WASHINGTON - November 7 - Amnesty International today released Secret Detention in CIA “Black Sites,” a new report detailing the detention of three Yemeni nationals who had “disappeared” into the labyrinth of U.S.-run secret detention facilities in 2003. The men, Muhammad al-Assad, Salah Ali and Muhammad Bashmilah, were kept in complete isolation in a series of secret detention centers operated by the United States, with no judicial review, notice to their family or contact with the outside world.
This document, released on the heels of media reports exposing the United States’ secret detention facilities known as black sites, provides detailed information about the three Yemeni nationals who were held in secret U.S.-run facilities before resurfacing in Yemeni custody, including allegations that they were tortured. That these men were returned to Yemeni authorities indicates they were not high-value detainees, demonstrating that almost any suspect can be subject to this unlawful practice. The cases further suggest that the network of clandestine interrogation centers are not reserved solely for high-value detainees, but may be larger, more comprehensive and better organized than previously suspected.
“Each man described facilities and procedures that could not have been created and maintained solely for three low-level suspects,” said Amnesty International USA Executive Director Dr. William F. Schulz. “We fear that what we have heard from these three men is just one small part of the much broader picture of U.S. secret detentions around the world.
“It is absolutely outrageous that the Bush Administration, the self-described defender of democratic values around the world, holds and tortures people in secret facilities or outsources torture, without charge, trial or access to the outside world. This is a blatant violation of U.S obligations under international law. We cannot ignore the evidence. These detention centers, coupled with torture, indefinite detention and the ‘disappearing’ of people in custody -- provide additional impetus for Congress to create an independent commission to investigate all aspects of U.S. detention and interrogation policies,” added Schulz.
In the report, Amnesty International calls on the U.S. government to clarify its position on the legal status of the three Yemeni nationals. If the United States does not maintain any control over them, it should state this clearly, emphasizing that there are no U.S. conditions attached to their transfer. The organization also urges the U.S. government to disclose the locations of the detention centers where the three men were held; disclose the identities of all others held at these places, and invite the ICRC and other independent human rights organizations like Amnesty International to have full and regular access to those detained. All incommunicado and secret detention should be stopped immediately.
Amnesty International is also calling on the Yemeni government to promptly charge the three men with a recognizable criminal offense and bring them to trial in full accordance with international standards, or release them without condition.
Secret Detention/Renditions Report Media Brief
• On May 5, 2005, Muhammad al-Assad, Salah ‘Ali and Muhammad Bashmilah landed at Sana’a airport in Yemen. The three, all Yemeni nationals, had “disappeared” in 2003, and had been kept in complete isolation in a series of secret detention centers apparently run by United States agents. Their description of the facilities corroborates a November 2005 Washington Post report on the covert prison system run by the Central Intelligence Agency. These secret detention facilities in some eight countries are referred to as “black sites.”
• A number of Yemeni officials have told Amnesty International that U.S. officials had given them explicit instructions on the continued detention of the three men, and that they are “awaiting files” from the U.S., so that they can try the men.
• The three men continue to be held in a kind of extralegal limbo; they have not been charged with any offence, given any sentence, or brought before any court or judge. There have been no investigations into any accusations against the men, no charges have been made, none of the men have seen a lawyer or been brought before a judge.
• Muhammad al-Assad was arrested on December 26, 2003, at his home in Dar-es Salaam, Tanzania. He was questioned briefly and taken directly to a waiting airplane. Two months earlier, in October 2003, Salah ‘Ali and Muhammad Bashmilah had been arrested in Jordan, where both say they were tortured and held briefly before they too were turned over to U.S. custody.
• All three men were tortured. Some of the torture methods included being suspended from the ceiling and having the soles of their feet beaten so badly and then forced to stand on the beaten foot all night; stripped and beaten by a ring of masked soldiers with sticks; cigarettes were extinguished on the men’s arms among other human rights violations.
• All three had entered the U.S. network of illegal detentions, secret transfers and unacknowledged prisons, where suspects are arbitrarily shuttled in and out of custody. The goal of the network is not just to hold terrorist suspects and their supporters, but to collect intelligence through long-term interrogation, free from any legal restrictions or judicial oversight.
• It has been widely reported that the U.S. is holding some two to three dozen “high-value” detainees at secret CIA-run facilities outside the country. The cases of the three “disappeared” Yemenis documented in this report suggest that the network of clandestine interrogation centers is not reserved solely for high-value detainees, but may be larger, more comprehensive and better organized than previously suspected.
• The pattern of illegal arrests, covert transfers and secret and incommunicado detention described in this report violates the most fundamental rights of detainees: the right not to be arbitrarily arrested, the right of access to lawyers, families, doctors, the right to have families informed of arrest or place of detention, the right to be promptly brought before a judge or other judicial official, the right to challenge the lawfulness of detention and the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
• The men’s accounts are very consistent with one another and make clear that they had not been taken to a makeshift military camp, but to a facility designed for incommunicado detention. None of the men ever saw each other, or any other detainee, although the system they describe could not have been maintained solely for the purpose of interrogating three low-level suspects.
• Amnesty International is calling on the U.S. government to clarify its position on the legal status of Muhammad al-Assad, Salah ‘Ali and Muhammad Bashmilah. If the U.S. does not maintain any control over them, it should state this clearly, emphasising that there are no U.S. conditions attached to their release.
• Amnesty International is calling on the Yemeni government to release the three men immediately from detention, or to promptly charge them with a recognizable criminal offence, and bring them to trial in full accordance with international standards.