Prisoner Accounts Suggest Detention At Secret Facilities

Muhammad Assad is one of three Yemeni men arrested in 2003. He believes he was arrested because of ties to a charity that was
Muhammad Assad is one of three Yemeni men arrested in 2003. He believes he was arrested because of ties to a charity that was "blacklisted" after Sept. 11. (By Anne Fitzgerald For The Washington Post)
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 7, 2005

Three Yemeni nationals who were arrested in late 2003 say they were transferred to U.S. custody and kept isolated in at least four secret detention facilities that Amnesty International officials believe could be part of a covert CIA prison system.

The three detainees have not said they were physically abused while in U.S. custody, but they describe being whisked away in airplanes to unknown locations where they were interrogated by Americans in civilian clothes, according to an Amnesty International report. At one prison, the detainees were guarded by people in all-black "ninja" suits, who communicated using hand gestures.

During their separate incarcerations, the detainees were never visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross, never had access to lawyers, were unable to correspond with their families and had no contact with the outside world, the report said. Their families believed they were dead or were told that they had gone to Iraq to fight the United States.

The accounts, taken in independent interviews by Amnesty International researchers over the past few months, appear to be consistent with reports of a network of secret CIA detention facilities, according to the report. The detainees could not determine where they were because they were hooded during the flights, but because of the travel time they assumed they were in Europe or the Middle East, according to Amnesty International.

"We've tried working out where they might have been, but it's so subjective," said Anne FitzGerald, senior adviser on research policy for Amnesty International, who interviewed the detainees in two Yemeni prisons. "It's clear they were in facilities that were designed to hold many people, not just them. But they really didn't know where they were."

The CIA declined to comment Friday.

In a telephone interview from London last week, FitzGerald said she believes the detainees' stories are credible because they were each detained separately and were unable to communicate with one another before the United States turned them over to the Yemeni government in May. One of the detainees has never met the other two and is now kept in a separate facility, yet his story is consistent, she said.

Muhammad Assad was arrested in his home of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on Dec. 26, 2003, for alleged passport problems. A Yemeni native, Assad had lived in Tanzania for 20 years.

After his arrest and initial questioning, Assad was taken to a waiting airplane, and his family was told that he was deported to Yemen, according to Amnesty International. Yemeni authorities denied that Assad had entered the country, and Tanzania later informed Assad's father that he had been turned over to U.S. officials.

Assad believes he was arrested because of his connections to a charity that was "blacklisted" after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks for allegedly funding terrorism. The al Haramain Islamic Foundation, a Saudi Arabian charity, had rented space in a building Assad owned. It is the only topic Assad was questioned about in his 15 months of incarceration.

He was first taken on a small airplane that flew for about two to three hours, and was interrogated for two weeks by Arabic-speaking people, according to the report. He was then flown elsewhere, a flight that he believes lasted about 11 hours, with a one-hour stop-over. When he arrived, his surroundings were much colder, and he was interrogated by white men who spoke what he believed to be American English.

"There was nothing haphazard or makeshift about the detention regime, it was carefully designed to induce maximum disorientation, dependence and stress in the detainees," according to the 20-page report. "The men were subjected to extreme sensory deprivation; for over a year they did not know what country they were in, whether it was night or day, whether it was raining or sunny. They spoke to no one but their interrogators, through translators, and no one spoke to them."

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