Former Yemeni prisoner describes secret CIA prisons [Archives:2008/1138/Local News]

March 17 2008

Hamed Thabet
SANA'A, March, 15 ) After being held for nearly three years in secret CIA prisons, or “black sites,” around the world and accusing the United States of torture, a 31-year-old Yemeni prisoner named Khalid Al-Maqtari finally has been released.

Al-Maqtari told Amnesty International that he spent 28 months in isolation without any charges or access to legal representation. Initially, he was a U.S. 'ghost detainee' at Iraq's Abu Ghraib Prison after being arrested there in 2004.

Apart from transfers to the Guantanamo Bay detention center, as a rule, the CIA doesn't comment publicly on allegations of who may or may not be in custody. CIA spokesman George Little notes that the agency has operated its terrorist detention and interrogation program in accord with U.S. law.

Al-Maqtari described the torture, ill treatment and how he suffered at the hands of U.S. military and the CIA while he was in secret custody. He also was arrested in Yemen and released by Yemeni authorities last May.

He's then believed to have been handed over to U.S. military intelligence on suspicion of being a foreign insurgent, initially being arrested in Iraq in January 2004 when U.S. military raided a suspected arms market in Fallujah.

Afterward, Al-Maqtari was transferred to Abu Ghraib Prison, where he allegedly was subjected to a regimen of beating, sleep deprivation, suspension upside down in painful positions, intimidation by dogs and induced hypothermia.

Following nine days of interrogation at Abu Ghraib, Al-Maqtari claims he was flown to a secret CIA detention facility in Afghanistan and held for three months.

“He [Al-Maqtari] obtained flight records showing that a plane operated by an alleged CIA front company flew from Baghdad to Kabul nine days after his arrest,” Amnesty International stated.

According to Al-Maqtari, during this time in Afghanistan, he was subjected to further torture and ill treatment, including prolonged solitary confinement, use of stress positions, sleep deprivation, exposure to hot and cold extremes, sensory deprivation and disruption by bright lights and loud music or sound effects. “It wasn't really music, but rather noise to scare you, like from a scary movie,” he noted.

“I was scared. There were no dogs, but there was noise there. Whenever I tried to sleep, they would bang on the door loudly and violently,” Al-Maqtari added. During lapses in the music and sound effects, he was able to speak to other detainees and deduced that there were about 20 others being held in the cell around him, including Majid Khan, a “high-value” detainee transferred to Guantanamo Bay in September 2006, according to Amnesty International.

In late April 2004, Al-Maqtari and several other detainees were transferred to another CIA black site, possibly in Eastern Europe, and held in isolation for a further 28 months, he noted.

According to Amnesty International, the CIA eventually handed over Al-Maqtari in the summer of 2006 to Yemeni authorities, who continued holding him without charge until May 2007. “Khalid Al-Maqtari's account sheds more light on the United States' unlawful conduct in its 'War on Terror,'” said Anne FitzGerald, senior advisor at Amnesty International.

“He describes being subjected to international crimes such as forced disappearance and torture, yet these allegations have never been investigated,” she noted, adding, “The secrecy surrounding this program goes hand-in-hand with a complete absence of accountability.”

In July 2007, U.S. President George W. Bush issued an executive order banning “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” of terror suspects by the CIA, but not its operation of secret facilities. The agency since has declined to say whether it still uses them.