The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, prompted the CIA to search for outside facilities in which to detain and interrogate high-level al-Qaeda suspects. The secret prisons, known as “black sites,” were used by the CIA to interrogate suspects, often using waterboarding to obtain intelligence.
The locations of the prisons — which spanned eight countries — were kept secret, and the information on each one was privy to only the president and a handful of other officials.
In her Pulitzer-prize winning stories, Dana Priest, a Washington Post investigative reporter, detailed how the CIA used the detention system to harbor terror suspects and actively refused to reveal or acknowledge the program’s existence.
A three-year investigation commissioned by the Senate intelligence committee in 2012 later revealed that prisoners held in these facilities and who were subject to torture “did not help the CIA find Osama bin Laden” and “often were counterproductive in the broader campaign against al-Qaeda.”
Here are six things to know about black site prisons:
1. The CIA held some suspects because of faulty intelligence. At least 26 people were detained because of mistaken identity and “did not meet the standard for detention.” Of the 119 suspects who were held:
— Thirty-nine detainees were subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.
— Seven detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques produced no intelligence.
— Three detainees were subjected to waterboarding.
2. The CIA often deceived high-level U.S. officials and their own peers about the prisons:
In one case, an internal CIA memo relays instructions from the White House to keep the program secret from then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell out of concern that he would “blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what’s been going on.”
3. Former president George W. Bush first authorized the program and in 2006 announced the transfer of high-level detainees located in prisons abroad to Guantanamo.
The next year, Bush ordered the CIA to continue its enhanced interrogation methods.
4. One of the CIA’s first and most important prisons in Europe was located in Poland. The CIA struck a $15 million deal with the Polish intelligence service to build and fortify the site, which was dubbed “Quartz.”
Polish officials asked whether the CIA could make some improvements to the facility. The CIA obliged, paying nearly $300,000 to outfit it with security cameras.
The accommodations were not spacious. The two-story villa could hold up to a handful of detainees. A large shed behind the house also was converted into a cell.
“It was pretty spartan,” the agency official recalled.
There was also a room where detainees, if they cooperated, could ride a stationary bike or use a treadmill.
5. Part of the Senate report revealed even more details about harsh interrogation techniques:
Beginning with the CIA’s first detainee, Abu Zubaida, and continuing with numerous others, the CIA applied its enhanced interrogation techniques with significant repetition for days or weeks at a time. Interrogation techniques such as slaps and “wallings” (slamming detainees against a wall) were used in combination, frequently concurrent with sleep deprivation and nudity. Records do not support CIA representations that the CIA initially used an “an open, nonthreatening approach” or that interrogations began with the “least coercive technique possible” and escalated to more coercive techniques only as necessary.
6. The CIA contends the program helped produce “evidence that helped avert potential strikes against the U.S.”
“Our review indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom [enhanced interrogation techniques] were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives,” CIA Director John Brennan said in the statement. “The intelligence gained from the program was critical to our understanding of al-Qaeda and continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day.”