It is not known precisely how many detainees had been held in the CIAs secret prison program at some point prior to September 2006, but it is certain that there were many more than 14 of them.
Estimates of the number of detainees held by the CIA over the course of the program vary. The Washington Post described a two-tier system of detention, with some 30 major terrorism suspects being held at high-security prisons operated exclusively by CIA personnel, and an additional 70 less important suspects being transferred to prisons run by other countries intelligence services.53 The major suspects, also known as High Value Targets, were alleged top al-Qaeda leaders, not foot soldiers.54
The picture emerging from detainee accounts, however, suggests that these numbers are understated, and that the true picture is more complex. For example, at the prison in Afghanistan where Khaled el-Masri was held, the guards were Afghan, but the interrogators, the main director, and the people in charge of prisoner transport appeared to be CIA.55 So while the prisoners had daily contact with Afghan personnel, all of the important decisions regarding detention, treatment, and release were made by Americans.
And at the so-called Dark Prison in Afghanistan, which appears to have been operated solely by CIA personnel, there were a substantial number of detainees who were not top terrorism suspects. Human Rights Watch knows of some 20 prisoners previously held at that facility who are currently held at Guantanamo, as well as a former detainee who was released from Guantanamo in 2004.56 The majority of these prisoners (and obviously the one who was released) would not be considered major suspects.
Similarly, prisoners such as Marwan Jabour and the three Yemeni former detainees interviewed in 2005 by Amnesty International were far from top suspectsthey were eventually released without charge. Yet they too were held in prisons that seemed to have only American staff, as well as the extreme high-security arrangements characteristic of the CIA.
There is no comprehensive accounting of CIA detainees. But based on detainee testimony, press articles, and other sources, Human Rights Watch has put together a list of 16 people whom we believe were once held in CIA prisons and whose current whereabouts are unknown. We have also compiled a separate list of 22 people who were possibly once held in CIA prisons and whose current whereabouts are unknown.57
The people listed belowby name, nationality, and presumed place and date of arrestare believed to have once been held in secret CIA prisons:
In addition, the following people may have once been held in secret CIA prisons:
The crucial, unanswered question is: where are all these detainees now? One concern is that the US may have transferred some of them to foreign prisons where for practical purposes they remain under CIA control. Another worrying possibility is that prisoners were transferred from CIA custody to places where they face a serious risk of torture, in violation of the fundamental prohibition on returns to torture. On the latter question, it is worth noting that some of the missing prisoners are from Algeria, Egypt, Libya, and Syria, countries where the torture of terrorism suspects is common.
53 Stephen Grey estimates that hundreds of detainees were handed over to other countries, while less than three dozen at any time were held in CIA prisons. Ghost Plane, p. 240.
54 High Value Target (HVT) is a US military term. The loss of High-Value Targets would be expected to seriously degrade important enemy functions throughout the friendly commanders area of interest. Defense Technical Information Center (undated) (available at:http://www.dtic.mil/). Most of the 14 detainees in CIA custody who were transferred to Guantanamo in September 2006 had been deemed High Value Targets.
55 Human Rights Watch interview with Khaled el-Masri, Ulm, Germany, May 26, 2006.
56 This group includes Mohammad Nasir Yahya Khusruf (who is about 60 years old), Abd al-Salam al-Hila, Musab Omar Ali Al Mudwani, and Bashir Nasir Ali Al Marwalah, among others.
57 It should be emphasized that the level of secrecy surrounding the CIAs prison program remains extremely high, and the obstacles to obtaining this type of information are daunting. In short, there may well be many other former CIA detainees of whose existence nobody outside the program knows.
58 It is believed that al-Libi was transferred from CIA custody to Libya in early 2006, but this has not been confirmed.