One night in October 2001, shortly after al-Qaeda’s attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, a private jet touched down in Karachi. Masood Anwar, a prominent Pakistani journalist, received an unexpected tip from a friend in the airport: “There were men in masks. They took a hooded man onboard in the early hours. Someone videotaped the entire thing. No one was allowed near the site.”
Anwar’s story, although no one knew it at the time, would be the start of a thread which led to the heart of the Central Intelligence Agency’s most secret “War on Terror” operation: the “rendition, detention, interrogation” (RDI) programme, a nine-year covert effort which had scores of prisoners flown around the globe to be tortured in undisclosed sites.
The CIA started by grabbing terror suspects off the streets and transferring them in secret to interrogators in the Middle East. But soon the agency decided it needed to run its own detention facilities, or “black sites”. Over the next few years, it set up a network of prisons and a fleet of private jets to move people between them.
In December 2014, the Bureau, alongside The Rendition Project, began a major project to trace the history of the RDI programme. The impetus for our investigation came from the long-awaited publication of a report into CIA torture by the US Senate Select Intelligence Committee. The authors of this report had high-level access to internal CIA documents, which they mined to produce a damning assessment of the torture programme’s brutality, mismanagement and ineffectiveness. But they were compelled by the Obama administration, and by the CIA itself, to censor — “redact” — all parts of the report that could identify specific times and places where abuses had occurred.
This is important, because without being able to tie illegal activities to specific times and places, the quest for redress is hamstrung, and meaningful accountability — legal, public, historical — remains a mirage.
In the days after the publication of the Senate report, we set to work reconstructing this list to reveal the hidden dates. Figuring out a date often meant that we could match it to a flight record; matching to a flight record meant that we could determine where a prisoner was brought from or sent to. As we cross-correlated thousands of data points — from declassified government documents, footnotes in the Senate report, aviation data, records of corporate outsourcing of rendition flights, legal cases, media reporting and NGO investigations — the contours of the CIA’s programme of secret detention and torture began to emerge more clearly. Rather than just understanding certain individual histories, we could begin to discern the entire scope of the programme’s development.
More than four years later, we’re publishing the results of our investigation in a 400-page report entitled CIA Torture Unredacted. It is the first time that the entirety of the CIA’s detention programme has been systematically revealed.
When the Senate Committee released their report, fewer than half the names on the list of prisoners were known. We reported in 2015 that only 36 of those held by the CIA had been taken on to Guantanamo Bay, while the fate of many of the others remained a mystery. Seized in secret, held in secret, they were then disposed of in secret — some back to their homes, some into continued custody in other countries, again often in secret.
Last year, some of our findings were cited in two judgments at the European Court of Human Rights, which held that Romania and Lithuania had assisted the US in illegally holding prisoners incommunicado on their territory. Elsewhere, our work has assisted legal teams, police inquiries and citizen accountability projects.
CIA Torture Unredacted is the most comprehensive public account of one of the most disturbing elements of the ‘War on Terror’: a global programme of systematic disappearance and torture, carried out by the world’s most powerful liberal democratic states in contravention of laws which they purport to uphold. In the face of continued obstruction and denial by the governments involved, we hope that it will stand as a central reference point for all those interested in accountability, truth and the rule of law.
“…This report, and The Rendition Project’s website, provide, without doubt, the most detailed public account to date of CIA torture..
CIA Torture Unredacted presents the findings from a four-year joint investigation by The Rendition Project and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism into the use of rendition, secret detention and torture by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and its partners in the ‘War on Terror’. We have focused our efforts on understanding the evolution, scope and human impact of the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) programme, which operated between 2001 and 2009. During this time, the CIA established a global network of secret prisons (socalled ‘black sites’) for the purposes of detaining and interrogating terrorism suspects – in secret, indefinitely, and under the most extreme conditions. As a result, scores of men were captured, at locations around the world, and disappeared into the programme for weeks, months or years on end, whereupon they were subjected to sustained torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
This report, and The Rendition Project’s website (www.therenditionproject.org.uk), provide, without doubt, the most detailed public account to date of CIA torture.
We move significantly beyond the findings of past investigations, shedding new light on the inner workings of the programme and tracking in detail the operation of the CIA’s black sites, the use of private aircraft to transfer prisoners secretly between these sites, and the fate and whereabouts of those subjected to secret detention, rendition and torture. In particular, we have filled in many of the gaps in public understanding which still exist after the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) decided to withhold its full Committee Study into the programme, and – alongside the CIA and the White House – to heavily redact the Study’s Executive Summary before its publication in December 2014.
As we document throughout the report, the abuses at the heart of the programme were severe, and were in clear violation of international and domestic law. Although the CIA played the lead role, officials and personnel from a number of other states – including other powerful liberal democracies such as the United Kingdom – were deeply implicated in the abuses which took place, as were a number of private companies.
Prisoners were held in complete darkness for months on end, chained to bars in the ceiling and forced to soil themselves. Continual loud music, combined with extended sleep deprivation, dietary manipulation and stress positioning were deployed to reduce men to a completely dependent state. Interrogations involved being severely beaten, and repeatedly slammed against walls. Some prisoners were placed, for hours at a time, in boxes so small they had to crouch. Others were subjected to water torture which induced vomiting, hypothermia and unconsciousness. Men were raped, mutilated, and threatened with guns, drills and being buried alive. They were strapped to chairs and to tables. They were hung upside down and beaten. They were chained to the floor in ways making it impossible to stand or sit. They were deliberately, systematically dehumanised in an attempt by interrogators to exert complete control.
Although these accounts are harrowing, we discuss them in detail throughout the report. We do this because it is important to be clear about the severity and systematic nature of the abuse which lay at the heart of the programme. This is especially true given the lengths to which state officials have gone to deny the impact of, or even the existence of, CIA torture, including through the use of euphemistic language. This was not a programme of ‘enhanced interrogation’; this was torture.
Throughout our investigation, our work has focused on four particular elements of the torture programme.
First, we have examined the evolution of the CIA’s network of ‘black sites’: secret prisons built and run by the CIA directly, for the express purpose of holding terror suspects outside the law and interrogating them under torture. We have worked to confirm the location of each of these sites, their position within the overall torture programme, their specific operating periods, and the knowledge and involvement of host countries in their operation. We have also identified, to a far greater level than any other public investigation, the names of those held and tortured within each black site, the dates of their detention, and the treatment to which they were subjected.
Second, we have investigated the CIA’s rendition programme, which ran alongside the detention programme and which was used to transfer prisoners into and out of secret detention, and between detention facilities. We have tracked CIA aircraft as they crossed the globe, and have uncovered the network of private companies which undertook these rendition operations. Our account of the rendition programme is unparalleled, derived from our analysis of thousands of billing records from within the programme and thousands of flight records pertaining to CIA aircraft. We have been able to map both the network itself, as well as more than 60 individual rendition operations. Each of these operations transferred prisoners in secret, in violation of international law, for the purposes of secret detention and torture by the CIA and its partners in the ‘War on Terror’.
Third, we have established the most detailed picture to date of the CIA’s secret prisoners. At least 119 men were detained by the CIA as part of its torture programme, and we have tracked their whereabouts during and after their time in CIA custody. This has included building a picture of the nationalities, capture locations and capture dates of each prisoner, as well as the dates that they were transferred into and out of CIA custody, the duration of their detention, and their fate and whereabouts afterwards. We have also documented, to the greatest degree possible, the location(s) and time frame(s) of each instance of secret detention, along with the conditions and treatment to which each prisoner was subjected. 5
Last, we have investigated the role played by the United Kingdom, and in particular the British intelligence services, in providing support for the programme. It is now clear that Britain’s role was central: supplying locational intelligence for capture operations; passing questions and intelligence for use in interrogations under torture; planning, financing and facilitating rendition operations; and acting as a key logistical hub for numerous rendition operations transferring prisoners for torture.
This is not the first time we have published our findings from this investigation. We have previously outlined the ways in which we tracked CIA rendition aircraft to understand more fully the use of secret detention in Europe.1 We have provided expert testimony to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which found that the involvement of European states in the torture programme led to multiple violations of the European Convention on Human Rights.2 We have assisted citizen-led efforts at accountability for CIA torture.3 We have published the most detailed public account of British involvement in torture in the ‘War on Terror’,4 and have helped to guide parliamentary, commissioner and police investigations in relation to this.5 CIA Torture Unredacted moves beyond our previous publications, however, and provides an overview of our investigation as a whole. We present here our key findings in one place, along with an account of our data and the methods we have used for our analysis. These findings have been made possible through the collection and analysis of thousands of records relating to CIA torture, including flight records, corporate invoices and billing records, declassified CIA documents, court records and prisoner testimonies. We have also developed novel techniques to ‘unredact’ – both literally and metaphorically – the heavily-redacted executive summary of the SSCI’s ‘Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program’ (hereafter, the Committee Study).6 Through a detailed analysis of the text and the redactions within the Committee Study, including through pioneering a technique to unlock the locational data from the thousands of CIA cables referenced by the Study, and through a systematic triangulation of this data with the other records at our disposal, we are able to significantly advance our understanding of how the torture programme evolved. This has not been easy. The torture programme was a highly secret endeavour, with the CIA and its partners going out of their way to hide the existence of a secret prison network dedicated to the indefinite detention and torture of terror suspects. It has taken years of investigation, by journalists, lawyers, parliamentarians and human rights investigators, for the broad contours of the programme to be revealed. Our report builds upon these previous efforts, and we remain indebted to each of them.
The report has two substantive chapters, followed by two appendices.
In Chapter 1 we explain how we sourced and analysed our data, including through ‘unredacting’ the Committee Study, through the construction of a number of unique and powerful databases (versions of which we are publishing alongside this report), and through the systematic triangulation of our data. We also provide a summary of our key findings, which relate to the black sites, the rendition programme, the fate and whereabouts of the prisoners, and the multifaceted nature of British involvement. 6
In Chapter 2 we provide an account of the overall evolution of the torture programme, from its inception immediately after the attacks of 11 September 2001 until its closure in January 2009. Our focus here is on tracking the shifting network of black sites, secret detentions and rendition operations, so as to situate the detention and torture of individual prisoners within a broader, programmatic context. Our extensive appendices outline our current assessment of what happened to each of the CIA’s prisoners (Appendix 1), and of the rendition operations which moved them into, out of, and between the secret prisons (Appendix 2). Focus here is on the marshalling of all available evidence to provide an account of what happened to each prisoner, where they were held, how they were moved, and by whom. Our core findings are based upon the correlation of independent facts which mutually reinforce each other through a process of multiple triangulation. Although some of our specific findings may be provisional, given the incomplete data from which they are derived, our overall account of the spatial architecture and evolution of CIA torture is supported by such a rich set of data that it would be impossible to plausibly sustain any other conclusions than those we derive here.
Given the continued obfuscation and denial from many state authorities, this point is important to make. Indeed, as the ECtHR has found – based in part on the presentation of our findings before the Court – the continued refusal by state authorities to release the full information in their possession should not be seen as an insurmountable obstacle to establishing proof in the context of CIA torture. Rather, the Court found, ‘proof may follow from the coexistence of sufficiently strong, clear and concordant inferences or of similar unrebutted presumptions of fact.’7 In this light, it is simply not possible to deny what we have now established as indisputably and factually true about the CIA torture programme, including in relation to the host countries of the black sites, their operational periods, the changing number of prisoners held in the programme over time and who was held in each black site, and the aircraft, companies and countries involved in dozens of individual, specific rendition operations. Overall, we hope that this report will stand as a central reference point for all those who still believe that the systematic human rights abuses at the heart of the programme, which translate to many stories of individual human suffering, demand a full accounting of the facts of CIA torture. We firmly believe that it is access to these facts which will ultimately drive further attempts to achieve justice and accountability for the abuses committed, as well as any further successes in this regard. We also believe that such an accounting of the past is important for assisting those who continue to challenge the involvement of states (including liberal democracies) in systematic human rights abuses in the name of countering terrorism and defending freedom.
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