New Light Shed on CIA's 'Black Site' Prisons
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
On his last day in CIA custody, Marwan Jabour, an accused al-Qaeda paymaster, was stripped naked, seated in a chair and videotaped by agency officers. Afterward, he was shackled and blindfolded, headphones were put over his ears, and he was given an injection that made him groggy. Jabour, 30, was laid down in the back of a van, driven to an airstrip and put on a plane with at least one other prisoner.
His release from a secret facility in Afghanistan on June 30, 2006, was a surprise to Jabour -- and came just after the Supreme Court rejected the Bush administration's assertion that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to prisoners like him.
Jabour had spent two years in "black sites" -- a network of secret internment facilities the CIA operated around the world. His account of life in that system, which he described in three interviews with The Washington Post, offers an inside view of a clandestine world that held far more prisoners than the 14 men President Bush acknowledged and had transferred out of CIA custody in September.
"There are now no terrorists in the CIA program," the president said, adding that after the prisoners held were determined to have "little or no additional intelligence value, many of them have been returned to their home countries for prosecution or detention by their governments."
But Jabour's experience -- also chronicled by Human Rights Watch, which yesterday issued a report on the fate of former "black site" detainees -- often does not accord with the portrait the administration has offered of the CIA system, such as the number of people it held and the threat detainees posed. Although 14 detainees were publicly moved from CIA custody to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, scores more have not been publicly identified by the U.S. government, and their whereabouts remain secret. Nor has the administration acknowledged that detainees such as Jabour, considered so dangerous and valuable that their detentions were kept secret, were freed.
After 28 months of incarceration, Jabour -- who was described by a counterterrorism official in the U.S. government as "a committed jihadist and a hard-core terrorist who was intent on doing harm to innocent people, including Americans" -- was released eight months ago. U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials confirmed his incarceration and that he was held in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They would not discuss conditions inside black sites or the treatment of any detainee.
A House in Islamabad
By Jabour's account, and that of U.S. intelligence officials, his entrance into the black-sites program began in May 2004. In interviews, he said he was muscled out of a car as it pulled inside the gates of a secluded villa in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.
In the week before his arrival, Jabour said, Pakistani intelligence officers had beaten, abused and burned him at a jailhouse in Lahore, where he was arrested. There two female American interrogators also questioned him and told him he would be rich if he cooperated and would vanish for life if he refused. He said he was later blindfolded and driven four hours north to the villa in a wealthy residential neighborhood.
The house in Islamabad, which U.S. intelligence officials say was jointly run by the CIA and Pakistani intelligence, had been outfitted with jail cells. When Jabour arrived, he saw as many as 20 other detainees, including the 16-year-old son of an Egyptian sheik, who had been captured in Pakistan. Dozens of al-Qaeda suspects swept up in the years after Sept. 11, 2001, have been through the house, according to accounts by former prisoners and U.S. intelligence officials with knowledge of the facility.
Jabour spent five weeks there, chained to a wall and prevented from sleeping more than a few hours at a time. He said he was beaten nightly by Pakistani guards after hours of questions from U.S. interrogators. Then he and others were whisked off to CIA-run sites. Some sites were in Eastern Europe; Jabour went to one in Afghanistan. Interrogators -- whom he described as Americans in their late 20s and early 30s -- told Jabour he would never see his three children again.
Human Rights Watch has identified 38 people who may have been held by the CIA and remain unaccounted for. Intelligence officials told The Post that the number of detainees held in such facilities over nearly five years remains classified but is higher than 60. Their whereabouts have not been publicly disclosed.
"The practice of disappearing people -- keeping them in secret detention without any legal process -- is fundamentally illegal under international law," said Joanne Mariner, director of the terrorism program at Human Rights Watch in New York. "The kind of physical mistreatment Jabour described is also illegal." Mariner interviewed Jabour separately as part of the organization's investigation.