"There's a black hole on certain information such as location, condition under which they are held," said one congressional official who asked not to be identified. "They are told it's too sensitive."
In Afghanistan, the CIA used to conduct some interrogations in a cluster of metal shipping containers at Bagram air base protected by three layers of concertina wire. It is unclear whether that center is still open, but the CIA's main interrogation center now appears to be in Kabul, at a location nicknamed "The Pit" by agency and Special Forces operators.
Taliban members are shown to news photographers at the prison in Kabul, Afghanistan. The CIA's secret U.S. interrogation center there is known as "The Pit."
(Silvia Izquierdo -- AP)
"Prisoner abuse is nothing new," said one military officer who has been working closely with CIA interrogators in Afghanistan. A dozen former and current national security officials interviewed by The Washington Post in 2002, including several who had witnessed interrogations, defended the use of stressful interrogation tactics and the use of violence against detainees as just and necessary.
The CIA general counsel's office developed a new set of interrogation rules of engagement after the Sept. 11 attacks. It was vetted by the Justice Department and approved by the National Security Council's general counsel, according to U.S. intelligence officials and other U.S. officials familiar with the process. "There are very specific guidelines that are thoroughly vetted," said one U.S. official who helps oversee the process. "Everyone is on board. It's legal."
The rules call for field operators to seek approval from Washington to use "enhanced measures" -- methods that could cause temporary physical or mental pain.
U.S. intelligence officials say the CIA, contrary to the glamorized view from movies and novels, had no real interrogation specialists on hand to deal with the number of valuable suspects it captured after Sept. 11. The agency relied on analysts, psychologists and profilers. "Two and a half years later," one CIA veteran said, "we have put together a very professional, controlled, deliberate and legally rationalized approach to dealing with the Abu Zubaidas of the world."
U.S. intelligence officials say their strongest suit is not harsh interrogation techniques, but time and patience.
Much larger than the group of prisoners held by the CIA are those who have been captured and transported around the world by the CIA and other agencies of the U.S. government for interrogation by foreign intelligence services. This transnational transfer of people is a key tactic in U.S. counterterrorism operations on five continents, one that often raises the ire of foreign publics when individual cases come to light.
For example, on Jan. 17, 2002, a few hours before Bosnia's Human Rights Chamber was to order the release of five Algerians and a Yemeni for lack of evidence, Bosnian police handed them over to U.S. authorities, who flew them to Guantanamo Bay.
The Bosnian government, faced with public outcry, said it would compensate the families of the men, who were suspected of making threats to the U.S. and British embassies in Bosnia.
The same month, in Indonesia, Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni, suspected of helping Richard C. Reid, the Briton charged with trying to detonate explosives in his shoe on an American Airlines flight, was detained by Indonesian intelligence agents based on information the CIA provided them. On Jan. 11, without a court hearing or a lawyer, he was hustled aboard an unmarked U.S.-registered Gulfstream V jet parked at a military airport in Jakarta and flown to Egypt.
It was no coincidence Madni ended up in Egypt. Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are well-known destinations for suspected terrorists.
"A lot of people they [the U.S.] are taking to Jordan, third-country nationals," a senior Saudi official said. "They can do anything they want with them, and the U.S. can say, 'We don't have them.' "
In the past year, an unusual country joined that list of destinations: Syria.