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Hidden Prisons: The United States’ Global Web of Interrogation Facilities

Throughout the years, the United States has furtively established detention camps in at least 54 countries and regions, using them as interrogation facilities for "terrorist suspects" while attempting to evade jurisdiction and legal challenges.

5 mins read
Hajji Ghalib waho was once imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba runs by US. [Credit: Andrew Quilty for The New York Times ]

Stepping out of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility onto the road to freedom, Haji Ghalib couldn’t feel relieved.

He had been jailed for four years without legal trials or charges at Guantanamo before being released on March 1, 2007.

“The detainee is not assessed as being a member of al-Qaida or the Taliban,” the U.S. army’s report concluded, thus declaring his innocence. However, his stay in the infamous camp was a nightmare for Ghalib.

Ghalib and other inmates at Guantanamo reportedly suffered indefinite custody and years of abuse at the hands of the U.S. government. In June, Fionnuala Ni Aolain, a United Nations (UN) special rapporteur, visited the camp and told the press about the “ongoing cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” to which the detainees were subjected.

The Guantanamo detention camp is just one of the many “black sites” set up by the United States around the world to hold alleged “terrorists.” Throughout the years, the country has furtively established detention camps in at least 54 countries and regions, using them as interrogation facilities for “terrorist suspects” while attempting to evade jurisdiction and legal challenges.

ARBITRARY ARRESTS

Ghalib recalled the chaos and panic on the morning of Feb. 26, 2003, when he, serving as a police officer in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province then, was violently captured by the U.S. forces.

“I finished my morning prayer and had not yet eaten breakfast … Then I found myself surrounded by U.S. planes, helicopters and tanks,” the 59-year-old Afghan told Xinhua.

After physically assaulting him, the American soldiers apprehended him and forcibly transported him to U.S. overseas detention camps.

A document of the U.S. Department of Defense in January 2005 claimed his innocence and denied his affiliation with al-Qaida or the Afghan Taliban. However, he was kept in custody for the subsequent two years.

Upon his return to Afghanistan in 2007, he had to deal with another devastating blow — the loss of his family members.

Similar tragedies befell other detainees. Of the approximately 780 individuals held at Guantanamo, fewer than 20 were put on trial, while a significant number of others endured prolonged detention and abuse without access to a formal trial or any form of compensation.

But their lives were permanently altered.

One such case was Mohammed Sanghir, a Pakistani who was arrested by the U.S. army while travelling in Afghanistan in 2001.

Following a long period of detention at Guantanamo, the man was eventually repatriated due to a lack of evidence linking him to terrorist activities.

Nonetheless, the consequences were irreversible. “Prior to my arrest, I owned a woodworking shop with prosperous business. After I was arrested, my family faced immense hardships and had to sell our property just to make ends meet,” Sanghir told Xinhua.

Equally heartbreaking was the story of young Iraqi Alaa Karim Ahmed. Twenty years ago, Ahmed was on his way to the first day of university with family members. As Ahmed pulled over the car to pick up items fallen to the ground, a nearby group of U.S. troops were struck by an explosion.

Despite the absence of evidence linking him to the explosion, the young man, still dressed in his school uniform, was taken away by U.S. soldiers.

Following multiple transfers between prisons, Ahmed was finally freed after two and a half years. The scars etched on his skin and flesh, resulting from the prolonged wearing of handcuffs and shackles, serve as a constant reminder of his suffering.

CRUEL TORTURE

Following baseless arrests, every detainee suffered severe mistreatment while being interrogated.

At the basement of Jalalabad Airport in the capital of Nangarhar, the U.S. military tied up Ghalib’s hands and repeatedly plunged his head into water.

A few days later, he was transferred to the Bagram prison situated about 40 km north of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

The Bagram prison was nicknamed “Afghanistan’s Guantanamo” due to numerous instances of prisoner abuse. Within one week in December 2002, two detainees lost their lives as a result of abuse by the U.S. military at the camp.

A few months later, Ghalib was sent to the Guantanamo detention camp. Upon arrival, he was forcibly undressed, followed by being washed by water pipes and having his head shaved.

All inmates, without exception, had to undergo excruciating torture.

“In the first one-and-a-half months, they wouldn’t let us speak to anyone, wouldn’t let us call for prayers or pray in the room. I tried to pray and four or five commandos came and they beat me up. If someone would try to make a call for prayer they would beat him up and gag him,” one of the inmates was quoted as saying by the Guardian.

Waterboarding, one of the most brutal interrogation techniques devised by U.S. intelligence officials, was regularly employed.

In practice, the victim is immobilized on an inclined board, head and feet raised, and the face covered with a cloth. Water is poured over the cloth, making it hard for the victim to breathe and potentially causing suffocation.

Those subjected to waterboarding experience extreme agony as it induces an overwhelming and prolonged sensation of imminent death.

A report of the U.S. Department of Justice showed that victims of waterboarding often resorted to fabricating false confessions or even admitting crimes they did not commit to escape further torture.

Since its inception in 2002 by the U.S. military outside the U.S. territory, the Guantanamo detention camp has been marred by a flagrant breach of human rights.

Raul Capote, editor-in-chief of the Cuban newspaper Granma International, noted that endless detention without fair and lawful trials at Guantanamo led to the deteriorating health of the detainees.

“LUCRATIVE DEAL”

The U.S. intelligence apparatus also exploited the “black sites” to reap substantial profits from government coffers and fabricate false claims of success in counterterrorism.

American taxpayers were burdened with an annual expense of 540 million U.S. dollars to sustain the ongoing operation of the Guantanamo camp, even when the number of detainees there has declined to a mere 30, The New York Times reported.

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has struck deals with certain countries and tribes, whereby the U.S. government bought alleged “terrorist suspects” from those entities at exorbitant prices ranging from 3,000 to 25,000 dollars, The Associated Press reported.

U.S. media outlets also uncovered that the CIA paid a private company nearly 80 million dollars for the purpose of designing torture programs.

Despite the repeated exposure of human rights violations at the “black sites,” no U.S. official has been held accountable for developing, authorizing or carrying out covert arrest and torture programs.

The U.S. breach of human rights has also drawn harsh criticism and condemnation from the international community and experts worldwide.

In 2020, the International Criminal Court (ICC) resumed its investigation into the grave crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by all parties involved in the conflict in Afghanistan, including U.S. forces.

Then ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said there was “reasonable” suspicion of war crimes by the U.S. forces in Afghanistan as well as by the CIA in “black sites” across the globe, U.S.-based organization Human Rights Watch reported.

Ni Aolain urged the U.S. government to provide judicial assistance and apologies to the victims at Guantanamo, and to guarantee the non-repetition of such human rights violations.

Despite vaunting itself as a self-proclaimed “beacon of democracy” and champion of “freedom and human rights,” the United States has, in reality, committed crimes in flagrant violation of human rights, international law, the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions, said Najib Khalaf, a professor of law at Al-Iraqia University.

Instead of acknowledging the crimes and making apologies, the United States chose to turn a deaf ear to the global outcry.

In response to a report by the UN Committee Against Torture on the abuse at U.S. overseas “black sites,” the U.S. government refused to disclose information regarding detainees involved in the CIA activities, citing confidentiality reasons.

Xinhua News Agency

Founded in 1931, Xinhua News Agency is one of the largest news organizations in the world, with over 10,000 employees across the globe. As the main source of news and information for China, Xinhua plays a key role in shaping the country's media landscape and communicating its perspectives to the world. The agency produces a wide range of content, including text news articles, photos, videos, and social media posts, in both Chinese and English, and its reports are widely used by media organizations around the world. Xinhua also operates several international bureaus, including in key capitals like Washington, D.C., Moscow, and London, to provide in-depth coverage of global events.

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