A human rights group is asking President Bush to disclose the fates of all terror suspects held since 2001, including at least 16 it believes have been locked up in secret CIA facilities.
Human Rights Watch said it compiled a report about the 16, whose whereabouts are unknown, along with 22 others possibly held by the CIA, based on interviews with former detainees, press reports and other sources.
The report — “Ghost Prisoner: Two Years in Secret CIA Detention” — includes an accounting from Marwan Jabour, a Palestinian who says he was held incommunicado for more than two years by the United States and Pakistan.
Human Rights Watch interviewed Jabour in December and is telling his story as part of a push for more information from the Bush administration. Jabour says he was beaten, burned with an iron, held naked and chained to the wall of his cell so tightly that he could not stand up.
His imprisonment ended last summer when the United States flew him to Jordan from a secret detention facility that he believed to be in Afghanistan, he says. By September, he says the Jordanians turned him over to the Israelis. Six weeks later, he was let go in the Gaza Strip, where the 30-year-old had family.
U.S. counterterrorism officials would not confirm Jabour’s account but said they view him as one of al-Qaida’s most dangerous.
In a letter to Bush on Monday, Joanne Mariner, director of Human Rights Watch’s terrorism and counterterrorism program, said her organization recognizes some terror suspects may have committed crimes that merit incarceration. Yet “the decision to imprison such persons must be taken in accordance with legal processes,” she said.
Rather than vanishing, they should be charged with crimes, she said.
CIA stands by interrogations
In a statement, CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said the agency’s interrogation program has been conducted lawfully — “with great care and close review, producing vital information that has helped disrupt plots and save lives.”
Gimigliano said that is also true of renditions, when terror suspects are taken from one country to another for questioning. He called it “another key, lawful tool in the fight against terror.”
“The United States does not conduct or condone torture, nor does it transfer anyone to other countries for the purpose of torture,” Gimigliano said.
There was no immediate comment on Jabour’s claims from any of the other countries said to have been involved in his incarceration. A senior counterterrorism official at Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior said he would not comment for publication until he had seen the Human Rights Watch report. In Jordan, government spokesman Nasser Judeh was said to be unavailable for comment.
In his interviews with Human Rights Watch, Jabour acknowledged only some ties to Arab militants. He said he trained in a militant camp in Afghanistan in 1998, went to Afghanistan in 2001 for a couple of weeks after the U.S.-led invasion and helped Arab militants who fled Afghanistan in 2003.
Claims of abuse in Pakistan
Jabour said he was arrested in Lahore, Pakistan, in May 2004. He said he suffered the worst physical abuses during more than a month in Pakistani custody. Later, in American custody, he said he was held naked for about six weeks and only gradually earned clothing. He described circumstances consistent with other detainee reports, including loud music, shackles and small, isolated cells.
But he said conditions gradually improved. He told Human Rights Watch that he was eventually moved to a larger, quieter room and given access to books. A year into his detention, he was allowed to see a movie once a week, choosing from a library of more than 200 films.
Jabour said he was transferred to Jordanian custody last summer and was handed over to the Israelis on Sept. 18. Within days, he said, he met with a lawyer and a judge. Within weeks, he was released.
His status changed as Bush publicly acknowledged the CIA’s secret prison program and said he was transferring the last 14 of the agency’s detainees to Pentagon custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“There are now no terrorists in the CIA program,” Bush said in September. “But as more high-ranking terrorists are captured, the need to obtain intelligence from them will remain critical — and having a CIA program for questioning terrorists will continue to be crucial to getting lifesaving information.”
'Blind Sheikh' on list of 16
Human Rights Watch is asking what happened to the rest of the detainees who are believed to have traveled through the CIA’s hands.
The group has a list of 16 that it believes were in CIA custody, including Mustafa Setmarian Nasar. The red-haired Syrian with Spanish citizenship is considered a jihadist ideologue and writer. U.S. officials have confirmed that he was seized in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta in November 2005, and Pakistani officials said he was flown out of the country.
The list also includes Mohammed Omar Abdel-Rahman, the son of the “Blind Sheikh.” The father is serving life in prison for crimes related to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 plots against New York landmarks.
Human Rights Watch said the U.S. may have transferred the detainees to other countries that are cooperating with the CIA. The group worries that the detainees could have been returned to their home countries — including Syria, Algeria, Egypt or Libya — where torture is common.