America’s Secret Prisons

On January 28 in, Anand Gopal headlined, “Night Raids, Hidden Detention Centers, the ‘Black Jail,’ and the Dogs of War in Afghanistan,” recounting unreported US media stories about killings, abductions, detentions, interrogations, and torture in “a series of prisons on US military bases around the country.” Bagram prison, for example, is “a facility with a notorious reputation for abusive behavior,” including brutalizing torture and cold-blooded murder.

Even worse is the “Black Jail,” a facility consisting of individual windowless concrete cells with bright 24-hour lighting, described by one former detainee as “the most dangerous and fearful place” in which prisoners endure appalling treatment.

The pattern is predictable. US/NATO convoys are attacked or reports of Taliban forces are received. Americans respond accordingly, rounding up suspects, mostly innocent civilians, and detaining them for interrogations, torture, abuse and degrading treatment – not just in Afghanistan but in secret black sites globally, according to a January 26 UN Human Rights Council (HRC) report detailing practices engaged in by various countries including America, by far the world’s worst offender in its war on terror — one waged against humanity for unchallengeable power and total global dominance.

Besides Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq, HRC said the CIA runs scores of offshore secret prisons in over 66 countries worldwide for dissidents and alleged terrorists — in Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, India, Pakistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Ethopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Poland, Romania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Thailand, Diego Garcia, and elsewhere.

Post-9/11, “the United States embarked on a process of reducing and removing various human rights and other protection mechanisms” through numerous laws and administrative acts including:

— the September 18, 2001 joint House-Senate Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) for “the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States”;

— the October 2001 USA Patriot Act (just renewed) that shredded civil liberty protections, including due process, freedom of association, and the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures;

— the October 2002 House-Senate “Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of the United States Armed Forces Against Iraq,” even though the country (and Afghanistan) posed no threat to America, had no ability or intention to strike, or did so on 9/11 or any other time;

— the November 2001 Military Order Number 1 authorizing the president to capture, kidnap or otherwise arrest non-citizens (and later citizens) anywhere in the world for any reason and hold them indefinitely without charge, evidence, or due process and judicial fairness protections in a civil court;

— numerous presidential Executive Orders, memorandums, findings, National and Homeland Security Presidential Directives, and other documents authorizing the abduction, detention, torture, and killing of alleged terrorists;

— National Presidential Directive 51 granting the president dictatorial power to declare a national emergency, followed by martial law without congressional approval;

— the February 2002, a presidential memorandum declaring Geneva’s Common Article 3 (prohibiting torture and other lawless acts) and Third Geneva,  pertaining to prisoners of war, null and void for “al-Qaeda or Taliban detainees;”

— the November 2002 Homeland Security Act creating a national Gestapo;

— the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act denying detainees habeas rights and authorizing the use of cruel, abusive, inhumane or degrading treatment in the interests of national security;

— the 2006 Military Commissions Act, known as “the torture authorization act,” granted the executive sweeping unconstitutional powers to detain, interrogate and prosecute alleged terror suspects and collaborators (including US citizens), imprison them indefinitely in military prisons without proof of guilt, and deny them habeas and judicial fairness protections; and

— various other actions subverting the letter and spirit of international and US laws to pursue a global war on terror, including worldwide detention centers, claiming human rights laws there don’t apply.

“One of the consequences of this policy was that many detainees were kept secretly and without access to the protection accorded to those in custody” under international and US laws.

Secret Detention Under International Law

For purposes of HRC’s report, they occur when governments authorize, consent, support or acquiesce to depriving persons of their liberty; where they’re denied contact with the outside world, including legal counsel; or when states neither confirm or deny knowledge or involvement in detaining alleged terrorists or suspected collaborators.

The practice is abhorrent and irreconcilable with international human rights and humanitarian law. Under no circumstances is it justified, yet America is a serial offender.

As arbitrary arrests, they deny personal liberty and security. Among other international law provisions, they violate Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) stating:

“Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention,” and other provisions affirming fundamental international law rights.

The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Working Group on Arbitrary Detention calls secret ones arbitrary and illegal by denying detainees information on charges against them, a prompt hearing before a judge, and right to a fair trial according to established international law principles.

Secret detentions take many forms, including black sites for “High Value Detainees (HVD),” where they’re physically and psychologically tortured for extended periods to extract confessions that are inadmissible in courts, according to international law.

The UN’s study showed detainees held incommunicado often aren’t charged with a crime, informed of charges, provided counsel, allowed time to prepare a proper defense, or tried by impartial tribunals to establish their guilt or innocence. 

Under the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, the practice places individuals outside legal protections, and is conducive to coercing confessions under torture and other abusive treatment.

The Rome Statute’s Article 7 calls “enforced disappearance of person” a crime against humanity if it’s committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population.” In all respects, it’s abhorrent, illegal, and unjustifiable.

Geneva, applying to all conflicts, allows war prisoner and civilian detentions — the former to be released when hostilities end; the latter held under very strict conditions, namely:

— if it’s “necessary for imperative reasons of security,” and

— for penal prosecutions for individuals charged with a crime.

America’s “unlawful enemy combatant” designation has no legitimacy in international law under any conditions or circumstances.

Geneva mandates detainees be registered and held in officially recognized facilities. Incommunicado detentions are strictly prohibited.

America’s Secret Gulag

HRC called a country complicit in secret detentions under these conditions:

  • when one nation asks another to do it; 
  • when a country won’t identify persons on airplanes passing through their airports or airspace after information about CIA detentions are known; and
  • when a nation “knowingly (takes) advantage of the situation by sending questions to the State which detains the person or by soliciting or receiving information from persons” held secretly; this applies to at least the following states: Britain, Germany, Canada, Australia, Italy, Kenya, and Macedonia.

In June 2007, in a report for the Council of Europe, Swiss politician and former state prosecutor, Dick Marty, said he had:

“enough evidence to state that secret detention facilities run by the CIA did exist in Europe from 2003 to 2005, in particular in Poland and Romania. (He noted that) the majority of detainees brought to Romania were extracted ‘out of theater(s) of conflict.’ This phrase pertains to transfers from Afghanistan and Iraq.

In August 2009, the New York Times also reported that former US intelligence officials oversaw the construction of three small CIA facilities, each for about a half dozen detainees, one being “a renovated building on a busy street in Bucharest, Romania.”

In Poland from 2003-2005, eight High Value Detainees (HVDs) were allegedly held in Stare Kiejkuty village, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged 9/11 mastermind based on his torture-extracted confession, rendering it void and inadmissible according to law. Besides the UN Convention Against Torture, the Supreme Court ruled Brown v. Mississippi (February 1936):

“The rack and torture chamber may not be substituted for the witness stand,” and an earlier Court (in Fisher v. State — November 1926) called coerced confessions “the chief iniquity, the crowning infamy (and) the curse of all countries.” 

Yet Mohammed’s will be used against him in a planned kangaroo proceeding. So will those extracted from his four alleged co-conspirators, denying them any measure of justice, even though, in all likelihood, they’re innocent.

Marty reported information from civil aviation records on CIA-operated planes landing at Szymany airport in northeastern Poland and the Mihail Kogalniceanu military airfield in Romania from 2003-2005. He also explained how they were disguised using fake flight plans.

HRC’s report revealed further evidence about front company flights from Bangkok, Thailand to Szymany on December 5, 2002 (“disguised under multiple layers of secrecy” to avoid US “fingerprints”) and others from December 3-6, 2002.

Other data “demonstrate(d) that a Boeing 737 aircraft flew to Romania in September 2003” from Dulles Airport, Washington DC on September 20, 2003.

Romania supplied information about secret CIA detention centers and flights to and from the nation’s territory, but wouldn’t confirm or deny if prisoners left planes on its soil.

However, Lithuanian officials gave the CIA a building for as many as eight alleged terrorists where they were held for over a year until late 2005, after which they were moved because of public disclosure. In November 2009, it was learned that the facility was built inside an exclusive riding academy in Antaviliai, and that Lithuania cooperated with CIA detentions in 2004. Two Afghanistan to Vilnius flights were identified — on September 20, 2004 and on July 28, 2005.

In November 2009, the Lithuanian government confirmed that its State Security Department (SSD) received requests to “equip facilities… suitable for hold detainees,” but it wouldn’t admit they were used for that purpose.

When late 2005 Washington Post and ABC News reports revealed Eastern European detentions, prisoners were allegedly moved from Europe to other undisclosed black sites, possibly in war zones or Africa.

Guantanamo has at least one black site, “unnamed and officially unacknowledged” out of sight about a mile north of Camp Delta. “The unacknowledged ‘Camp No’ is described as having no guard towers and being surrounded with concertina wire, with one part of the compound having ‘the same appearance as the interrogation centers at other prison camps.’ ” It’s not known if the CIA or Joint Special Operations Command runs it.

Other reports reveal American black sites at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo and Eagle Base in Tuzla, Bosnia. The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, Alvaro Gil-Robles, told Le Monde he was “shocked” by Camp Bondsteel’s facility, “a smaller version of Guantanamo.” In December 2005, UN Kosovo Ombudsman, Marek Antoni Nowicki, said:

“There can be no doubt that for years there has been a prison in the Bondsteel base with no external civilian or judicial oversight. (It) looks like the pictures we have seen of Guantanamo Bay.” A Tuzla detainee said he was also held at a secret Diego Garcia facility. He’s now at a Syria black site.

Afghanistan holds hundreds of detainees in numerous facilities, including three well-known ones at Bagram airbase (called “The Hanger), and two others near Kabul — the “Dark Prison” (with no lights, heating or decoration) and the “Salt Pit.” Another is in the Panjshir valley, north of Kabul, and three others are called Rissat, Rissat 2, and “Prison Number Three.” 

In all US and black site facilities, former detainees (ones lucky to be released) describe nightmarish treatment, including: 

  • being hooded or blindfolded;
  • painfully shackled for extended periods;
  • exposed to extreme heat and cold;
  • kept naked; 
  • waterboarded numerous times;
  • held in isolation or tiny cells with other prisoners where sleeping must occur in shifts;
  • severe physical and psychological treatment creating permanent trauma for many;
  • beatings;
  • continuous blaring noises or music;
  • 24-hour bright light or total darkness;
  • sleep deprivation for days;
  • painful stress positions for extended periods; 
  • being sodomized;
  • denied food, too little, or inedible kinds;
  • painful force-feeding for hunger strikers; 
  • denied medical care;
  • coerced to confess to offenses they never committed;
  • hung from steel bars in their cells or from metal hooks in interrogation rooms for extended periods; 
  • kept in tubs of ice water creating hypothermia;
  • threatened with or attacked by dogs;
  • given electro-shocks; and 
  • other cruel, abusive and degrading treatment.

In Iraq, the same practices occurred, exposed at Abu Ghraib, but at other facilities as well throughout the country, including at Forward Operating Base Tiger in Al-Anbar Province, a base outside Mosul, a temporary holding camp near Nasiriyah, a Tikrit Forward Operating Base, and others.

In 2005, it was learned that America secretly captured, transferred and detained alleged terrorists at its own sites, sending many to secret ones in other states. 

After the 2001 Afghan invasion, the CIA was involved straightaway in US and foreign black site detentions and torture, yet in its January 13, 2006 report to the Committee Against Torture, the Bush administration claimed:

The United States does not transfer persons to countries where (it’s believed) it is ‘more likely than not’ that they will be tortured. The United States obtains assurances, as appropriate, from a foreign government to which a detainee is transferred that it will not torture the individual being transferred.

Clear evidence shows otherwise that prisoners were subjected to cruel, inhumane, abusive and degrading treatment at US and foreign sites, contrary to Bush administration assurances and later from the equally culpable Obama administration.

After promising to respect human rights and close Guantanamo and other detention facilities as expeditiously as possible, and refrain from operating new ones, it’s kept them open, endorsed preventive detentions without charges, continues extraordinary renditions to black sites, and embraces torture as official US policy like the Bush administration.

America’s torture prisons still flourish as secretly and abusively as under George Bush despite promises of more humane practices, quickly broken to pursue America’s imperial agenda for unchallengeable power and total global dominance.

Stephen Lendman wrote How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War. Contact him at: Also visit his blog site and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM-1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening. Read other articles by Stephen.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Josie Michel-Bruening said on March 17th, 2010 at 10:09am #

    Thank you very much, dear Stephen Lendman, for this detailed information, especially about the “black sites” of US penal system and of course with European related establishments and the knowledge of the European secret services.
    I would like to add another example referring to your mentioned
    “’Black Jail,’ a facility consisting of individual windowless concrete cells with bright 24-hour lighting, described by one former detainee as ‘the most dangerous and fearful place’ in which prisoners endure appalling treatment.”:
    The Cuban Five had been in such a “hole” too in their respective high security prisons spread over the US during the whole month March in 2003. Coincidently, they just wanted to file their appeal at the 11th Circuit Court of Atlanta. It was intended to keep them there at least for one year … However, becaus e of international protest they were released after one month.
    Before their trial in June 2001 they were kept in isolation confinement for 17 months for breaking their moral.
    What did they do? – They had tried to prevent Cuba against further terrorist acts planned and carried out by Cuban exile groups maily based in South Florida.
    Cuba had filed a complaint in 1999 to the UN about 3,478 dead and 2,099 invalid people because of those terrorist acts.
    Since more than 11 years they are imprisoned, two of them are denied visiting rights of their wives in prison.
    According to the White House those young wives are regarded as “security risks” for the United States.
    The Five and their relatives seem to be kept as hostages for the refractoriness of Cuba and the loyality of the five Cubans and their relatives to their Cuban government.
    For more information:

  2. mary said on March 18th, 2010 at 4:03am #

    Agree Josie – Stephen is ‘dear’ and so tireless.

    I have just read about this about the American use of biological weapons in the Korean war – bubonic plague, typhoid, cholera and anthrax – which seems to have been covered up.

    Dirty little secrets –
    the US use of biological weapons in Korean war