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New Light Shed on CIA's "Black Site" Prisons
By Dafna Linzer and Julie Tate, Washington Post
On his last day in CIA custody, Marwan Jabour, an accused al-Qaeda paymaster, was stripped naked, seated in a chair and videotaped by agency officers. Afterward, he was shackled and blindfolded, headphones were put over his ears, and he was given an injection that made him groggy. Jabour, 30, was laid down in the back of a van, driven to an airstrip and put on a plane with at least one other prisoner.
His release from a secret facility in Afghanistan on June 30, 2006, was a surprise to Jabour - and came just after the Supreme Court rejected the Bush administration's assertion that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to prisoners like him.
Jabour had spent two years in "black sites" - a network of secret internment facilities the CIA operated around the world. His account of life in that system, which he described in three interviews with The Washington Post, offers an inside view of a clandestine world that held far more prisoners than the 14 men President Bush acknowledged and had transferred out of CIA custody in September.
"There are now no terrorists in the CIA program," the president said, adding that after the prisoners held were determined to have "little or no additional intelligence value, many of them have been returned to their home countries for prosecution or detention by their governments."
But Jabour's experience - also chronicled by Human Rights Watch, which yesterday issued a report on the fate of former "black site" detainees - often does not accord with the portrait the administration has offered of the CIA system, such as the number of people it held and the threat detainees posed. Although 14 detainees were publicly moved from CIA custody to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, scores more have not been publicly identified by the U.S. government, and their whereabouts remain secret. Nor has the administration acknowledged that detainees such as Jabour, considered so dangerous and valuable that their detentions were kept secret, were freed.
After 28 months of incarceration, Jabour - who was described by a counterterrorism official in the U.S. government as "a committed jihadist and a hard-core terrorist who was intent on doing harm to innocent people, including Americans" - was released eight months ago. U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials confirmed his incarceration and that he was held in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They would not discuss conditions inside black sites or the treatment of any detainee.
A House in Islamabad
By Jabour's account, and that of U.S. intelligence officials, his entrance into the black-sites program began in May 2004. In interviews, he said he was muscled out of a car as it pulled inside the gates of a secluded villa in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.
In the week before his arrival, Jabour said, Pakistani intelligence officers had beaten, abused and burned him at a jailhouse in Lahore, where he was arrested. There two female American interrogators also questioned him and told him he would be rich if he cooperated and would vanish for life if he refused. He said he was later blindfolded and driven four hours north to the villa in a wealthy residential neighborhood.
The house in Islamabad, which U.S. intelligence officials say was jointly run by the CIA and Pakistani intelligence, had been outfitted with jail cells. When Jabour arrived, he saw as many as 20 other detainees, including the 16-year-old son of an Egyptian sheik, who had been captured in Pakistan. Dozens of al-Qaeda suspects swept up in the years after Sept. 11, 2001, have been through the house, according to accounts by former prisoners and U.S. intelligence officials with knowledge of the facility.
Jabour spent five weeks there, chained to a wall and prevented from sleeping more than a few hours at a time. He said he was beaten nightly by Pakistani guards after hours of questions from U.S. interrogators. Then he and others were whisked off to CIA-run sites. Some sites were in Eastern Europe; Jabour went to one in Afghanistan. Interrogators - whom he described as Americans in their late 20s and early 30s - told Jabour he would never see his three children again.
Human Rights Watch has identified 38 people who may have been held by the CIA and remain unaccounted for. Intelligence officials told The Post that the number of detainees held in such facilities over nearly five years remains classified but is higher than 60. Their whereabouts have not been publicly disclosed.
"The practice of disappearing people - keeping them in secret detention without any legal process - is fundamentally illegal under international law," said Joanne Mariner, director of the terrorism program at Human Rights Watch in New York. "The kind of physical mistreatment Jabour described is also illegal." Mariner interviewed Jabour separately as part of the organization's investigation.
The CIA said it would not comment directly on Jabour. "The agency does not, as a rule, publicly discuss specific rendition cases from the war on terror," said Paul Gimigliano, a spokesman for the CIA. But, he said, renditions "are a key, lawful tool in the fight against terror, and have helped save lives by taking terrorists off the street. They are conducted with care, they are closely reviewed, and they have produced valuable intelligence that has allowed the United States and other nations to foil terrorist plots."
John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, plans to investigate the fate of the missing detainees as part of a larger examination into the CIA's operation of secret prisons and its rendition program.
Aiding Al-Qaeda Fighters
In interviews with The Post from his parents' home in the Gaza Strip, Jabour acknowledged helping al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters who fled Afghanistan as the U.S. military hunted for the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Jabour was born to Palestinian parents in Jordan, raised in Saudi Arabia and educated in Pakistan. In 1998, he said, he became drawn to the plight of Muslims in Chechnya living under Russian rule. He crossed the border into Afghanistan so he could train in jihadist camps, then planned to join up with Chechen separatists.
"In Afghanistan, I met other people who believed in the Islamic state, where it was safe to practice Islam the way they wanted," Jabour said in a recent conversation. "I became friends with other Arabs who felt like me, Palestinians and Jordanians, but after three months of training I was told there was no chance to go to Chechnya."
Jabour returned to Pakistan in 1999. Two years later, after the U.S. military offensive in Afghanistan, those he lived and trained with came calling for help.
"Some of their children were injured, some of their women were wounded. From that moment, they came to our home and we helped them," he said.
Using funds from al-Qaeda financiers, Jabour said, he arranged for food, medical treatment and travel documents for several dozen people and arranged for others, including two African men who fought for al-Qaeda, to slip out of Pakistan. He did not return to Afghanistan to fight, and he said he had no interest in attacking Americans.
The U.S. counterterrorism official who discussed aspects of Jabour's classified file did not call him a member of al-Qaeda. But the official said that in Pakistan, Jabour "was in direct touch with top al-Qaeda operations figures," including Hamza Rabia, who briefly served as one of Osama bin Laden's lieutenants before a missile from a CIA predator drone killed him in December 2005. In interviews, Jabour said he met with Rabia on two occasions.
The official said Jabour "provided the money and means for other jihadists to move from Afghanistan to Pakistan" and provided funds that went to an al-Qaeda bioweapons lab. "He's an all-around bad guy," the official said. No charges were brought against Jabour, however, and the official would not say why he is free today.
Taken to Afghanistan
On June 16, 2004, after weeks in the villa, Jabour was drugged, blindfolded and put on a plane. Counterterrorism officials did not dispute that he was taken to a black site in Afghanistan. Jabour said the facility was run by Americans in civilian clothes and guarded by masked men who wore black uniforms and gloves.
He said he does not know where the facility is located, and counterterrorism officials would not say whether Jabour was held at two known detention sites in Afghanistan - one run by the U.S. military at Bagram air base, the other operated by the CIA outside Kabul.
Jabour said he was often naked during his first three months at the Afghan site, which he spent in a concrete cell furnished with two blankets and a bucket. The lights were kept on 24 hours a day, as were two cameras and a microphone inside the cell. Sometimes loud music blasted through speakers in the cells. The rest of the time, the low buzz of white noise whizzed in the background, possibly to muffle any communication by prisoners through cell walls.
Daily interrogations were conducted by a variety of Americans. Over two years, Jabour said he encountered about 45 interrogators, plus medical staff and psychologists. He was threatened with physical abuse but was never beaten.
Once, he was shown a small wooden crate his interrogators called a "dog box" and was told he would be put in it if he didn't cooperate. He was told that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the suspected architect of the Sept. 11 attacks who was among the 14 moved to Guantanamo Bay last year, became cooperative after he had been put in the box. But Jabour said he was not subjected to the crate.
He was, however, chained up and left for hours in painful positions more than 20 times and deprived of sleep for long periods. Sometimes he would have one hand chained to a section of his cell wall, making it impossible to stand or sit.
About six weeks into his stay, he was issued a pair of pants. Later he was given a T-shirt, then shoes, a Koran and finally a mattress. Jabour said prison conditions slowly improved: Air conditioning was installed; a library was built and stocked with books in Arabic, Urdu and English. Well-behaved detainees were rewarded with movie nights, in which such Hollywood blockbusters as "Titanic" were screened. A deputy director of the facility taught Jabour how to play chess and gave him pencils and paper. Jabour used to draw pictures of trees and grass, which he hung in his windowless cell.
Jabour recalled with fondness the prison director, a man named Charlie. "He told me, 'Marwan, we need information - if you cooperate, that is good.' I told him I wasn't hiding anything and was not a dangerous man. He told me that they didn't want to use force but would if they had to. I told him I wouldn't lie to him."
Jabour began to receive better food, including pizza and Snickers and Kit-Kat bars.
Transferred and Released
On Dec. 18, 2004, six months after his arrival, Jabour was transferred to a larger cell. Under the sink he found a small inscription that read: "Majid Khan, 15 December, 2004, American-Pakistani." Khan, whose family lives outside Baltimore, was arrested in March 2003 in Karachi, Pakistan, and was among the group transferred to Guantanamo five months ago. The U.S. government has not divulged where Khan was held during his first 3 1/2 years of incarceration.
Jabour met only one other prisoner during his time there. That was an Algerian named Yassir al-Jazeeri, a suspected high-level al-Qaeda operative who was arrested in Pakistan in March 2003. Their visits were arranged by the facility director, who told Jabour they were rewards for good behavior.
During interrogations, Jabour was often shown hundreds of photographs of wanted or captured suspects. One photo appears to have been that of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, a British-Pakistani who was arrested in Pakistan in July 2004.
Noor Khan, a suspected al-Qaeda operative, was thought to be involved in the planning of a disrupted 2004 attack on U.S. and British financial institutions. Babar Awan, a Pakistani lawyer hired by Noor Khan's family, said he has "heard nothing from the government authorities or any other authorities about where Noor Khan is."
There is no public U.S. government record available that states the CIA ever held Jabour, al-Jazeeri or Noor Khan.
Last April, John D. Negroponte, who was then director of national intelligence, told Time magazine that he did not know what would be the "endgame for the three dozen or so high-value detainees" in CIA custody at that time.
Jabour's odyssey ended with a secret flight to Amman, Jordan, where he woke to find himself in an office staring at government wall portraits of King Abdullah and his dead father, King Hussein. "I don't know why they released me, but I told them everything I knew ...," Jabour said. "You have to tell them the truth and that was no problem for me. They are smart people," he said of his American captors.
The Jordanians called the International Committee for the Red Cross, which sent a representative to interview Jabour and to contact his family. He remained in Jordanian custody for six weeks, was interrogated and was then handed over to Israel's security services.
The Israelis treated him better than his other captors, he said. They got Jabour his first lawyer, an Israeli Arab named Nizar Mahajna, who said in an interview that the Israelis had held Jabour in a prison near Haifa for two months. He was not mistreated, blindfolded or shackled, the lawyer said.
Israeli authorities had considered charging Jabour with fighting for an enemy of the Jewish state. But, Mahajna said, Jabour's training in Afghanistan had occurred more than eight years earlier, he was not a member of al-Qaeda and he had never lived in the Palestinian territories.
"The Israelis were given secret information on Marwan, which they got from the Americans. It wasn't shared with me but whatever it says, the central fact remained that the Pakistanis and the Americans had let him go. Why should Israel keep him?" Mahajna said.
The Israeli government dropped the case and transferred Jabour to Gaza. Prison guards drove him to the Erez border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip. "Good luck," one of them said to Jabour as he crossed into Gaza, where his parents awaited.