Posted by: sean | November 12, 2005

Black sites and torture, again

Because I’ve been spending so much time on the riots here, I haven’t put anyhting up on the recent discovery of CIA “black sites,” which make up a system of covert prisons located at various times in 8 different coutries, including Afghanistan, Thailand, Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Poland and Romania.

The story was first broken by the Washington Post, which declined to name the “several democracies in Eastern Europe” that have been accused of hosting these prisons, which would be illegal under US and international law, because of the torture techniques used there and the prisoner’s lack of recourse to any legal system.

It is illegal for the government to hold prisoners in such isolation in secret prisons in the United States, which is why the CIA placed them overseas, according to several former and current intelligence officials and other U.S. government officials. Legal experts and intelligence officials said that the CIA’s internment practices also would be considered illegal under the laws of several host countries, where detainees have rights to have a lawyer or to mount a defense against allegations of wrongdoing.

Host countries have signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as has the United States. Yet CIA interrogators in the overseas sites are permitted to use the CIA’s approved “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques,” some of which are prohibited by the U.N. convention and by U.S. military law. They include tactics such as “waterboarding,” in which a prisoner is made to believe he or she is drowning.

According to the Post Article, the black sites are the highest level of the covert prison network, which includes a second tier for detainees deemed less important who are then “rendered” to other countries.

More than 100 suspected terrorists have been sent by the CIA into the covert system, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials and foreign sources. This figure, a rough estimate based on information from sources who said their knowledge of the numbers was incomplete, does not include prisoners picked up in Iraq.

The detainees break down roughly into two classes, the sources said.

About 30 are considered major terrorism suspects and have been held under the highest level of secrecy at black sites financed by the CIA and managed by agency personnel, including those in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, according to current and former intelligence officers and two other U.S. government officials. Two locations in this category — in Thailand and on the grounds of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay — were closed in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

A second tier — which these sources believe includes more than 70 detainees — is a group considered less important, with less direct involvement in terrorism and having limited intelligence value. These prisoners, some of whom were originally taken to black sites, are delivered to intelligence services in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Afghanistan and other countries, a process sometimes known as “rendition.” While the first-tier black sites are run by CIA officers, the jails in these countries are operated by the host nations, with CIA financial assistance and, sometimes, direction.

Morocco, Egypt and Jordan have said that they do not torture detainees, although years of State Department human rights reports accuse all three of chronic prisoner abuse.

The top 30 al Qaeda prisoners exist in complete isolation from the outside world. Kept in dark, sometimes underground cells, they have no recognized legal rights, and no one outside the CIA is allowed to talk with or even see them, or to otherwise verify their well-being, said current and former and U.S. and foreign government and intelligence officials.

After this piece, the Financial Times picked up the ball and published the names of Romania and Poland as two of the eastern European coutries that have hosted covert CIA prisons. Poland was recently accepted into the EU and Romania is scheduled to become a member in 2007. Apparently, there has been a fair ammount of eastern European cooperation during the CIA practice of rendiditon, in which countries in the region allow the CIA to refuel and transfer prisoners in transit to Egypt, Saudia Arabia, Morocco, Uzbekistan, Syria and Jordan, where they are then “interrogated” by local intelligence agencies.

All of this comes when Vice President Dick Cheney has been lobbying Congress to exempt the CIA from an explicit ban on torture proposed by Republican Senator John McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, however, seemed to have been convinced by Cheney.

According to the Financial Times article, Deborah Pearlstein, director of the US law and security programme at Human Rights First, has attacked the VP’s actions.

Ms Pearlstein attacked efforts by Dick Cheney, vice-president, to have the CIA exempted from legislation proposed by Senator John McCain that would reaffirm the illegality of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners held by the US.

The American Civil Liberties Union recently released details of autopsy and death reports it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. It said 21 deaths were listed as homicides. Eight people appeared to have died during or after interrogation by Navy Seals, military intelligence and “OGA” ? Other Governmental Agency, which is commonly used to refer to the CIA.

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