Three human rights groups have released documents
that they say reveal close cooperation between the U.S. Department of Defense
(DOD) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in rendering terrorism suspects
to secret prisons, creating "ghost prisoners" by concealing their
identities from the Red Cross, and delaying their release to counter negative
publicity about their treatment at Guántanamo Bay.
Close to a thousand pages of documents were obtained through a Freedom of
Information Act lawsuit brought by Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), the Center
for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and New York University's Center for Human
Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ). The suit, dating from 2004, seeks the disclosure
of government documents relating to secret detention, extraordinary rendition,
At a press conference earlier this week, the groups revealed that the newly
released documents confirm the existence of "black site" prisons
at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and in Iraq; affirm the DOD's cooperation
with the CIA's "ghost" detention program; and show one case where
the DOD sought to delay the release of Guantánamo prisoners who were
scheduled to be sent home in order to avoid bad press.
"These newly released documents confirm our suspicion that the tentacles
of the CIA's abusive program reached across agency lines," said Margaret
Satterthwaite, director of the CHRGJ. "In fact, it is increasingly obvious
that defense officials engaged in legal gymnastics to find ways to cooperate
with the CIA's activities."
"A full accounting of all agencies must now take place to ensure that
future abuses don't continue under a different guise," she said.
While most of the documents simply contain news articles, there were several
significant disclosures from the DOD.
A February 2006 e-mail to members of the DOD's Transportation Command discusses
how to deal with the bad press the U.S. was receiving over its detention facilities.
It said the U.S. was "getting creamed" on human rights issues sparked
by "coverage of the United Nations Rapporteur's report on Guantanamo,
plus lingering interest in Abu Ghraib photos." These developments add
up to "the U.S. taking a big hit on the issues of human rights and respect
for the rule of law, the e-mail said." It cited criticism of the U.S.
in blogs and discussion boards.
"America has lost its prestige," a blogger from Yemen wrote. "Every
year the world waits for the annual U.S. State Department report on human rights.
Today, it is America that awaits the world's opinion of its human rights policy.
From Gitmo, to Abu Ghraib, to secret prisons in Europe, the world accuses America
of not respecting human rights."
To temper the bad PR, the e-mail suggests delaying the release of prisoners
at Gitmo "for 45 days or so until things die down. Otherwise we are likely
to have a hero's [sic] welcome awaiting the detainees when they arrive."
The e-mail adds, "It would probably be preferable if we could deliver
these detainees in something smaller and more discreet than a T tail,"
a larger aircraft with a T-shaped tail wing.
"It is astonishing that the government may have delayed releasing men
from Guantánamo in order to avoid bad press," said CCR attorney
Gitanjali Gutierrez, who represents many of the men held in Guantánamo
and has made 30 trips to the base since 2004. "Proposing to hold men for
a month and a half after they were deemed releasable is inexcusable. The Obama
administration should avoid repeating this injustice and release the innocent
individuals with all due haste."
In a second document, one heavily redacted page mentions an "undisclosed
detention facility" at Bagram.
Another highlights how the Geneva Conventions can be interpreted to allow
the CIA and the DOD to "ghost" detainees' identities so they can
be denied a visit from the International Committee of the Red Cross. The organizations
charged that the document, entitled "Applicability of Geneva Conventions
to 'Ghost Detainees' in Iraq," shows that the DOD interpreted the "security
internee" provisions of the Geneva Conventions to allow for "ghosting"
of detainees by prohibiting the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
It also shows that the DOD recognized that indefinitely prohibiting the ICRC
from visiting or failing to notify the ICRC of the existence of detainees was
illegal under the Geneva Conventions, the groups said.
A 2005 document labeled a "Detainee Update" presentation dealt with
Internment Serial Number Policy (ISN). The organizations said, "It shows
that the DOD did not, as a matter of course, register detainees with the ICRC
until they had been in custody for up to 14 days and that authorization was
sought to hold some individuals for up to 30 days without ISN/registry with
ICRC to 'maximize intelligence collection,'" even though "there is
some disagreement as to legal basis to go beyond 14 days."
The groups said these policies "demonstrate the ease with which the CIA
could have used DOD facilities as 'sorting facilities' without having to worry
about ICRC oversight or revelation of the ghost detainee program."
Records from a Detainee Senior Leadership Oversight Council meeting contain
references to a previously unreleased section of the Church Report and discuss
the need for the DOD to develop and enforce guidelines governing their relationship
with "Other Government Agencies," including the CIA, in order to
regulate interrogation and other operations overseas.
The organizations claimed that these documents demonstrate that the DOD and
CIA were in an ad hoc relationship, "apparently unconstrained by formal
The lawsuit is based on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests dating
back to 2004. Previous government releases also included documents largely
already in the public record, including, in one instance, a copy of the Geneva
Conventions. This is the first time the DOD has provided any documents in response.
"Out of thousands of pages, most of what might be of interest was redacted,"
said Tom Parker, policy director for counterterrorism, terrorism, and human
rights at AIUSA.
"While the sheer number of pages creates the appearance of transparency,
it is clear this is only the tip of the iceberg and that the government agencies
have not complied with spirit of President Obama's memo on Freedom of Information
Act [FOIA] requests. We call on Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama
administration to put teeth into the memo and work actively to comply with
In his first week in office, President Obama signed an order closing the Guantanamo
detention facility in Cuba within a year and prohibiting CIA secret prisons.
However, the order allows the CIA to detain people temporarily. Obama also
pledged increased openness and transparency during his administration.
It is not known whether the Pentagon or the CIA still hold "ghost detainees,"
Satterthwaite said, referring to people housed at secret facilities.
(Inter Press Service)