Background Briefing


This briefing paper presents information about at least 39 detainees—all of whom are still missing—who are believed to have been held in secret sites run by the United States government overseas.  The paper provides basic information about these individuals, including facts concerning the circumstances of their apprehension, evidence concerning U.S. involvement in their detention, and any information available concerning their current fate and whereabouts. 

In many cases, the current fate and whereabouts of detainees included on the list are completely unknown.  In other cases, some information has emerged in the press or through research and investigation.  In all cases, official silence has created grave uncertainty and the U.S. government has an obligation to clarify the fate and whereabouts of the individuals it has detained.

These individuals are victims of enforced disappearance as defined by international human rights law.  Enforced disappearances occur when there is an:

…arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.1

Enforced disappearances involve violations of treaties binding on the United States, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  They also violate international humanitarian law. 

Because the fate of a person who is “disappeared” remains unknown, international law considers an enforced disappearance to be a continuing violation—it is ongoing until the fate or whereabouts of the person becomes known.  In addition to the harm done to the person, enforced disappearances cause continued suffering for family members.


U.S. Detentions in the “War on Terror”

The U.S. government has constructed a wide-ranging detention system for terrorism suspects and others it considers to be implicated in the “War on Terror.”  This system includes the informal transfer of suspected terrorists (rendition), detention in both acknowledged and secret U.S.-controlled detention facilities outside the United States, and detention in foreign-controlled facilities at the behest of the U.S. government (proxy detention).  Each of these elements is characterized by a lack of procedural safeguards and substantive rights protections (e.g. uncharged detention and detention without opportunity for review) and violates international law.  Many detainees apprehended by the United States or its allies are informally transferred several times and may be placed in secret detention in multiple sites. 

Scope of Briefing Paper

This briefing paper focuses on one subset of detainees: individuals believed to have been held at some point in secret sites run by the U.S. government overseas who are still missing.  A handful of individuals who were detained in such “black sites” have since been released; their cases are not featured in this briefing paper.  Nor are the cases of the fourteen “high-value” detainees transferred to Guantánamo Bay from CIA custody in September 2006.  Those detainees were sent to Guantánamo Bay in advance of a public statement by President George W. Bush acknowledging the U.S. Secret Detention Program on September 6, 2006.  President Bush asserted that the sites were then “empty,” but pointedly left open the possibility of using the Program again. He did not clarify the fate and whereabouts of any of the other individuals who had been held in the Program.  The transfer of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi from secret CIA custody to Guantánamo Bay in April 2007 demonstrated that the system was still operating.  Those individuals named in this briefing paper show that all of those secretly detained have not been accounted for. 

Methodology and Sources of Information

Because of the nature of the U.S. Secret Detention Program, there is no comprehensive list of individuals who have been held in the Program.  The information in this briefing paper is drawn from investigations carried out by the six organizations2 that authored it, and includes information gathered from public sources, government officials, and witness interviews conducted by the organizations. 

This briefing paper places each individual into one of three categories based on the availability and nature of evidence concerning each individual.  The limited information from official sources makes this categorization necessary.

CATEGORY 1: Individuals whose detention by the United States has been officially acknowledged and whose fate and whereabouts remain unknown.

CATEGORY 2: Individuals about whom there is strong evidence, including witness testimony, of secret detention by the United States and whose fate and whereabouts remain unknown.

CATEGORY 3: Individuals about whom there is some evidence of secret detention by the United States and whose fate and whereabouts remain unknown.

Within each category, detainees are listed in the reverse chronological order of the date of their apprehension.

1 International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, art. 2, opened for signature Feb. 6, 2007, available at

2 These organizations—Amnesty International, Cageprisoners, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law, Human Rights Watch and Reprieve—have been at the forefront of addressing U.S.-led “disappearances,” including through representation of individuals detained in the “War on Terror,” advocacy, investigations, and public reporting.  The Center for Constitutional Rights (, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice ( and Reprieve ( represent individuals detained by the United States in the “War on Terror,” including detainees at Guantánamo Bay formerly in secret prisons, and those who have been extraordinarily rendered.  Amnesty International (, Cageprisoners (, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, Human Rights Watch ( and Reprieve have investigated and reported on secret detention and rendition and have carried out advocacy with the U.S. and other governments to put an end to these practices.  See, e.g., Amnesty International, United States of America: Below the radar: Secret flights to torture and ‘disappearance’ (Apr. 2006), United States of America/Yemen: Secret Detention in CIA “Black Sites” (Nov. 2005); Cageprisoners, Beyond the Law: The War on Terror's Secret Network of Global Detentions (2006); Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, Fate and Whereabouts Unknown: Detainees in the “War on Terror" (Dec. 2005); Human Rights Watch, Ghost Prisoner: Two Years in Secret CIA Detention (Feb. 2007), List of “Ghost Prisoners” Possibly in CIA Custody (last updated Dec. 1, 2005), The United States’ “Disappeared”: The CIA's Long-Term “Ghost Detainees” (Oct. 2004).