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U.S. Seeks Silence on CIA Prisons

"We had no way of knowing who had him or where he was," said Mahmood Khan, brother of Majid Khan, who was held for more than three years in a secret CIA prison. (By Michael Robinson Chavez -- The Washington Post)

Captives who have spent time in the secret prisons, and their advocates, have said the detainees were sometimes treated harshly with techniques that included "waterboarding," which simulates drowning. Bush has declared that the administration will not tolerate the use of torture but has pressed to retain the use of unspecified "alternative" interrogation methods.

The government argues that once rules are set for the new military commissions, the high-value detainees will have military lawyers and "unprecedented" rights to challenge charges against them in that venue.

U.S. officials say Khan, a Pakistani national who lived in the United States for seven years, took orders from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the man accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Mohammed allegedly asked Khan to research poisoning U.S. reservoirs and considered him for an operation to assassinate the Pakistani president.

In a separate court document filed last night, Khan's attorneys offered declarations from Khaled al-Masri, a released detainee who said he was held with Khan in a dingy CIA prison called "the salt pit" in Afghanistan. There, prisoners slept on the floor, wore diapers and were given tainted water that made them vomit, Masri said. American interrogators treated him roughly, he said, and told him he "was in a land where there were no laws."

Khan's family did not learn of his whereabouts until Bush announced his transfer in September, more than three years after he was seized in Pakistan.

The family said Khan was staying with a brother in Karachi, Pakistan, in March 2003 when men, who were not in uniform, burst into the apartment late one night and put hoods over the heads of Khan, his brother Mohammad and his brother's wife. The couple's 1-month-old son was also seized.

Another brother, Mahmood Khan, who has lived in the United States since 1989, said in an interview this week that the four were hustled into police vehicles and taken to an undisclosed location, where they were separated and held in windowless rooms. His sister-in-law and her baby remained together, he said.

According to Mahmood, Mohammad said they were questioned repeatedly by men who identified themselves as members of Pakistan's intelligence service and others who identified themselves as U.S. officials. Mohammad's wife was released after seven days, and he was released after three months, without charge. He was left on a street corner without explanation, Mahmood said.

Periodically, he said, people who identified themselves as Pakistani officials contacted Mohammad and assured him that his brother would soon be released and that they ought not contact a lawyer or speak with the news media.

"We had no way of knowing who had him or where he was," Mahmood Khan said this week at the family home outside Baltimore. He said they complied with the requests because they believed anything else could delay his brother's release.

In Maryland, Khan's family was under constant FBI surveillance from the moment of his arrest, his brother said. The FBI raided their house the day after the arrest , removing computer equipment, papers and videos. Each family member was questioned extensively and shown photographs of terrorism suspects that Mahmood Khan said none of them recognized. For much of the next year, he said, they were followed everywhere.

"Pretty much we were scared," he said. "We live in this country. We have everything here."

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.


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