It was only six days after the September 11th attacks when George W. Bush issued a directive that allowed the CIA to detain and interrogate prisoners at secret locations around the world. Locations where they are kept away from their families, friends and any justice or due process that would have been their right under any country’s legal system.
Eight of these sites were revealed together, along with some descriptions of the cruel and degrading treatment of detainees, in the so-called “torture report” — a heavily redacted executive summary of the Senate committee’s study of the CIA’s interrogation program.
This report uses color codes to identify the location of these “Black Sites” while redacting country names, although prior reports by NGOs, the media and European agencies can be used to cross-reference and identify them.
Some of the known sites are located in Afghanistan (Salt Pit, AKA Cobalt, Code Black), Lithuania (Antaviliai, Code Violet), Romania (Bright Light, Code Black), Poland (Quartz, Code Blue), Thailand (Cat’s Eye, Code Green) and a secret site on the Guantanamo Naval Base, known as Strawberry Fields (Forever).
Below is a summary of the known abuses, locations and facts regarding these sites. Following this summary is a further examination of the torture report, highlighting the best(or worst) of the findings.
Salt Pit, Afghanistan
Reportedly a formerly abandoned brick factory built on a 10-acre area. It consists of a single three-story building and several smaller ones. Serving as an interrogation center as early as October 2001 soon after the US invasion, it also serves as a detention facility and was at one point apparently also used as a training facility for Afghan guards. Before Salt Pit, interrogations were conducted in secured metal shipping containers at Bagram air base. Despite being a “host-nation facility” it was financed and controlled entirely by the CIA.
As of the March 2005 Washington Post article “CIA Avoids Scrutiny of Detainee Treatment” by Dana Priest, the brick factory had been long torn down following the November 2002 death of an Afghan detainee. The man had been striped naked and froze to death, buried and “kept off the books”. The CIA case officer in charge of the facility has since been promoted, reportedly. At the time of Priest’s article, the CIA was conducting an “investigation” into the matter. A Senate aide who was not identified had said that the site was run by a junior officer with no prior relevant experience. He had “issues” in his background that should have flagged and disqualified him from even entering CIA service. The Senate committee have also found that some employees at the site had “histories of violence and mistreatment of others” while also lacking the requisite training. One starts to wonder if these men were not chosen on purpose for their brutality.
The “torture report” further reveals that in at least one other case was a man held partially nude, chained to the floor and allowed to die from hypothermia. Called “The Dark Prison” by former detainees, the Senate aide had said that the site was as dark as a dungeon and that they had never seen a prison in America where prisoners were kept in such horrible conditions. Some areas of the facility were so dark that guards had to wear head lamps, while others were flooded with bright lights and white noise.
At this decrepit facility, inmates were made to stand on broken feet or legs in stress-inducing positions. This was despite earlier promising that they would not subject wounded prisoners to any treatment that would worsen their injuries. Lesson here kids? Don’t listen if the CIA promises not to cruelly torture you. Or promises anything really.
Residents at the quiet Lithuanian village of Antaviliai were surprised by the appearance of silent American construction workers, who had arrived at a unused former riding club and cafe where they constructed a large two-story building with (at first)no windows, surrounded by a metal fence and security cameras. As of 2009, the Lithuanian government would appear to be in the dark on this site, having set a parliamentary committee to “investigate” whether America had been using it as a site for “terrorism suspects” from 2004-2005. However, the report revealed that the state had allowed the CIA to build the prison after a visit by George W. Bush who had told them that he would support its bid to join NATO.
“The new members of NATO were so grateful for the U.S. role in getting them into that organization that they would do anything the U.S. asked for during that period,” said former White House counterterrorism “czar” Richard Clarke. “They were eager to please and eager to be cooperative on security and on intelligence matters.”
“The activities in that prison were illegal,” said human rights researcher John Sifton. “They included various forms of torture, including sleep deprivation, forced standing, painful stress positions.”
Bright Light, Romania
Closed in 2006, this site was located in a residential street and housed in a building used as the National Registry for Classified Information or ORNISS, where classified information from the EU and NATO is stored. It is the only facility of the lot found in a high-traffic area. During the first month, detainees had to endure sleep deprivation and stress positions , being doused with water and slapped with the cells of inmates mounted on springs in order to keep them perpetually off-balance. It seems Romanian intelligence lie as well, considering the fact that ORNISS official Adrian Camarasan was quoted as saying that building’s basement was extremely secure, but that America had never run a prison there “No, no. Impossible, impossible,” he said in an ARD, a German public television network, interview.
Located in a remote forest near Stare Kiejkuty village, the two-story villa was small and could hold only a few prisoners. If they were really good, they got to ride on a stationary bike or run on a treadmill in one of the villa’s rooms… And that’s all that’s known about it. slapping, sleep deprivation and waterboarding were common torture techniques used in this site.
This site was where Khalid Sheik Mohammed had been waterboarded 183 times “confessed” to masterminding the sept 11th attacks among other crimes, including planning to assassinate Pope John Paul II, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, planing to blow up the Empire State Building, Heathrow Airport, Big Ben, Canary Wharf and the Panama Canal.
Former Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski acknowledged that he knew the site existed but claimed that he did not know torture tactics were being used on its prisoners. Polish officials have issued denials regarding the site for years, I suppose they’ve suddenly turned over a new leaf now that evidence implicating Poland has appeared….
Asked if he knew what was happening inside, he said: “About what the CIA was doing? No. Inside the site, no.”
Standing alongside Leszek Miller, who was Polish prime minister at the time the secret site was operating, Kwasniewski said Poland had asked the U.S. government to sign a document asserting the people at the facility would be treated in accordance with Polish law and humanitarian norms.
“The memorandum was not signed by the American side,” said Kwasniewski. He said the CIA’s secrecy about what it was doing at the site caused concern among Polish officials, prompting him to ask the U.S. government to close it down by the end of 2003.
According to the Senate report, the CIA paid a large sum of money for the site, which brought a more…. flexible approach from initially skeptical host country officials. Kwasniewski had claimed that if cash was received from the CIA, it was not related to the site.
Adam Bodnar, vice-president of the Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights who helped bring the case against Poland to the European Court of Human Rights, said ignorance about what the CIA was doing was not a defense.
“I think President Kwasniewski was wise enough at the time to know that the Americans would probably use some additional techniques” on the detainees, Bodnar told Reuters.
“It does not really matter whether they knew or didn’t know about what the CIA were doing there. In Poland, you cannot deprive anyone of their liberty without the authorization of a court. It’s as simple as that.”
Cat’s Eye, Thailand
Not much is known about this site, other than the fact that officials would eventually change the code name fearing that it would come across as racially insensitive.
Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane, Guantanamo Bay Cuba
Named after a Beatles song, at one point CIA officials had “joked” that detainees would be, as often repeated in the lyrics, held there “forever”.
Counterpart to the above facility was another also named after a Beatles song was “Penny Lane”. A collection of cottages with their own patios, it was used to train double agents; detainees were given better accommodation and rewards compared to other Guantanamo detainees. Ironically only the most likely terror suspects were chosen for the program, due to their close ties with Al Qaeda. Most of these simply disappeared once they were released. Obama was aware of this program after taking office, and after ordering an investigation on the results soon started ordering drone strikes.
The Very Worst of The Torture Report
The following is a summary of the best, or worst, findings of the torture report. Further, it should be noted that although these black sites were known to some degree a long time ago, which probably led to the eventual closure of some and the rotation of prisoners to new sites that even today may be unknown, the torture report has finally brought to light the true severity and heinousness of the men who authorised the level of abuse that has occurred within, notwithstanding their claims of being unaware of the acts or the increased level of danger to operatives and countries that had aided in their deceit.
Waterboarding was commonplace
Despite CIA claims that only three detainees were ever waterboarded: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd Al Rahim al-Nashiri, the torture report reveals that many more than just the three were tortured. A photograph of a “well worn” waterboard was described, surrounded by buckets of water at a detention facility that the CIA had claimed had never subjected a single prisoner to the torture technique. The CIA was unable to explain the presence of the waterboard; apparently it must have been part of their “War on Laundry”.
Waterboarding IS very dangerous
Despite the “VERY” reputable claims of the CIA that waterboarding was a far safer variant of surfboarding, the Senate report says that the waterboarding was physically harmful, leading to convulsions and vomiting. During one session, detainee Abu Zubaydah became “completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open full mouth.” As mentioned previously, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded at least 183 times, which the Senate report describes as escalating into a “series of near drownings.” Most people would admit that they were the first men to live on Mars by the 25th near-drowning episode. By the 50th they would be convinced that they WERE Martians.
Torture from beginning to End
Beginning with Abu Zubaydah, followed by many others, the CIA began using their worst torture techniques without first trying to elicit information in an “open, non-threatening manner,” the committee found. The torture continued nearly non-stop, for days or weeks at a time.
Zubaydah had been shot several times during his capture: In the chest, groin and leg. He still had fragments in these wounds. The FBI were the first to interrogate him, and had used traditional techniques (they had nursed his wounds in order to gain his confidence) which had caused Zubaydah to reveal information implicating two men. By the way, this runs counter to Bush’s claim that torture was necessary in order to obtain this information.
Two weeks after the FBI had arrived, the CIA took over with their brutal torture techniques. Ali Soufan, one of the two FBI agents sent there, was shocked by their techniques.
At one point, Soufan discovered a dark wooden “confinement box” that the CIA had built for Abu Zubaydah. It looked, Soufan recalls, “like a coffin.” The agent called Pasquale D’Amuro, then the FBI assistant director for counterterrorism. “I swear to God,” he shouted, “I’m going to arrest these guys!”
D’Amuro and other officials were alarmed at what they heard from Soufan. According to a later Justice Department inspector general’s report, D’Amuro warned FBI Director Bob Mueller that such activities would eventually be investigated. “Someday, people are going to be sitting in front of green felt tables having to testify about all of this,” D’Amuro said.
Throughout his torture, the CIA had instructed personnel at the site that his “interrogation” should take “precedence over his medical care.” This led to an infection of one of his wounds. These instructions ran counter with what they had told the Justice Department regarding how they would treat prisoners. His left eye had also mysteriously disappeared while he was in their custody, though no prior injury would seem to justify its removal.
Eating without your mouth, among other horrible abuses
Rectal feeding and rectal hydration were other common techniques of torture, with one officer noting that “While IV infusion is safe and effective,” rectal hydration could be used as a form of “behavior” control.
Prisoners were made to stand for up to 180 hours at a time, sometimes with hands shackled above their heads, depriving them of sleep for more than seven days at a time.
Detainees were forced to walk around naked, or permanently shackled with hands above their heads. Others were hooded and dragged around, beaten up in the process.
At least one facility had prisoners stored in perpetual darkness, shacked in their cells with constant loud noise and music and a single bucket for the disposal of waste.
Although the CIA claimed publicly that they only held around 100 prisoners (what have we learnt regarding the trustworthiness of CIA words?); the committee had found at least 119 prisoners in their custody.
“The fact is they lost track and they didn’t really know who they were holding,” the Senate aide said, noting that investigators had found emails in which CIA personnel were “surprised” to find some people in their custody. The CIA had also independently determined that at least 26 of its detainees were wrongfully held. Due to the agency’s poor record-keeping (purposefully poor), it may never be known precisely how many detainees were held, and how they were treated in custody, the committee found. At this point I worry that most of those who are not on the books are dead or languishing in even more decrepit locales. Forever indeed.
No useful intelligence
As alluded to in Abu Zubaydah’s case, the report concludes that the CIA’s interrogation did not yield information that could have been derived from more conventional means of interrogation.
“When you put detainees through these [torture sessions] they will say whatever they can say to get the interrogations to stop,” the Senate aide said.
The torture report reveals that of the 20 examples cited by the CIA of intelligence “successes” no relationship was found between the techniques used and the success.
Information that had been found via torture could at best only be found to have corrorated information that had been already available to the intelligence community from other sources such as reports, communication intercepts, information from law-enforcement agencies and information obtained via normal interrogation. The CIA had told policymakers and the Department of Justice that the information from torture was unique or “otherwise unavailable.” Such information comes from the “kind of good national-security tradecraft that we rely on to stop terrorist plots at all times,” the Senate aide said.
In developing the enhanced interrogation techniques, the report said, the CIA failed to review the historical use of coercive interrogations. The resulting techniques were described as “discredited coercive interrogation techniques such as those used by torturous regimes during the Cold War to elicit false confessions”. The CIA admitted that it never properly reviewed the effectiveness of these techniques (despite the fact that it doesn’t take a historian to tell you that torture doesn’t work), despite the urging of the CIA inspector general, congressional leadership, and Condoleezza Rice.
Can anyone say “corruption”?
The CIA had only relied on two psychologists with experience at the Air Force’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school to help develop, run, and assess the interrogation program. Neither of the two had interrogation experience, nor had they been privy to specialized knowledge of Al Qaeda, counter-terrorism or any languages used by suspects. In 2005 the two of them had simply formed a company, after which the CIA had outsourced all aspects of the torture program to them, whereupon the two were paid more than 80 million dollars for their services.
Can anyone say “plausible deniability?”
The Panetta Review, an internal CIA report, found that there were inaccuracies in the manner that they had chosen to convey the effectiveness of interrogation techniques- they claim to have even misled the president about this. The CIA’s own records also contradict the “evidence” they had provided to prove that they had thwarted some terrorist attacks or captured suspects via the use of torture. There were cases in which White House questions were not even answered truthfully or completely. If the CIA were really lying to the president(s), I would expect more than a few heads to roll. If not, this was a case of simply not wanting to know.
The CIA had briefed the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee of their plans early on. Senate investigators have found a draft summary of that meeting, written by CIA lawyers, noting that the House Intelligence Committee had “questioned the legality of these techniques.” The lawyers promptly deleted that line from the final version of the summary. “Short and sweet,” a former top spy Jose Rodriguez had written, approving the new summary that conveniently failed to mention that lawmakers had expressed concerns about the legality of the program.
Threatening to harm children, rape mothers
CIA agents had threatened to harm the children of detainees’, and even sexually abuse their mothers and “cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.”. Several prisoners were even made to believe that they would die in custody, with one being told that he would leave in a coffin-shaped box.
“Officers” in the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program even included individuals who “among other things, had engaged in inappropriate detainee interrogations, had workplace anger management issues, and had reportedly admitted to sexual assault.”