared that with those 14 transfers, no prisoners were left in CIA custody.

Bush's announcement raised the immediate question of what happened to the other detainees. Although it is not known precisely how many detainees were held in CIA prisons between 2002 and 2006, it is certain that there were many more than 14 of them.

Estimated Numbers

Estimates of the number of detainees held by the CIA over the course of its detention and interrogation program vary. The Washington Post, whose ground-breaking reporting revealed the outlines of the CIA program, described a two-tier system of detention.

It said that some 30 "major terrorism suspects" were held at high-security prisons operated exclusively by CIA personnel, while an additional 70 less important suspects were transferred to prisons run by other countries' intelligence services. The major suspects, also known as "High Value Targets," were alleged top al-Qaeda leaders, not "foot soldiers."

The picture emerging from the accounts of former prisoners, however, suggests that these numbers are understated, and that the true picture is more complex. For example, at the prison in Afghanistan where German detainee Khaled el-Masri was held, the guards were Afghan, but the interrogators, the main director, and the people responsible for prisoner transport appeared to be CIA. So while prisoners had daily contact with Afghan personnel, all of the important decisions regarding detention, treatment, and release were made by Americans.

And after a wave of arrests in 2003 and 2004, a number of minor suspects were apparently held by the CIA. For example, the so-called Dark Prison in Afghanistan, which appears to have been operated solely by CIA personnel, held a substantial number of detainees who were not top terrorism suspects.

Human Rights Watch knows of some 20 prisoners previously held at that facility who are currently held at Guantanamo, as well as a former detainee who was released from Guantanamo. The majority of these prisoners (and obviously the one who was released) would not be considered major suspects.

Similarly, former prisoners interviewed in 2005 by Amnesty International and in 2006 by Human Rights Watch were far from top suspects--they were eventually released without charge. Yet they too were held in prisons with only American staff, as well as with the extreme high-security arrangements characteristic of the CIA.

Names of the Missing

Human Rights Watch has the names of more than 70 people who may have been held in secret CIA prisons at some point between 2002 and 2006. The people who are of greatest concern at present are the ones who remain "disappeared."

Based on detainee testimonies, press articles, and other sources, Human Rights Watch has put together a list of 16 people whom it believes were once held in CIA prisons and whose current whereabouts are unknown. Human Rights Watch has also compiled a separate list of 22 people who were possibly once held in CIA prisons and whose current whereabouts are unknown.

The people listed below -- whose name, nationality, and place and date of arrest are given, if known -- are believed to have once been held in secret CIA prisons:

1. Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (Libyan) (Pakistan, 11/01) (possibly transferred to Libya in early 2006)

2. Mohammed Omar Abdel-Rahman (aka Asadallah) (Egyptian) (Quetta, Pakistan, 2/03)

3. Yassir al-Jazeeri (Algerian) (Lahore, Pakistan, 3/03)

4. Suleiman Abdalla Salim (Kenyan) (Mogadishu, Somalia, 3/03)

5. Marwan al-Adeni (Yemeni) (arrested in approximately 5/03)

6. Ali Abd al Rahman al Faqasi al Ghamdi (Saudi) (Medina, Saudi Arabia, 6/03)

7. Hassan Ghul (Pakistani) (northern Iraq, 1/04)

8. Ayoub al-Libi (Libyan) (Peshawar, Pakistan, 1/04)

9. Mohammed al Afghani (Afghan born in Saudi Arabia) (Peshawar, Pakistan, 5/04)

10. Abdul Basit (probably Saudi or Yemeni) (arrested before 6/04)

11. Adnan (arrested before 6/04)

12. Hudeifa (arrested before 6/04)

13. Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan (aka Abu Talaha) (Pakistani) (Lahore, Pakistan, 7/04)

14. Muhammad Setmarian Naser (Syrian/Spanish) (Quetta, Pakistan, 11/05)

15. Unnamed Somali (possibly Shoeab as-Somali)

16. Unnamed Somali (possibly Rethwan as-Somali)

In addition, the following people may have once been held in secret CIA prisons:

1. Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi (presumably Iraqi) (1/02)

2. Anas al-Liby (Libyan) (Khartoum, Sudan, 2/02)

3. Retha al-Tunisi (Tunisian) (Karachi, Pakistan, early- to mid-2002)

4. Sheikh Ahmed Salim (aka Swedan) (Tanzanian) (Kharadar, Pakistan, 7/02)

5. Saif al Islam el Masry (Egyptian) (Pankisi Gorge, Georgia, 9/02)

6. Amin al-Yafia (Yemeni) (Iran, 2002)

7. _ al-Rubaia (Iraqi) (Iran, 2002)

8. Aafia Siddiqui (Pakistani) (Karachi, Pakistan, 3/03)

9. Jawad al-Bashar (Egyptian) (Vindher, Balochistan, Pakistan, 5/03)

10. Safwan al-Hasham (aka Haffan al-Hasham) (Saudi) (Hyderabad, Pakistan, 5/03)

11. Abu Naseem (Tunisian) (Peshawar, Pakistan, 6/03)

12. Walid bin Azmi (unknown nationality) (Karachi, Pakistan, 1/04)

13. Ibad Al Yaquti al Sheikh al Sufiyan (Saudi) (Karachi, Pakistan, 1/04)

14. Amir Hussein Abdullah al-Misri (Egyptian) (Karachi, Pakistan, 1/04)

15. Khalid al-Zawahiri (Egyptian) (South Waziristan, Pakistan, 2/04)

16. Musaab Aruchi (aka al-Baluchi) (Pakistani) (Karachi, Pakistan, 6/04)

17. Qari Saifullah Akhtar (Pakistani) (arrested in the UAE, 8/04)

18. Mustafa Mohamed Fadhil (Kenyan/Egyptian) (eastern Punjab, Pakistan, 8/04)

19. Sharif al-Masri (Egyptian) (Pakistan border, 8/04)

20. Osama Nazir (Pakistani) (Faisalabad, Pakistan, 11/04)

21. Osama bin Yousaf (Pakistani) (Faisalabad, Pakistan, 8/05)

22. Speen Ghul (from Africa) (Pakistan)

Fate of the Missing

The crucial, unanswered question is: Where are all these people now? One concern is that the US may have transferred some of them to foreign prisons where for practical purposes they remain under CIA control.

Another worrying possibility is that prisoners were transferred from CIA custody to places where they face a serious risk of torture, in violation of the fundamental prohibition on returns to torture. Given that some of the missing prisoners are from Algeria, Egypt, Libya, and Syria -- countries where the torture of terrorism suspects is common -- this possibility is more than speculative.

Human Rights Watch sent a letter to President Bush on February 26 asking that he disclose the identities, fate, and current whereabouts of all prisoners held for any period of time

at facilities operated or controlled by the CIA since 2001. It reminded him that persons "disappeared" into US custody who have since been transferred elsewhere remain the legal obligation of the United States so long as their fate or whereabouts remain unknown.

The letter recalled the plea of the wife of one such man whose current whereabouts are unknown. "What I'm hoping," she said, "is if [my children] find out their father has been detained, that I'll at least be able to tell them what country he's being held in, and in what conditions."

Joanne Mariner is a New York-based human rights attorney. Her previous columns on Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and the "war on terror" may be found in FindLaw's archive.

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