The Central Intelligence Agency runs a top-secret interrogation facility in Jordan, where at least 11 detainees who are considered Al-Qaida’s most senior cadre are being held, Haaretz has learned from international intelligence sources. Since the war in Afghanistan ended three years ago, reports spoke of these special detainees being held outside the United States, but no location was mentioned. A report on these prisoners issued Tuesday by the Human Rights Watch organization claims they are being held somewhere so secret that U.S. President George Bush asked the CIA heads not to report it to him.
The international intelligence sources who spoke to Haaretz are considered experts in surveillance and analysis of Al-Qaida and are involved in interrogating the detainees. Most of the Al-Qaida detainees who were arrested in Afghanistan in the course of the war or its aftermath were transfered to the American base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A minority were held in Pakistan, where some had been picked up, and were later moved to Jordan.
It is not known where precisely in the Hashemite kingdom they are being held, but they are thought to be at a secret facility belonging to Jordanian intelligence or at a secret base. Their detention outside the U.S. enables CIA interrogators to apply interrogation methods that are banned by U.S. law, and to do so in a country where cooperation with the Americans is particularly close, thereby reducing the danger of leaks.
According to the Human Rights Watch report, the CIA was granted special permission by the U.S. law enforcement authorities to operate “other laws” at the secret facility with regard to interrogation methods. Detainees are subjected to physical and psychological pressure that includes the use of simulated drowning, loud music, sleep deprivation, and sensory deprivation. Some of these methods were exposed with the revelation of torture techniques used by American interrogators at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
The CIA’s prisoners at the facility in Jordan include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, considered Al-Qaida’s head of operations and number three in the Al-Qaida hierarchy after Osama bin Laden and Aiman al-Zawahiri, who have eluded capture. Mohammed, of Kuwaiti origin, was captured in a safe house in Pakistan in 2002, along with the Yemeni Ramzi bin al-Shibh, considered a close bin Laden associate who was kept from being one of the 9/11 pilots because he was denied a U.S. visa. The two men were interrogated for awhile in Pakistan by Pakistanis and Americans and later flown to the undisclosed facility.
Also at the secret facility are Abu Zubaydah, described as Al-Qaida’s “recruitment officer,” and Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, who was captured in Thailand a year ago. The Indonesian Hambali was the only non-Arab Muslim participant in Al-Qaida’s supreme military council. He served as the operations chief for Jemaah Islamiya, which was behind attacks in the Philippines before 9/11 and for the attack on the Bali night club in October 2002 that killed over 200 people.
Haaretz was unable to obtain the identities of the other detainees in Jordan.
The 46-page Human Rights Watch report levels harsh criticism at the U.S. administration for using “undisclosed locations” and “disappearing” prisoners. The report charges that the U.S. thereby is in breach of all international conventions, including the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war, by refusing prisoners access to the Red Cross or their families.
The report contends that American operatives detained Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s children to serve as “hostages” through which to pressure their father into cooperating.
The prisoners were subjected to severe torture, the report states.