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USA: New report reveals more of secret 'ghost detention' operation

In exclusive interviews Yemeni man tells Amnesty of beatings, aggressive dogs, psychological torture and transfer to secret high-tech ‘black site’ prison

Fresh call to reveal whereabouts of secret prisoners

They did not talk, not even a word, the same as the ninjas in the secret prisons’ - Khaled al-Maqtari

Amnesty International has today made a fresh call on the United States government to make known the whereabouts of people subjected to its secret detention operation in the “war on terror”.

The organisation is also renewing its call on the UK government to allow a thorough, independent inquiry into all aspects of the UK’s involvement with secret “war on terror” detentions, including into “rendition” flights where prisoners have been secretly flown from country to country for interrogation and sometimes torture.

The calls came as Amnesty International released a detailed 48-page report on the case of a Yemeni man held in total isolation by his US captors, including information on how he was allegedly severely tortured - with a battery of physical methods and “sophisticated” psychological means - and how he was moved from prison to prison in three different countries (including to a secret ‘black site’ detention facility) over a period of nearly three years.

The report also includes an account of how British “Special Forces” personnel in Iraq were involved in investigating the detained man (though not in his interrogation or torture) and how these apparently did nothing to raise the alarm about the his torture at the hands of American interrogators. Details of the ordeal suffered by the man - Khaled al-Maqtari, a 31-year-old former merchant - come just weeks after UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband admitted to Parliament that, contrary to earlier denials, the UK territory of Diego Garcia had been used for US rendition flights. Meanwhile, at the weekend US President George Bush also vetoed a bill that would have outlawed “waterboarding” and other torture by CIA operatives.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Slowly but surely more information about the ultra-secretive US “war on terror” detentions operation is trickling out and Khaled al-Maqtari’s extremely serious allegations must be met with a serious investigation by both the US and UK authorities.

“A full independent inquiry on both sides of the Atlantic into secret prisons and rendition flights is long overdue and should now happen as soon as possible.

“If his allegations are substantiated, Mr al-Maqtari’s tormenters must be brought to justice and he should receive proper reparation for his horrifying ordeal.”

According to al-Maqtari, he was originally detained by US soldiers in a (well-publicised) market-place “sweep” in Fallujah in Iraq in January 2004. Handcuffed and hooded, he was taken to a nearby military camp where he was beaten by US soldiers. He was then transferred by helicopter to Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison (just months before photographs of notorious torture and degradation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib became public).

Held as a totally undisclosed “ghost detainee” at Abu Ghraib, al-Maqtari says his American interrogators subjected him to beatings with sticks in the “torture room” while naked, hooded and handcuffed. Loud discordant music was played and he was doused in cold water and placed in front of a powerful air-conditioning system while being forced to hold a heavy box. Beatings continued throughout. Whenever al-Maqtari was close to losing consciousness, chemicals were used in his eyes and nose to revive him.

Other alleged torture and ill-treatment included being suspended upside down by chains from the ceiling, being terrorised by aggressive dogs and threatened with rape, having music played at full volume next to his head, a cigarette being put out on his shoulder by an interrogator “from New York”, and use of bright “football” lights, starving and sleep deprivation.

After nine days’ interrogation and torture at Abu Ghraib, al-Maqtari was, it appears, handed to CIA operatives for secret transfer to a “black site” prison in Afghanistan. As with similar documented cases, al-Maqtari describes being put into an adult nappy and light clothes, then blindfolded, ear-muffed and hooded. He was flown to Afghanistan and interrogated and tortured in a secret location, possibly the notorious “Dark Prison” near Kabul.

Amnesty International’s report shows al-Maqtari’s 21 January 2004 flight to Afghanistan coincided with the journey of a specific Gulfstream V jet from Baghdad International airport to Kabul. This plane, dubbed the “Torture Taxi” by investigators, is now known to be have been used in several “rendition” cases, and has landed numerous times at UK airports like Prestwick, Luton and Glasgow International.

Kate Allen added:

“Rather than leaving it to human rights groups, journalists and plane-spotters to try to track the clandestine movements of planes involved in rendition and transfer to secret detention, the UK government should have proactively tried to discover the truth years ago.

“Now, on top of a much-needed independent inquiry, the government should unambiguously condemn all ‘renditions’, secret transfers and the programme of ‘ghost’ detentions and demand that all CIA planes flying into our airports identify themselves as state aircraft.”

Khaled al-Maqtari’s testimony includes an account of being interrogated in Afghanistan by a US man wearing a distinctive “swimming cap”. Again his imprisonment involved sleep deprivation and the prolonged playing of sinister “horror sounds”, as well as being kept in total darkness for days at a time (conditions also separately described by other ex-detainees, including British resident Binyam Mohammed, still held at Guantánamo).

Three months’ Afghan detention was followed by a further long-distance move (possibly to Europe) to a top-secret third location, a high-tech facility where al-Maqtari was subjected to interrogation and extreme sensory deprivation - including by black-clad officials he dubbed “ninjas”. Al-Maqtari was to be held at this “black site” - a mysterious prison where cell cameras were always trained on him - until September 2006, a total of two years and four months. As with his previous detentions, at no time was al-Maqtari allowed any contact with the outside world and he was never charged with a crime. For much of his imprisonment he says he was seriously ill but denied proper medical treatment by doctors working with the interrogators.

In September 2006, without explanation, Maqtari was taken to Yemen where he was held by the Yemeni authorities for a further eight months. He was released without charge in May 2007.

As yet Khaled al-Maqtari has received no acknowledgement from the US authorities that he was even held by them.

  • The case of Khaled al-Maqtari report

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