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Extrajudicial prisoners of the United States, in the context of the early twenty-first century War on Terrorism, refers to foreign nationals the United States detains outside of the legal process required within United States legal jurisdiction. In this context, the U.S. government was accused of maintaining covert interrogation centers, called black sites, operated by both known and secret intelligence agencies.[1][2] Such black sites were later confirmed by reports from journalists, investigations and from men who had been imprisoned and interrogated there, and later released.

Of these prisoners being held by the US, some were suspected of being from the senior ranks of al Qaeda, referred to in U.S. military terms as "high value detainees." According to the Swiss senator Dick Marty's reports on Secret Detentions and Illegal Transfers of Detainees involving Council of Europe Member States, about a hundred persons had been kidnapped by the CIA on European territory and subsequently rendered to countries where they may have been tortured.[1][2]

Former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, had described the men detained in Camp Delta at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as "the worst of the worst.". But, before September 2006, many of those detainees suspected of having the highest intelligence value were not detained at Guantanamo, but were held at CIA "black sites," secret prisons in Eastern Europe and other countries, including Afghanistan.

In August 2010, it was reported that four high-value detainees: Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Nashiri, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and Mustafa al-Hawsawi, had first been transferred to Guantanamo on September 24, 2003. They were held at "Strawberry Fields", a secret camp in the complex constructed for their detention.[3] Worried that a pending Supreme Court decision on habeas corpus rights might go against the Bush administration and compel releasing the men's names and other details, the CIA took back custody of the four men and moved them out of Guantanamo on March 27, 2004.[3][4]

The United States Supreme Court ruled in Rasul v. Bush (2004) that detainees at Guantanamo Bay detention camp had the habeas corpus right to challenge their detentions before an impartial tribunal. As a result, the US continued to hold many ghost detainees outside Guantanamo Bay and the United States in order to avoid any review of their cases.

These four men and other high-value CIA detainees were not transferred again to military custody at Guantanamo until September 2006. At that time, the Bush administration was assured of passage by Congress of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which included provisions preventing detainees from using habeas corpus petitions outside the newly authorized system of military tribunals.

Ghost detainees

Ghost detainees are extrajudicial prisoners whose identities have not been revealed and whose families (and frequently, governments) have not been informed of their status. They are deprived of any Habeas Corpus rights. Ghost detainees' identities, and capture, have been kept secret. As such they are a subset of extrajudicial prisoners, which includes all the detainees who were held in Guantanamo, etc.[citation needed]

Suspects held by US civilian intelligence agencies

High-value detainees

On September 6, 2006, American President George W. Bush confirmed, for the first time, that the CIA had held "high-value detainees" in secret interrogation centers.[citation needed] He also announced that fourteen senior captives were being transferred from CIA custody to military custody at Guantanamo Bay. He said that these fourteen captives could expect to face charges soon before Guantanamo military commissions.

Critics, and elements of the FBI, had long speculated that the captives held in the secret interrogation centres had been subjected to abusive interrogation techniques, or torture. They said that evidence derived from such coercive interrogations was not admissible in court and could not be used to prosecute the men.[citation needed] Transfer of these fourteen men were said to have emptied the CIA's secret interrogation centers. Critics pointed out that Bush had not announced that the CIA's secret interrogation centers were being closed.[citation needed]

The fourteen "high-value detainees" transferred on September 6, 2006
Name Notes
10011 Mustafa al-Hawsawi
  • believed to have arranged large wire transfers of funds to finance terrorist operations.[5]
  • captured in Pakistan in March 2003
  • transferred from CIA custody to Guantanamo in September 2003; withdrawn and transferred back to CIA custody in March 2004[3]
  • President Bush announced his transfer to the Guantanamo Bay detainment camps, in Cuba, on September 6, 2006.[6]
10012 Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani
  • helped plan the 1998 embassy bombings.[5]
  • captured July 25, 2004
  • President Bush announced his transfer to the Guantanamo Bay detainment camps, in Cuba, on September 6, 2006.[6]
  • convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to life in prison without parole
  • held at ADX Supermax in Floremce, Colorado.
10013 Ramzi bin al-Shibh
  • believed to be another planner of the 9-11 attacks.[5]
  • shared a Hamburg apartment with Mohamed Atta, the ringleader of the 9-11 hijackers.
  • transferred from CIA custody to Guantanamo in September 2003; withdrawn and transferred back to CIA custody in March 2004[3]
  • President Bush announced his transfer to the Guantanamo Bay detainment camps, in Cuba, on September 6, 2006.[6][7]
10014 Waleed Muhammad bin Attash
  • allegedly tied to both the USS Cole bombing and 9-11[5][8]
  • captured on April 29, 2003
  • Human Rights Watch reports he is said to have described ties between Iran and al Qaeda during his interrogation
  • President Bush announced his transfer to the Guantanamo Bay detainment camps, in Cuba, on September 6, 2006.[6]
10015 Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri
  • believed to be the mastermind of the USS Cole bombing.[5]
  • believed to have organized the Limburg tanker bombing
  • captured in November 2002
  • transferred from CIA custody to Guantanamo in September 2003; withdrawn and transferred back to CIA custody in March 2004[3]
  • President Bush announced his transfer to the Guantanamo Bay detainment camps, in Cuba, on September 6, 2006.[6]
10016 Abu Zubaydah
  • believed to have run a military training camp associated with al Qaeda.[5]
  • believed to have played a role in the 2000 millennium attack plots
  • transferred from CIA custody to Guantanamo in September 2003; withdrawn and transferred back to CIA custody in March 2004[3]
  • President Bush announced his transfer to the Guantanamo Bay detainment camps, in Cuba, on September 6, 2006.[6]
  • Later revealed to have been a low-level player and not significant[9]
  • Because of having suffered torture, he has never been charged[9]
10017 Abu Faraj al-Libi
10018 Ali Abdul Aziz Ali
  • helped transfer funds to the 9-11 hijackers.[5]
  • arrested on April 29, 2003
  • President Bush announced his transfer to the Guantanamo Bay detainment camps, in Cuba, on September 6, 2006.[6]
10019 Hambali
10020 Majid Khan
10021 Mohamad Farik Amin
  • reported arrested in June 2003.[5]
  • helped scout the sites of terror bombings in Thailand
10022 Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep
10023 Gouled Hassan Dourad
  • Transferred to Guantanamo on September 6, 2006.[5]
10024 Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
  • Allegedly played a role in the WTC bombing 1993.[5]
  • Allegedly worked on Operation Bojinka
  • Allegedly one of the architects of 9-11.
  • Detained at various CIA black sites for about 3 years.
  • Waterboarded 183 times while in CIA custody.
  • Transfer to the Guantanamo Bay detainment camps in September 2006.

Other captives in custody

American intelligence officials have made public the names of some of the suspects the CIA has reported to have been held. The capture of other detainees is not acknowledged.[citation needed] According to the US military, this is in order to spread disorder among their opponents.[citation needed]

Other captives reported to have been held in CIA custody
Name Notes
Jamil al-Banna
  • told his lawyers he was detained in "the dark prison" in Kabul
  • arrested in Gambia with Bisher al-Rawi
  • claims the CIA offered him $10 million to serve as a mole against Abu Qatada
  • He was transferred to military custody at Guantanamo Bay detainment camp in March 2003 and held there until December 19, 2007.
Muhammed al-Darbi
Omar al-Faruq
  • alleged to have been a liaison with Southeast Asian Islamic militants[8]
  • arrested June 5, 2002
  • escaped from Bagram prison in July 2005
  • killed by British troops in Iraq on September 25, 2006.
Abd al-Salam Ali al-Hila
  • currently detained in Camp Delta
  • told his lawyers he was detained in "the dark prison" in Kabul
Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi
  • currently detained in Guantanamo
Adil al-Jazeeri
  • said to have been a liaison between al Qaeda and the Taliban[8]
  • believed to have been involved in transferring funds for terrorist activities.
  • captured on June 17, 2003; transferred to US custody on July 13, 2003
  • US State department confirmed custody in December 2003, location unknown
Yassir al-Jazeeri
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi
  • may have been the first detainee to have been subjected to coercive interrogation techniques.[13]
  • reported Iraq had an arsenal of WMD, and provided al Qaeda with WMD training, cited in Powell's UN speech
  • Recanted the WMD claim after the invasion; the US did not find any WMD in Iraq
  • extradited to Libya and died in prison
Bisher al-Rawi
  • currently detained in Camp Delta
  • told his lawyers he was detained in "the dark prison" in Kabul
  • arrested in Gambia with Jamil al-Banna
  • now claims he was already co-operating with MI5 in their surveillance of Abu Qatada
Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi
  • One of the 25 top al Qaeda leadership members.[14]
  • al-Sharqawi is called "Riyadh the Facilitator,"
  • al-Sharqawi is said to have been captured before April 2002.
Mohammed Omar Abdel-Rahman
  • extradited to Egypt and released in 2010
Musaad Aruchi
Hassin Bin Attash
  • currently detained in Camp Delta
  • told his lawyers he was detained in "the dark prison" in Kabul
  • claims he was tortured in the black sites
  • 17 years old when captured
  • brother of Waleed Muhammad bin Attash
Abdul Aziz
Abu Faisal
Hassan Ghul
  • He was held at a CIA black site for two years, before being turned over to a Pakistani prison system and released. Killed in a CIA drone strike in Pakistan in October 2012.[15]
Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan
  • alleged Al-Qaeda operative and computer expert.
  • agreed to be a mole after his capture on July 13, 2004[citation needed]
  • mole status outed by Condoleezza Rice on August 2, 2004[citation needed]
  • released on 20 August 2007, without charge.
Tariq Mahmood
Binyam Mohammed
  • told his lawyers he was detained in "the dark prison" in Kabul
  • claims he was tortured in the black sites
  • On 23 February 2009, almost seven years after his arrest, Mohamed was repatriated from Guantánamo to the UK, where he was released after questioning.
Khalid El-Masri
  • German citizen wrongfully labelled terror-suspect, became a high-value detainee.
  • Abducted at behest of CIA by Macedonian police, based on "hunch" of CIA officer.
  • Raped in Skopje, rendered to Afghanistan, held in CIA Salt Pit; tortured by CIA.
  • Released (flown back to Macedonia, "dumped on a road, blindfolded") after CIA realized mistake.
  • US government warned German government to not press charges against CIA.[16]
  • US courts refused to hear El-Masri's case; he was represented by the ACLU.
  • European Court of Human Rights ruled in El-Masri's favor, stating that it was "beyond a reasonable doubt" that he had been tortured in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Legal status of detainees

Shortly after the Invasion of Afghanistan, the Bush administration announced a policy that combatants captured "on the battlefield" in Afghanistan would not be afforded the protections of POW status as described in the Geneva Conventions. This policy triggered debate both within and outside of the US government. The Bush administration claimed that the Geneva Conventions signed by the US protected only the fighters of recognized states, thus disqualifying al Qaeda fighters from these privileges as per the Bush administration's views. They argued that, since the Taliban was not a legitimate government either, their combatants did not qualify either. They saw Afghanistan as a "failed state," one without a legitimate government.

Classifying captives as illegal combatants

The Bush administration categorises such captives "illegal combatants" or "unlawful combatants." These terms are not explicitly used in the Geneva Conventions. But, the third Geneva Convention, signed prior to World War II, defines the term "lawful combatant", from which the term 'unlawful combatant' is derived. The Convention obliges signatories to afford captured lawful combatants significant rights and protections. Such captives are entitled to be classified as Prisoners of War (POW). Internal critics within the US military and US government argue that failing to afford POW protections to combatants captured in the global war on terror would endanger American soldiers when they were captured in current and future conflicts. Other critics argue that classifying all combatants as illegal combatants is in violation of article 5 of the third Geneva Convention, which describes how a captor should treat combatants who are suspected of violating the Geneva Conventions such that they strip themselves of its protections. Article 5 says that combatants suspected of violations of the Conventions are to be afforded POW protection until the captors have convened a "competent tribunal."

The Bush administration expanded the criteria for classifying captives as illegal combatants. Individuals captured around the world are now classified as such if US intelligence officials believe they have sufficient evidence to tie the individual to Islamic terrorism.

In Rasul v. Bush (2004), the US Supreme Court ruled that detainees held by the United States did have the habeas corpus right to challenge their detentions before a competent tribunal. This decision led the Bush administration to bolster the prevalence of illegal black sites overseas.

Use of interrogation techniques

The US intelligence community has debated what techniques should be used on the detainees.[13] The debate was triggered over the interrogation of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, described as the first senior al Qaeda captive.[citation needed] It was reported that initially his interrogation was being conducted by the FBI because they had the most experience interrogating criminal suspects.[citation needed] Their interrogation approach was based on building rapport with suspects and they did not use coercive techniques.[citation needed] They argued that coercive techniques produced unreliable false confessions, and that using coercive techniques would mean that the evidence they gathered could not be used by the prosecution in a trial in the US judicial system.[13]

Fear and desire for actionable intelligence led the administration to legal opinions (the Torture Memos, including the Bybee memo) by the Office of Legal Counsel, United States Department of Justice, issued to the CIA in August 2002 authorizing the use of 12 enhanced interrogation techniques (since 2009, these have been legally defined as torture and prohibited from use) with detained suspects.

Similarly, on March 14, 2003, five days before the US started its 2003 invasion of Iraq, the OLC issued a memo to William J. Haynes, General Counsel of the United States Department of Defense, concluding that federal laws against the use of torture and other coercion did not apply to interrogations overseas. In reaction to the release of the abuse pictures from Abu Ghraib in Iraq in April and May 2004, and the leak that summer of the Bybee memo, the administration advised agencies to suspend actions based on those memos. CIA suspended the use of enhanced interrogation techniques.[17]

Legal justification for the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques"

Secretary Rumsfeld assured the world that the detainees held in Guantánamo Bay were going to be treated in a manner consistent with the treatment of Geneva Convention POWs. In 2004, confidential memos surfaced that discussed the limits to how much pain, discomfort and fear could be used in the interrogation of detainees in the global war on terror. The memos showed that debate within the Bush administration had been resolved in favor of what was later legally determined to be torture.

Legislative challenges to interrogation policy

In 2005, US Senator John McCain, a former POW from the Vietnam War, attached a passage to a military spending bill that would proscribe inhumane treatment of detainees and restrict US officials to use only the interrogation techniques in the US Army's field manual on interrogation. Ninety of the one hundred Senators supported this amendment.

On Thursday, October 20, 2005, Vice President Dick Cheney proposed a change to McCain. Cheney tried to get McCain to limit the proscription to just military personnel, thus allowing CIA personnel the freedom to use harsher techniques. McCain declined to accept Cheney's suggestion.[18]

U.S. Government denial of allegations of mistreatment

The United States government, through the State Department, makes periodic reports to the United Nations Committee Against Torture. In October 2005, the report focused on pretrial detention of suspects in the war on terrorism, including those held in Guantánamo Bay and Afghanistan. This was the first official response of the U.S. government to allegations that prisoners were mistreated at Guantánamo Bay detention camp. The report denies the allegations. However, the report does not address detainees held elsewhere by the CIA. Recently, the Director of the CIA, Michael Hayden has acknowledged that some detainees had been subject to waterboarding, in accordance with several OLC (Office of Legal Counsel) memos. General Hayden states that in February 2008, waterboarding was not part of the authorized interrogation techniques for U.S. agents.

The CIA's Inspector General investigated cases in which men were captured and transported through "erroneous renditions." There were said to be 3,000 individuals who were held in CIA custody.[19]

Geneva Conventions compliance

On July 20, 2007, President Bush issued an executive order officially banning torture of POWs by intelligence officials.[20] Amnesty International points out that the Bush administration has narrowly defined torture under the Bybee memo, at the time, the only known one of the Torture Memos. While US is a signatory to the Geneva Convention, it has failed to ratify that portion of the Geneva Convention, Protocol I, which would grant such persons POW status as the detainees at Guantanamo.[20][Clarification needed] The US is one of only six countries that have not.

Location of the suspects held by US civilian intelligence agencies

Orthographic projection centred over Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

Location Details
USS Bataan John Walker Lindh, a United States citizen, was held for two months in a secure facility aboard the USS Bataan. Human rights critics believe he was one of half a dozen high-value detainees held there.
The Salt Pit
  • a clandestine, remote, CIA detention facility in Afghanistan
  • German national Khalid El-Masri, whose name was similar to that of a suspected senior al Qaeda cadre who was still at large, was arrested in Macedonia and transferred by their police to the CIA, who took him to this location. Agents detained and interrogated him for five months in the winter of 2004.[21] The agency found it was mistaken and released him in Albania in late 2004. In 2012 El-Masri's account was held valid "beyond a reasonable doubt," and he was awarded compensation for his torture and suffering by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, which held Macedonia responsible for knowingly transferring him to the CIA and possible torture.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1
  2. 2.0 2.1
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman (2010-08-07). "AP Exclusive: CIA flight carried secret from Gitmo". Associated Press.  mirror
  4. Scott Horton (2010-08-06). "Three-Card Monte at Gitmo". Harper's Mmagazine. Retrieved 2010-08-11.  mirror
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 "Detainee Biographies" (PDF). Office of the Director of National Intelligence. September 6, 2006. Retrieved April 18, 2007. 
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 Bush confirms existence of secret CIA prisons for high-value terror detainees, The Jurist, September 6, 2006
  7. Bush Acknowledges Existence of Secret CIA Prisons, Voice of America, September 6, 2006
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 document "The United States’ "Disappeared", The CIA’s Long-Term "Ghost Detainees""]. Human Rights Watch. pp. 7. document]. Retrieved 2008-08-26. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Peter Finn and Julie Tate, "CIA Says It Misjudged Role of High-Value Detainee Abu Zubaidah, Transcript Shows", Washington Post, 16 June 2009, accessed 21 January 2013
  10. FBI NY announces conviction of Uzair Paracha, November 25, 2005
  11. U.S. Decries Abuse but Defends Interrogations: 'Stress and Duress' Tactics Used on Terrorism Suspects Held in Secret Overseas Facilities, Washington Post, December 26, 2002
  12. "List of 'Ghost Prisoners' Possibly in CIA Custody". Media with Conscience. 2005-05-30. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 "Al Qaeda-Iraq Link Recanted: Captured Libyan Reverses Previous Statement to CIA, Officials Say". Washington Post. 2004-08-01. Retrieved May 2, 2010.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "WaPo040801" defined multiple times with different content
  14. Al-Qaida killed/captured , MSNBC
  15. Documents reveal NSA’s extensive involvement in targeted killing program
  17. Priest, Dana (2004-06-27). "CIA Puts Harsh Tactics On Hold: Memo on Methods Of Interrogation Had Wide Review". Washington Post. Retrieved May 2, 2010. 
  18. Smith, R. Jeffrey; White, Josh (2005-10-25). "Cheney Plan Exempts CIA From Bill Barring Abuse of Detainees". Washington Post. Retrieved May 2, 2010. 
  19. Priest, Dana (2005-12-04). "Wrongful Imprisonment: Anatomy of a CIA Mistake: German Citizen Released After Months in 'Rendition'". Washington Post. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 Morgan, David (2007-07-20). "Bush orders CIA to comply with Geneva Conventions". Reuters. Retrieved 2007-07-20. 
  21. "CIA accused of detaining innocent man: If the agency knew he was the wrong man, why was he held?", MSNBC, April 21, 2005

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