New Report Delivers Unprecedented Account of CIA Torture Program

NEW YORK—More than 50 countries have been implicated in kidnapping, detention, and torture as part of the CIA’s secret detention and extraordinary rendition programs, said the Open Society Justice Initiative today in a report that provides the most comprehensive documentation to date of the human rights abuses associated with the intelligence agency’s post-September 11, 2001, counterterror operations.

The report, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition,” identifies for the first time a total of 136 named victims and describes the complicity of 54 foreign governments in these operations. Extraordinary rendition refers to the transfer—without legal process—of a detainee to the custody of a foreign government for purposes of detention and interrogation. 

On the eve of confirmation hearings for John Brennan as CIA director and while a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report on CIA detention and interrogation remains secret, the report underscores the U.S. government’s failure to confront the legacy of abuses committed in the name of counterterrorism.

“The time has come for the U.S. and its partner governments to own up to the truth and secure accountability for the abuses committed around the world as part of these CIA programs,” said Amrit Singh, senior legal officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative and author of the report. “The taint of torture and other abuses associated with these programs will continue to cling to the U.S. and its collaborators as long as they hide behind a veil of secrecy and refuse to hold their officials accountable.”

Based on public sources, the report catalogs how a wide range of governments—ranging from Iceland and Australia to Morocco and Thailand—reportedly enabled secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations in various ways, including by hosting CIA prisons, by assisting in the capture and transport of detainees, and by permitting the use of domestic airspace for secret flights.

“By apparently co-opting as many as 54 foreign governments in these illegal operations, the U.S. undermined longstanding human rights protections enshrined in international law, including, in particular, the norm against torture,” said Singh. “Leaving aside the damage to its moral standing, the U.S. has exposed itself to liability and censure worldwide.”

The report describes the status of litigation arising in many of these countries as a result of their involvement in CIA secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations.

In December 2012, the European Court of Human Rights held that Macedonia violated Khaled El-Masri’s rights in a joint CIA-Macedonia extraordinary rendition operation and found that the CIA’s treatment of him amounted to torture. Italy’s courts have convicted U.S. officials involved in the extraordinary rendition of Egyptian national, Abu Omar.

Other legal challenges to secret detention and extraordinary rendition are pending before the European Court of Human Rights against Poland, Lithuania, Romania, and Italy; against Djibouti before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights; and against domestic authorities or officials in Egypt, Hong Kong, Italy, and the UK.

The report collates details of 136 reported cases—there may be more that have not yet been documented. It includes the story of Wesam Abdulrahman Ahmed al-Deemawi, who was seized in Iran and held for 77 days in the CIA’s “Dark Prison” in Afghanistan. He was later transferred to Bagram where he was held for 40 days and subjected to sleep deprivation, hung from the ceiling by his arms in the “strappado” position, threatened by dogs, made to watch torture videos, and subjected to sounds of electric sawing accompanied by cries of pain.

The Obama administration has not definitively repudiated extraordinary rendition. In 2009, President Obama issued an executive order disavowing torture and closing secret CIA detention sites, but the order was reportedly crafted to allow short-term, transitory detention prior to transferring detainees to countries for interrogation or trial. Current policies and practices with respect to extraordinary rendition remain secret.

Open Society’s work on national security and counterterrorism issues includes investigating and combating human rights violations around the world. In the United States, we support work to promote national security policies that respect human rights, civil liberties, and the rule of law.