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From CIA Jails, Inmates Fade Into Obscurity
At least one former CIA prisoner has been quietly freed. Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, an Iraqi intelligence agent captured after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, was detained at a secret location until he was released last year.
Ani gained notoriety before the Iraq war when Bush administration officials said he had met in Prague with Sept. 11, 2001, hijacker Mohamed Atta. Some officials, including Vice President Cheney, cited the rendezvous as evidence of an alliance between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. The theory was later debunked by U.S. intelligence agencies and the Sept. 11 commission, which revealed in 2004 that Ani was in U.S. custody.
The Iraqi spy resurfaced two months ago when Czech officials revealed that he had filed a multimillion-dollar compensation claim. His complaint: that unfounded Czech intelligence reports had prompted his imprisonment by the CIA.
When Bush confirmed the existence of the CIA's prisons in September 2006, he said they had been vacated for the time being. But he said the U.S. government would use them again, if necessary.
The CIA has resumed its detention program. Since March, five new terrorism suspects have been transferred to Guantanamo. Although the Pentagon has not disclosed details about how or precisely when they were captured, officials have said one of the prisoners, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, had spent months in CIA custody overseas.
Details of the secret detention program remain classified. U.S. officials have offered only vague descriptions of its reach and scope.
Last month, in a speech in New York, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said "fewer than 100 people" had been detained in the CIA's overseas prison network since the program's inception in early 2002.
In June, a coalition of human rights groups identified 39 people who may have been in CIA custody but are still missing. Many of those on the list, however, were identified by partial names or noms de guerre, such as one man described only as Mohammed the Afghan.
Joanne Mariner, director of terrorism and counterterrorism research for Human Rights Watch, said the CIA has moved many prisoners from country to country and relied on other spy services to take custody of suspects, sometimes temporarily and sometimes for good.
"The large majority have gone to their countries of origin," she said. "But that doesn't mean all of them. There could be some that are still in proxy detention."
In a footnote to its 2004 report, the Sept. 11 commission named nine al-Qaeda suspects who were in U.S. custody at black sites. Seven were later transferred to Guantanamo.
Still missing is Hassan Ghul, a Pakistani national captured in northern Iraq in January 2004. U.S. officials have described him as a high-level emissary between al-Qaeda's core command in Pakistan and its affiliates in Iraq.