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Torture, Rendition, and other Abuses against Captives in US Custody

'Salt Pit' Secret Prison in Kabul (Afghanistan)

Project: Prisoner Abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and Elsewhere
Open-Content project managed by Derek, KJF, mtuck

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Shortly after the US invasion of Afghanistan (see October 19, 2001), the CIA takes control of an abandoned brick factory, and turns it into a training facility and secret prison. The facility, code-named the “Salt Pit,” is a 10-acre facility just north of Kabul. It is used to train Afghan counterterrorism forces and to house prisoners. The agency intends the Salt Pit to be a “host-nation facility,” manned and operated entirely by Afghans, in part so that CIA officials cannot be held accountable for the actions taken by the Afghan guards and interrogators. Similar methodologies are used in secret CIA prisons in other countries. However, the CIA pays the entire cost of maintaining the facility. It vets the guards who work there, and decides which prisoners will be kept in the facility, including some senior al-Qaeda operatives who will eventually be transferred to other facilities such as Guantanamo. Sometime before March 2005, the CIA will transfer its operations to another facility, and the Salt Pit will be demolished. [ABC News, 11/18/2005]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: High-level Decisions and Actions, Salt Pit (Afghanistan)

Two detainees, Gul Rahman and Ghairat Baheer, are transferred from Pakistan to the CIA-controlled Salt Pit black site in Afghanistan. Baheer will say that he was separated from Rahman about a week after they were captured (see October 29, 2002) and they were both moved to the prison, so presumably they are transferred there together. [Associated Press, 3/28/2010] Rahman will later die at the prison (see November 20, 2002).

Entity Tags: Gul Rahman, Ghairat Baheer, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Rendition after 9/11, Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Other Detainees

CIA officer Matthew Zirbel, who is in charge of the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan, asks for guidance on how he should manage the prison. However, the requests are largely ignored, apparently by his immediate boss, the CIA station chief in Afghanistan, known only as Paul P. Zirbel is a junior officer and has never run a prison before, which is presumably one of the reasons he makes the requests. Zirbel’s use of the water dousing method will later cause the death of a detainee (see November 20, 2002) and the CIA’s inspector general will find that the lack of guidance was a contributory factor leading up to the death. [Associated Press, 3/28/2010]

Entity Tags: “Paul P.”, Matthew Zirbel, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Salt Pit (Afghanistan)

Gul Rahman.Gul Rahman. [Source: From Family via CBS News]Gul Rahman, an Afghani recently detained in Pakistan (see October 29, 2002) and now held at the CIA-controlled Salt Pit black site in Afghanistan (see Shortly After October 29, 2002), is uncooperative with his captors. At one point he throws a latrine bucket at his guards, and he also threatens to kill them. These actions provoke harsher treatment. His hands are shackled over his head, he is roughed up, and will be doused with water, leading to his death (see November 20, 2002). [Associated Press, 3/28/2010]

Entity Tags: Gul Rahman, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Physical Assault, Salt Pit (Afghanistan)

The CIA flies detained al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri from the United Arab Emirates, where he was captured (see Early October 2002), to an agency black site in Afghanistan known as the Salt Pit. [Associated Press, 9/7/2010]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

Category Tags: Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

The CIA transfers detained al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri from the agency black site in Afghanistan known as the Salt Pit to another CIA prison in Thailand. [Associated Press, 9/7/2010]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

Category Tags: Rendition after 9/11, Salt Pit (Afghanistan), US Base (Thailand), Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

An Afghan detainee dies of hypothermia while being brutalized by CIA interrogators at a secret prison north of Kabul code-named the “Salt Pit” (see After October 2001). The detainee, whose name is Gul Rahman, is considered uncooperative (see November 2002). [Washington Post, 3/3/2005; ABC News, 11/18/2005; Associated Press, 3/28/2010] He had originally been arrested in Pakistan, and then brought to Afghanistan. [Washington Post, 9/19/2009] An inexperienced junior CIA case officer named Matthew Zirbel, who is in charge of the Salt Pit, orders Rahman to be stripped semi-naked, chained to the concrete floor, and left overnight without blankets. [Washington Post, 3/3/2005; ABC News, 11/18/2005; Mahoney and Johnson, 10/9/2009, pp. 29 pdf file] The incident will later be confirmed by four government officials. Afghan guards paid by the CIA and working under agency supervision take Rahman to an abandoned warehouse, drag him around on the concrete floor, causing bruising and lacerations, before chaining him in his cell. When night falls, the temperature plummets. Rahman is found in the morning, frozen to death. A CIA medic quickly autopsies him and states that “hypothermia” is the cause of death, and guards bury the body in an unmarked, unacknowledged cemetery used by Afghan forces. The man’s family is not notified, and his remains are never returned for a proper burial. The man is not listed on any registry of captives, not even as a so-called “ghost detainee.” One government official says simply, “He just disappeared from the face of the earth.” Zirbel will later be promoted. [Washington Post, 3/3/2005; ABC News, 11/18/2005] Zirbel’s supervisor, the CIA chief of station in Afghanistan known only as Paul P., will go on to play a role in incidents of detainee abuse in Iraq, although details about this are unknown. [Washington Post, 9/19/2009; Harper's, 3/28/2010] Colleagues later describe Zirbel as “bright… eager, [and] full of energy,” and say that he was placed in charge of the facility because “there were not enough senior-level volunteers,” according to one senior intelligence officer. “It’s not a job just anyone would want. More senior people said, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ There was a real notable absence of high-ranking people” in Afghanistan. Moreover, the officer will add: “[T]he CIA did not have a deep cadre of people who knew how to run prisons. It was a new discipline. There’s a lot of room to get in trouble.” The CIA will brief the chairmen and vice chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on the death, but at least one official will say the briefing is incomplete. Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking minority member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will ask the committee chairman, Pat Roberts (R-KS), to investigate Rahman’s death, but Roberts will refuse. No one is sure if Rahman had any real connection to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. “He was probably associated with people who were associated with al-Qaeda,” one US government official will say. [Washington Post, 3/3/2005; ABC News, 11/18/2005]

Entity Tags: House Intelligence Committee, Matthew Zirbel, “Paul P.”, Pat Roberts, Central Intelligence Agency, John D. Rockefeller, Gul Rahman, Senate Intelligence Committee

Category Tags: Detainments, Prisoner Deaths, Extreme Temperatures, Medical Services Denied, Physical Assault, Stress Positions, Salt Pit (Afghanistan)

The CIA officer known only as Paul P., who was chief of station in Afghanistan at the time a subordinate caused a detainee to freeze to death, is promoted multiple times. The death occurred in late November 2002, when an officer named Matthew Zirbel had the detainee, Gul Rahman, doused in water and left with few clothes in the cold at the Salt Pit prison (see November 20, 2002). The station chief was involved in the death and an investigation by the CIA’s inspector general will examine his actions. Nevertheless, according to former officials speaking in 2010, Paul P. “has been promoted at least three times.” [Associated Press, 3/28/2010] The officer will be referred to as “Mr. P” in a post by Harper’s journalist Scott Horton. Horton refers to the Zirbel as “Mr. Z,” indicating that Paul P.‘s real surname may actually begin with the letter P, although this is not certain. [Harper's, 3/28/2010] His first name will be revealed by the Associated Press in 2011. [Associated Press, 2/9/2011] Richard Blee had been appointed station chief in Afghanistan in December 2001 (see December 9, 2001), but would appear to have left the position by this time.

Entity Tags: “Paul P.”, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Salt Pit (Afghanistan)

After learning that detainee Gul Rahman has died at the CIA’s Salt Pit black site in Afghanistan (see November 20, 2002), the agency’s headquarters sends a team to investigate what has happened. [Associated Press, 3/28/2010] The team is dispatched by the CIA’s Deputy Director for Operations, Jim Pavitt. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 1 pdf file] According to a CIA official, “The guidance [from headquarters] was for the people on scene to preserve everything as it was.” After the death, a medic at the site found that Rahman had died of hypothermia, and this is later confirmed by another doctor. Presumably, this later doctor is part of the team sent out now. [Associated Press, 3/28/2010; Harper's, 3/28/2010]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Gul Rahman, James Pavitt

Category Tags: Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Other Detainees

The CIA’s Deputy Director for Operations, James Pavitt, informs the agency’s inspector general, John Helgerson, that the CIA Counterterrorist Center has established a program to detain and interrogate terrorists at foreign sites. At the same time, Pavitt also informs Helgerson that he has just learned of an apparently controversial incident and sent a team to investigate it. It appears that the incident triggered the notification to the inspector general about the program. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 1 pdf file] The incident is the killing of detainee Gul Rahman at the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan (see After October 2001 and November 20, 2002). [Associated Press, 3/28/2010] The detention and interrogation program has been in operation since March at the latest, as high-value detainee Abu Zubaida was arrested and then taken to a CIA black site at that time (see March 28, 2002 and April - June 2002). However, it is unclear whether Helgerson was aware of the program prior to being informed by Pavitt.

Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (CIA), James Pavitt, Central Intelligence Agency, Directorate of Operations, John Helgerson

Category Tags: Reports/Investigations, Salt Pit (Afghanistan)

CIA Assistant Deputy Director for Operations (ADDO) Stephen Kappes coaches a CIA officer in the field on what to write in a cable about the death of a detainee at the agency’s Salt Pit prison. The detainee, Gul Rahman, had been doused with water and left in the cold, later being found dead (see November 20, 2002). Reporter Jeff Stein will say that Kappes coaches the “base chief” over the cable, so presumably this means the officer responsible for the prison. [Washingtonian, 3/25/2010] This officer’s full name is not known, but his last name is Zirbel. [Mahoney and Johnson, 10/9/2009 pdf file] According to two officials who read a report by the CIA’s inspector general on the killing, Kappes coaches Zirbel on how to deal with the incident. “The ADDO’s direction to the field officer anticipated that something worse had occurred and so gave him directions on how to report the situation in his cable,” one of the officials will say. “The ADDO basically told the officer, ‘Don’t put something in the report that can’t be proved or that you are going to have trouble explaining.’ In essence, the officer was told: Be careful what you put in your cable because the investigators are coming out there and they will pick your cable apart, and any discrepancies will be difficult to explain.” As a result, the official will say, Zirbel’s cable is “minimalist in its reporting” on what happened to Rahman. “It seems to me the ADDO should have been telling him, ‘Report the truth, don’t hold anything back, there’s an investigative team coming out, be honest and forthright. But that was not the message that was given to the chief of base by the ADDO.” CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano will later deny this, calling this account “pathetic,” but will not say exactly what is wrong with it. [Washingtonian, 3/25/2010]

Entity Tags: Stephen Kappes, Gul Rahman, Matthew Zirbel, Central Intelligence Agency, Paul Gimigliano

Category Tags: Reports/Investigations, Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Other Detainees

The CIA’s office of the inspector general begins an investigation of the killing of detainee Gul Rahman at the agency’s Salt Pit black site in Afghanistan (see November 20, 2002). The investigation begins after the agency’s inspector general, John Helgerson, is notified of the incident by management (see Shortly After November 20, 2002). It is unclear whether the inspector general issues a separate report on this incident or whether his office’s conclusions about it are contained in a general report on the effectiveness of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program (see May 7, 2004). Whatever the case, the inspector general’s conclusions focus on two agency officials, an officer named Matthew Zirbel, who caused Rahman’s death, and his boss, the CIA’s station chief in Afghanistan, known only as Paul P. The investigation finds that Zirbel displayed poor judgement in leaving Rahman to die, but that he made repeated requests for guidance that were largely ignored. [Associated Press, 3/28/2010]

Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (CIA), “Paul P.”, Central Intelligence Agency, Matthew Zirbel

Category Tags: Reports/Investigations, Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Other Detainees

Jamil al-Banna.Jamil al-Banna. [Source: Public domain]On December 8, 2002, British residents Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna are secretly flown from Gambia to the US military base in Bagram, Afghanistan. They had been held in Gambia by the CIA after the British intelligence agency MI5 gave the CIA false information suggesting the two of them were Islamist militants. In fact, they had worked until recently as informants for MI5. In Gambia, they were pressured to resume their informant work (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002). Once in Bagram, they are again pressured to be informants. The CIA asks if they will inform for them, instead of MI5. Al-Banna in particular is offered increasing sums of money and a US passport if he works for the CIA, but he refuses. [Washington Post, 4/2/2006] They are initially taken to the “dark prison” near Kabul and kept in the cold in complete darkness for two weeks. Loudspeakers blare music at them 24 hours a day. Al-Rawi will later recall: “For three days or so I just sat in the corner, shivering. The only time there was light was when a guard came to check on me with a very dim torch—as soon as he’d detect movement, he would leave. I tried to do a few push-ups and jogged on the spot to keep warm. There was no toilet paper, but I tore off my nappies and tried to use them to clean myself.” After about two weeks, they are taken to the nearby Bagram prison. They are heavily abused there too, starting by beating beaten up as they arrive. The two of them had worked as go-betweens between MI5 and the radical imam Abu Qatada, and in Bagram they are heavily pressured to incriminate Abu Qatada. By this time, Abu Qatada is imprisoned in Britain and fighting deportation. [Observer, 7/29/2007] Al-Banna will later tell a detainee in Guantanamo, Asif Iqbal, that Bagram was “rough” and “that he had been forced to walk around naked, coming and going from the showers, having to parade past American soldiers or guards including women who would laugh at everyone who was put in the same position.” [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 pdf file] At no time during their detention are they permitted to see a lawyer, despite the fact that a habeas corpus petition has been filed on their behalf and is pending before British courts. In March 2003, they are sent to Guantanamo (see March 2003-November 18, 2007). [Amnesty International, 8/19/2003; Petition for writ of habeas corpus for Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil el-Banna and Martin Mubanga. Jamil el-Banna, et al. v. George Bush, et al., 7/8/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Jamil al-Banna, Central Intelligence Agency, Bisher al-Rawi, Asif Iqbal

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Abrogation of Rights, Extreme Temperatures, Intimidation/Threats, Isolation, Physical Assault, Sexual Humiliation, Sleep Deprivation, Bagram (Afghanistan), Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil al-Banna

After 15 months of brutal torture in Morocco (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004), British terror suspect Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001) is flown to Afghanistan by the CIA.
Shock at Brutal Treatment - Even the hardened CIA agents in Afghanistan are shocked by the treatment meted out by the Moroccans, who, among other treatments, had repeatedly slashed and lacerated Mohamed’s genitals with scalpels and knives. Mohamed will later recall: “When I got to Kabul a female agent started taking close-up pictures of my genitals. She was shocked. When they removed my diaper she could see blood was still oozing from the cuts on my penis. For the first two weeks they had me on antibiotics and they took pictures of my genitals every day. They told me, ‘This is not for us. It’s for Washington.’ They wanted to be sure it was healing.”
'The Dark Prison' - But the initial shock gives way to a new session of brutality at the hands of his American captors. Mohamed will later call his Afghani detention facility “the dark prison,” and recall it as one of the lowest points of his life. In Morocco, Mohamed confessed to anything he was asked—being part of a plot to build a radioactive “dirty bomb,” being a confidant of 9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, having met Osama bin Laden dozens of times—in order to, he says, avoid further torture. Now the Americans want him to be a prosecution witness against high-ranking al-Qaeda already in US custody. But Mohammed knows nothing of these people or their crimes, he will later say. The tortures with scalpels are not repeated, but Mohamed will recall seemingly endless ordeals of being shackled by the wrists to his door frame, often in complete darkness, and in one memorable instance, being subjected to a rap CD being played in his cell at ear-shatteringly loud volumes for an entire month without stop. “It’s a miracle my brain is still intact,” he will later say. In September, he is transferred to Guantanamo (see September 2004 and After). [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]

Entity Tags: Binyam Mohamed, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Detainments, Rendition after 9/11, Extreme Temperatures, Isolation, Sleep Deprivation, Stress Positions, Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Binyam Mohamed

Khalid el-Masri.Khalid el-Masri. [Source: Reuters]In Macedonia, Khalid el-Masri is told he is free to return to Germany. His guards videotape him as evidence that he is in good health when he leaves their country. El-Masri steps out the door of the motel where he has been held, and walks a few meters, when a pick-up truck pulls up next to him. Several men pull him inside, handcuff him, and put a hood over his head. The truck appears to be driving towards the airport. [New York Times, 1/9/2005; Guardian, 1/14/2005] He hears the sounds of a plane, and the voice of one of his Macedonian minders saying he will receive a medical examination. [Guardian, 1/14/2005] He is then taken into a building. [New York Times, 1/9/2005] “I heard the door being closed,” he recalls. “And then they beat me from all sides, from everywhere, with hands and feet. With knives or scissors they took away my clothes. In silence. The beating, I think, was just to humiliate me, to hurt me, to make me afraid, to make me silent. They stripped me naked. I was terrified. They tried to take off my pants. I tried to stop them so they beat me again. And when I was naked I heard a camera.” He is then rectally examined by force. [Guardian, 1/14/2005] “After I was naked they took off my mask so I could see, and all the people were in black clothes and black masks. There were seven or eight people.” El-Masri is then dressed in a blue warm-up suit, and his hands are cuffed and tied to a belt; his feet shackled. Plugs are put in his ears and he is blindfolded. Next, they put him on a plane and force him to lie on the floor, while someone injects him with a drug that makes him fall asleep. [New York Times, 1/9/2005] But he vaguely notices the plane taking off. He receives a second injection during the flight. When he awakes, the plane has landed and he finds himself driven in the boot of car. Taken inside a building, he is thrown into the wall and onto to the floor of a small room that is to become his cell for the next five months. His head and back are stepped upon, while his chains are removed. [Guardian, 1/14/2005] “Everything was dirty, a dirty blanket, dirty water, like from a fish aquarium.” Guards and fellow prisoners will later tell him he is in Kabul, Afghanistan. [New York Times, 1/9/2005] On the first evening of his captivity in Afghanistan, El-Masri receives a visit from a masked man, he assumes is a doctor, who takes a blood sample and appears to be an American. Accompanying guards repeatedly punch El-Masri in the head and neck. El-Masri says he nevertheless has the nerve to ask the American for fresh water. “And he said: ‘It’s not our problem, it’s a problem of the Afghan people.’” [Guardian, 1/14/2005] He is also forced to run up and down a stairs while his hands are tied behind his back. The next morning, an interrogator shouts at him: “Where you are right now, there is no law, no rights; no one knows you are here, and no one cares about you.” [New York Times, 1/9/2005] Perhaps the same interrogator says, while seven or eight men with black masks watched silently, “Do you know where you are?” El-Masri answers: “Yes, I know. I’m in Kabul.” The interrogator replies: “It’s a country without laws. And nobody knows that you are here. Do you know what this means?” [Guardian, 1/14/2005] He discovers the identity of some of the other prisoners. There are two Pakistani brothers, who have Saudi citizenship, a man from Tanzania, who has been detained for several months, a Pakistani who has been there for nearly two years, a Yemeni, and a number of Afghans. [New York Times, 1/9/2005; Guardian, 1/14/2005] Comparing his situation to that of the others, El-Masri concludes: “It was a crime, it was humiliating, and it was inhuman, although I think that in Afghanistan I was treated better than the other prisoners. Somebody in the prison told me that before I came somebody died under torture.” The identity of his interrogators remains a secret, though after about a month, he is visited by two unmasked Americans. One, referred to by the prisoners as “the Doctor,” is tall, pale, in his 60s and has long grey hair. The other, named “the Boss,” has red hair and blue eyes and wears glasses. [Guardian, 1/14/2005] In the meantime, el-Masri’s wife, Aisha, completely unaware of her husband’s whereabouts, begins to think he has gone to marry another woman. Together with their children, she moves to Lebanon. [New York Times, 1/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Khalid el-Masri

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Sexual Humiliation, Physical Assault, Involuntary Drugs, Khalid el-Masri, Salt Pit (Afghanistan)

A CIA review of the passport of Khalid el-Masri determines that it is genuine, not a forgery. El-Masri had been arrested in Macedonia (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004) and rendered to Afghanistan, where he is being tortured (see January 23 - March 2004), partly because the CIA thought he was traveling on a false German passport. However, the news that the passport is legitimate does not inspire the CIA to release him, as a manager at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, still wants him held. A former colleague will say that this is because of a “gut feeling” the manager, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, has and because she “can’t admit a mistake.” Another former colleague will say, “She just looked into her crystal ball and it said that he was bad.” Although it is clear by now that there was no problem with el-Masri’s passport and that he is not an associate of the 9/11 hijackers (note: the hijackers knew a different man with the same name), Bikowsky insists el-Masri “had phone calls to people who were bad. Or to people who knew people who were bad.” Some other CIA officers are unhappy with this state of affairs. One CIA official comes in every morning and asks, “Is that guy still locked up in the Salt Pit?” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 284-285]

Entity Tags: Khalid el-Masri, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Khalid el-Masri

Khalid el-Masri and the other prisoners at the mysterious US-run prison in Kabul begin a hunger strike. An Afghan guard tells him: “The Americans don’t care if you live or die.” Two days later, according to one report, El-Masri is beaten and forcibly fed through a tube down his throat. [New York Times, 1/9/2005] 27 days into the hunger strike, El-Masri is taken to a room one night to meet the Americans and a senior Afghan. He demands to see a German representative, be put before a court or released. The “Boss,” according to El-Masri, is angry with the situation, saying: “He shouldn’t be here. He’s in the wrong place.” And also the “Doctor,” according to El-Masri, seems to think he is innocent. His living conditions improve a bit, with a bed instead of a plastic mat and a new carpet. But he continues his hunger strike. On the 37th day, he is force-fed. His captors then promise that he will be released within three weeks, at which point El-Masri starts to eat again. [Guardian, 1/14/2005]

Entity Tags: Khalid el-Masri

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Khalid el-Masri, Physical Assault, Salt Pit (Afghanistan)

A manager at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, agrees that the agency can release an innocent German citizen named Khalid el-Masri who has been imprisoned in one of the CIA’s black sites for about two months (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004 and January 23 - March 2004). The CIA has known el-Masri is innocent for some time, but has not yet got around to releasing him (see (February 2004)). However, the manager, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, makes his release conditional on the German intelligence services promising to follow him once he is free. She is told that as el-Masri is not a terrorist, but innocent, he cannot be put on a watch list, followed, or monitored when making phone calls. Therefore, she is reluctant to let him go and he remains in prison in Afghanistan. [Mayer, 2008, pp. 285]

Entity Tags: Khalid el-Masri, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Khalid el-Masri

Two senior CIA managers, Counterterrorist Center head Jose Rodriguez and Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt, are informed that an innocent German named Khalid el-Masri is being held at one of the agency’s black sites in Afghanistan. The news comes about as a result of dissatisfaction on the part of some officers that the agency is holding an innocent man and refusing to release him (see Late March 2004). According to author Jane Mayer, “a lawyer for the [Counterterrorist Center] surreptitiously alert[s] a lawyer for the European division—which ha[s] an interest in [el-]Masri because of his German citizenship—that he [is] innocent. Together the CIA lawyers scheme […] about how to get [el-]Masri released.” A senior European division officer then goes to see Rodriguez, who had heard that el-Masri is, in Mayer’s words, a “tremendous catch.” However, the officer tells him, “It’s the wrong Khalid el-Masri.” (Note: some of the 9/11 hijackers knew a different man of the same name.) Subsequently, Pavitt is also informed of the problem. Mayer will comment, “Yet for months after these senior CIA officers were warned that the agency was holding an innocent man in dire circumstances, the situation continued.” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 285]

Entity Tags: James Pavitt, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid el-Masri, Counterterrorist Center

Category Tags: Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Khalid el-Masri

Two officers in the CIA’s European division hatch a plan to free an innocent German named Khalid el-Masri who has been held at an agency black site since January (see January 23 - March 2004). The plan, which is termed a “reverse rendition,” is basically to take el-Masri out of prison, fly him somewhere, drive him round in circles for a few hours, and then let him go. However, a manager at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is opposed to this plan. The manager, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, had been the driving force behind el-Masri’s rendition to Afghanistan in the first place and had previously put obstacles in the way of his release (see Late March 2004). Now, she still argues that el-Masri is a terrorist. Author Jane Mayer will comment on why Bikowsky’s opposition carries weight: “She had an unusual amount of clout in the agency. She was smart and tough. And her trump card was that she sometimes personally briefed President Bush.” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 285-286] Despite Bikowsky’s opposition, a version of the “reverse rendition” plan will be implemented at the end of May (see May 29, 2004).

Entity Tags: Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, Khalid el-Masri, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Khalid el-Masri

CIA Director George Tenet is informed that the agency has wrongly rendered an innocent German named Khalid el-Masri to a black site in Afghanistan and has been holding him there for several months (see January 23 - March 2004). Tenet receives this information at a meeting with all the main participants in the case: a bin Laden unit manager named Alfreda Frances Bikowsky who pushed the rendition in the first place; Counterterrorist Center head Jose Rodriguez and Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt, who have known of the case for some time but done nothing about it (see (April 2004)); and two European Division officers who have a plan to free el-Masri (see (April 2004)). After they all say their piece, Tenet is, according to author Jane Mayer, “stunned.” He says: “Are you telling me we’ve got an innocent guy stuck in prison in Afghanistan? Oh sh_t! Just tell me—please—we haven’t used ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques on him, have we?” The group then discusses what to do, and one suggestion is to let him go with a large quantity of cash. According to two of Mayer’s sources, Pavitt chuckles, “At least the guy will earn more money in five months than he ever could have any other way!” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 286] No definitive decision about what to do is taken, and Tenet goes to see National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see (May 2004)).

Entity Tags: Khalid el-Masri, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., Counterterrorist Center, George J. Tenet, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, James Pavitt

Category Tags: High-level Decisions and Actions, Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Khalid el-Masri

CIA Director George Tenet informs National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that the agency has been holding an innocent German named Khalid el-Masri at a black site for several months (see January 23 - March 2004). Rice’s demeanor during the meeting will be described as “very flat, as always,” and after hearing the story she says slowly, “Okay.” Tenet then explains the plan to conduct a “reverse rendition,” releasing el-Masri with a large amount of cash, but with no explanation to anyone, including the German government. Rice disagrees with the plan. “Your plan won’t work. We have to tell the Germans. We can’t put the president in the position of telling a lie to our allies,” she says. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is also consulted about the matter, and agrees with Rice’s assessment. [Mayer, 2008, pp. 286]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid el-Masri, Richard Armitage, George J. Tenet

Category Tags: High-level Decisions and Actions, Khalid el-Masri, Salt Pit (Afghanistan)

A native German speaker visits Khalid el-Masri in the US prison in Kabul but does not identify himself. “I asked him,” El-Masri recalls, “‘Are you from the German authorities?’ He says: ‘I do not want to answer that question.’ When I asked him if the German authorities knew that I was there, he answered: ‘I can’t answer this question.’” What the German is able to tell him, is that one of the obstacles to his release is that the Americans do not want to leave any evidence that el-Masri has ever been in the prison. [Guardian, 1/14/2005]

Entity Tags: Khalid el-Masri

Category Tags: Khalid el-Masri, Coverup, Salt Pit (Afghanistan)

The US Ambassador to Germany Daniel Coats tells German Interior Minister Otto Schily that the CIA has been holding an innocent German citizen named Khalid el-Masri at a black site for several months (see January 23 - March 2004) and shortly plans to release him (see May 29, 2004). The CIA had intended to keep this information from the German authorities (see (May 2004)), but the Germans are told at the suggestion of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see (May 2004)). According to author Jane Mayer, Schily is “extremely unhappy” at hearing the news and makes it clear that he would have preferred not to have known. “Why are you telling me this?” he asks. “My secretary is here—taking notes! Now there’s a record! It will get out—it will become a German political issue. I’ll have to face investigations—I’ll have to testify in front of the Bundestag! Why didn’t you just let him go, give him some money, and keep it quiet?” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 286]

Entity Tags: Otto Schily, Daniel Coats

Category Tags: High-level Decisions and Actions, Khalid el-Masri, Salt Pit (Afghanistan)

At the end of May, more than a week after the German’s visit (see Mid-May 2004), [Guardian, 1/14/2005] Khalid el-Masri is cuffed, blindfolded, and put on a small jet. After a bus ride of six or seven hours, he is left on the side of the road. He follows the instruction of a man who tells him to walk in a certain direction and arrives at a border crossing, which he discovers is in northern Albania close to the Macedonian border. Three Albanian border officers await him. When El-Masri tells them of his five months in captivity, one of them starts to laugh. He says, according to El-Masri, “Don’t tell that story to anyone because no one will believe it. Everyone will laugh.” El-Masri is then handed back the belongings that were taken from him on the first day of his captivity in Macedonia (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004), including his passport and money. His passport is then stamped with the date of May 29, 2004. He returns to Germany on June 3. [New York Times, 1/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Khalid el-Masri

Category Tags: Khalid el-Masri, Salt Pit (Afghanistan)

The CIA closes a prison known as the Salt Pit near Kabul, Afghanistan. According to the Washington Post, the reason for the closure is that the road leading to the prison is unsafe. The facility is relocated to Bagram Air Base. The date of closure is uncertain, although a detainee was still being held there in late May 2004 (see May 29, 2004) and the prison’s closure is reported in November 2005. [Washington Post, 11/2/2005]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Salt Pit (Afghanistan)

Officials at the CIA refer a case in which a detainee named Gul Rahman apparently froze to death at the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan (see November 20, 2002) to the Justice Department for examination. [Washington Post, 9/19/2009] The full name of the CIA officer who caused the detainee to die is not known, although his last name is Zirbel. [Mahoney and Johnson, 10/9/2009, pp. 29 pdf file] The case is reviewed with an eye to prosecution by the US Attorneys Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, where one of the office’s top prosecutors works on it. [Washington Post, 9/19/2009] This is apparently one of eight such referrals around this time. [New York Times, 10/23/2005] According to the New York Times, the Justice Department will be “reviewing its jurisdiction” in the case in May 2005. [New York Times, 5/22/2004] The department will decide not to prosecute in October 2005 (see Mid-October 2005), but will re-examine the case in 2009 (see August 24, 2009).

Entity Tags: Gul Rahman, Matthew Zirbel, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Legal Proceedings, Prisoner Deaths, Dangerous Conditions, Extreme Temperatures, Poor Conditions, Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Other Detainees

The CIA’s Executive Director Kyle “Dusty” Foggo reviews the case of the killing of Afghan detainee Gul Rahman at the Salt Pit black site in 2002 (see November 20, 2002). However, he takes no action against the two officers involved in the death, one named Matthew Zirbel, who had Rahman doused with water and left with little clothing in the cold, and one known as Paul P., Zirbel’s boss who failed to provide him with the proper guidance. [Associated Press, 3/28/2010] The timing of the review is unknown, but it must occur after Foggo becomes executive director in November 2004. [New York Times, 8/12/2009; Associated Press, 3/28/2010]

Entity Tags: Matthew Zirbel, Gul Rahman, “Paul P.”, Kyle Dustin “Dusty” Foggo

Category Tags: Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Other Detainees

The Justice Department decides not to prosecute in most cases where detainees were abused and killed by the CIA. The cases, of which there are apparently eight, had been referred to the department by the CIA’s inspector general (see (August 2004)) and were investigated primarily by the US Attorneys Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, although officials at department headquarters in Washington are also involved in the decision not to prosecute. Although some of the cases are still technically under review at this time, the department indicates it does not intend to bring charges. [New York Times, 10/23/2005] The cases include:
bullet The death of Iraqi prisoner Manadel al-Jamadi in CIA custody in November 2003 (see Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003 and (7:00 a.m.) November 4, 2003);
bullet The asphyxiation of Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush in Iraq, also in November 2003 (see November 24 or 25, 2003 and November 26, 2003). This incident involved the military, as well as at least one CIA contractor; [New York Times, 10/23/2005]
bullet The intimidation of al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri by a CIA officer named “Albert” using a gun and drill (see September 11, 2003).
bullet The death of detainee Gul Rahman, who froze to death at the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan (see November 20, 2002). The case was examined by prosecutors, but, in the end, a recommendation not to prosecute the officer who caused the detainee to die is made. [Washington Post, 9/19/2009] The officer’s first name is not known, although his last name is Zirbel. [Mahoney and Johnson, 10/9/2009, pp. 29 pdf file] The decision is made because prosecutors conclude that the prison was outside the reach of US law; although the CIA funded it and vetted its Afghan guards, it was technically an Afghan prison. In addition, it is unclear whether Rahman, who was captured in Pakistan and then taken to Afghanistan, would have died from injuries sustained during his capture, rather than by freezing. Although hypothermia was listed as the cause of death in the autopsy, the body was not available to investigators. According to the Washington Post, “questions remain whether hypothermia was used as a cover story in part to protect people who had beaten the captive.” However, according to a “senior official who took part in the review,” the decision not to prosecute in this case is not initially that clear, and an indictment is considered. However, the prosecutors decide not to press charges against Zirbel and a memo explaining this decision is drafted. An official involved in the review will later say there is “absolutely no pressure” from the Justice Department’s management to decide not to prosecute. However, a later report by the Post will indicate there may be a split among prosecutors over the decision, and that a political appointee, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Paul McNulty, assesses the case. McNulty will be nominated for the position of deputy attorney general around this time (see October 21, 2005). [Washington Post, 9/19/2009]
However, one CIA employee, a contractor named David Passaro, has been charged with detainee abuse (see June 18-21, 2003). [New York Times, 10/23/2005] The department will begin a second review of some or all of these cases in 2009 (see August 24, 2009).

Entity Tags: Matthew Zirbel, Paul J. McNulty, Gul Rahman, Central Intelligence Agency, Abed Hamed Mowhoush, Manadel al-Jamadi, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Abu Ghraib Scandal Aftermath, Coverup, High-level Decisions and Actions, Legal Proceedings, Reports/Investigations, Dangerous Conditions, Physical Assault, Poor Conditions, Abu Ghraib Prison (Iraq), Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Other Detainees

The “Salt Pit” prison near Kabul, Afghanistan.The “Salt Pit” prison near Kabul, Afghanistan. [Source: Trevor Paglen.]Khalid el-Masri and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) file a lawsuit against former CIA director George Tenet and three corporations. The suit alleges that all of the defendants were complicit in el-Masri’s abduction transfer to to a secret prison, and subsequent mistreatment (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004, January 23 - March 2004, and March-April 2004 ). Tenet is said to have known that the CIA had mistakenly detained an innocent man, but allowed el-Masri to remain in detention for two months. The three corporations are accused of owning and operating airplanes that transported el-Masri to a secret prison in Afghanistan known as the “Salt Pit.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 12/6/2005; Beeson, Wizner, and Goodman, 12/6/2005 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Khalid el-Masri, American Civil Liberties Union, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Rendition after 9/11, Legal Proceedings, Human Rights Groups, Khalid el-Masri, Salt Pit (Afghanistan)

Attorney General Eric Holder announces he has appointed a federal prosecutor from Connecticut, John Durham, as a special prosecutor to investigate whether CIA interrogators broke any federal laws. [US Department of Justice, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/25/2009]
Decision Stems from CIA IG Report - The investigation is preliminary in nature, and will decide whether a full investigation is warranted. Holder bases his decision in part on a just-released 2004 report on torture by the CIA’s inspector general (see August 24, 2009) and a Justice Department recommendation that there should be an investigation of about a dozen cases of possible abuse and torture from Iraq and Afghanistan (see First Half of August 2009). According to the conclusion of the CIA report: “The enhanced interrogation techniques used by the agency under the CTC [Counterterrorist Center] program are inconsistent with the public policy positions that the United States has taken regarding human rights. Unauthorized, improvised, inhumane, and undocumented detention and interrogation techniques were used.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009] The review is also prompted by a report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) into memoranda drafted by the department’s Office of Legal Counsel related to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The OPR report recommends the department re-examine previous decisions not to prosecute in some cases related to the interrogation of certain detainees. The aim of the preliminary review is to find whether federal offenses were committed in some detainee interrogations. [US Department of Justice, 8/24/2009] According to the Washington Post, the review will focus on “a very small number of cases,” including one in which a CIA officer named Zirbel caused Afghan prisoner Gul Rahman to freeze to death at the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan (see November 20, 2002) and the intimidation of al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri by a CIA officer named “Albert” using a handgun and drill (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003). These cases and the others were previously referred by the CIA inspector general to the Justice Department for examination, but the department decided not to prosecute (see (August 2004) and Mid-October 2005). [Washington Post, 9/19/2009; Associated Press, 9/7/2010]
Durham a Veteran Prosecutor - Durham has been investigating the CIA’s destruction of videotapes of interrogations that may have documented instances of torture (see January 2, 2008). Although Durham has a low public profile, he is a veteran of numerous high-level prosecutions, including cases against Boston-area organized crime figures, corrupt FBI agents, and former Governor John Rowland (R-CT). Durham is considered apolitical, and has worked closely with the Justice Department under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Connecticut defense lawyer Hugh Keefe calls him “the go-to guy for Justice whenever they get a hot case.” Former Connecticut prosecutor Mark Califano calls Durham’s approach to investigations “clinical,” and says he has “very rarely” concluded a case without bringing criminal charges. “He likes to make cases when there is evidence there,” Califano says. “You’ve got to balance whether that kind of information exists.… You can’t move forward if you don’t have the evidence.” [US Department of Justice, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009; Washington Post, 8/25/2009] Boston prosecutors and defense attorneys have characterized Durham as “honest” and “tenacious.” Warren Bamford, who heads Boston’s FBI office, said Durham “kind of has blinders on in the sense that he doesn’t worry about the politics and all the other stuff that might be swirling around, and I think that’s really what makes him so successful.” [Boston Globe, 1/7/2008] In a statement, Holder says, “Mr. Durham, who is a career prosecutor with the Department of Justice and who has assembled a strong investigative team of experienced professionals, will recommend to me whether there is sufficient predication for a full investigation into whether the law was violated in connection with the interrogation of certain detainees.” [Think Progress, 8/24/2009]
Senator: Durham a 'First-Rate' Choice - Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is enthusiastic about the choice of Durham. He says he has worked with Durham before, while Whitehouse was US Attorney for Rhode Island, and calls the prosecutor “very professional” and “a first-rate choice,” adding that Durham has “a very good grounding in this because he has been doing the investigation into the destruction of the torture tapes.” [MSNBC, 8/25/2009]
No Acknowledged 'Break' with White House - Holder notes that he will be criticized for undermining the CIA, and may be going against abjurations by President Obama to “move forward” instead of focusing on past transgressions, but says the facts left him little choice. “As attorney general, my duty is to examine the facts and to follow the law,” he says in a statement. “Given all of the information currently available, it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of action for me to take.… I have concluded that the information known to me warrants opening a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations.” White House officials say Holder’s decision does not mark a break between the White House and the Justice Department on their policies toward interrogations. Deputy press secretary Bill Burton tells reporters that “ultimately, the decisions on who is investigated and who is prosecuted are up to the attorney general.… The president thinks that Eric Holder, who he appointed as a very independent attorney general, should make those decisions.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009] Justice Department spokespersons refuse to say who will, and who will not, be investigated. [TPM Muckraker, 8/25/2009]

Entity Tags: Mark Califano, John Durham, Warren Bamford, Office of Professional Responsibility, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Hugh Keefe, Obama administration, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Matthew Zirbel, Central Intelligence Agency, “Albert”, Bill Burton, US Department of Justice, Sheldon Whitehouse

Category Tags: High-level Decisions and Actions, Legal Proceedings, Prisoner Deaths, Reports/Investigations, Abrogation of Rights, Dangerous Conditions, Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Other Detainees

The House Judiciary Committee accidently reveals the surname of the covert CIA officer who caused the death of Afghan detainee Gul Rahman in November 2002. The officer, whose last name is now known to be Zirbel, had Rahman doused with water then left him with few clothes in the cold. Rahman was later found dead (see November 20, 2002). The surname is uncovered in a footnote to a document drafted by lawyers acting for Jay Bybee, who is accused of improper conduct over his drafting of memos that effectively authorised the CIA to torture prisoners, which the committee posts at its website. Although sections of the document are redacted, it appears censors failed to remove Zirbel’s name in this one instance. After the document is highlighted in the press in late March, the name will be redacted in the version of it posted at the committee’s website, but will survive elsewhere on the Internet. [Mahoney and Johnson, 10/9/2009 pdf file; Harper's, 3/28/2010; New Yorker, 3/31/2010]

Entity Tags: House Judiciary Committee, Matthew Zirbel

Category Tags: Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Other Detainees

The Associated Press publishes an article by Adam Goldman and Kathy Gannon revealing the name of the Afghan detainee who died at the CIA-controlled Salt Pit prison near Kabul in November 2002 (see November 20, 2002). The prisoner is named as Gul Rahman, and further details about his capture and death are also revealed for the first time. [Associated Press, 3/28/2010]

Entity Tags: Adam Goldman, Kathy Gannon, Gul Rahman

Category Tags: Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Other Detainees

New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer writes that CIA officer Matthew Zirbel, who caused Afghan detainee Gul Rahman to freeze to death in November 2002 (see November 20, 2002), is still employed by the agency. [New Yorker, 3/31/2010; Associated Press, 2/9/2011] The comment is made in a post about Rahman’s death and the aftermath. [New Yorker, 3/31/2010]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Jane Mayer, Matthew Zirbel

Category Tags: Salt Pit (Afghanistan), Other Detainees

Ordering 

Time period


Categories

Key Events

Key Events (98)

General Topic Areas

Abu Ghraib Scandal Aftermath (28)Coverup (144)Criticisms of US (171)Detainee Treatment Act (15)Detainments (121)Disciplinary Actions (17)High-level Decisions and Actions (450)Human Rights Groups (81)Impunity (49)Indefinite Detention (41)Independent Investigations (27)Indications of Abuse (61)Legal Proceedings (217)Media (77)Military Commissions / Tribunals (66)Other Events (20)Prisoner Deaths (48)Private Contractors (8)Public Statements (84)Reports/Investigations (144)Statements/Writings about Torture (129)Supreme Court Decisions (5)

Renditions

Extraordinary Rendition (24)Rendition after 9/11 (75)Rendition before 9/11 (34)

Types of Abuses Performed by US

Abrogation of Rights (37)Dangerous Conditions (18)Deception (5)Electrodes (9)Exposure to Insects (4)Extreme Temperatures (48)Forced Confessions (37)Ghost Detainees (28)Insufficient Food (25)Intimidation/Threats (44)Involuntary Drugs (14)Isolation (33)Medical Services Denied (14)Mental Abuse (21)Physical Assault (140)Poor Conditions (30)SERE Techniques (30)Sexual Humiliation (57)Sexual Temptation (3)Sleep Deprivation (74)Stress Positions (65)Suppression of Religious Expression (18)Use of Dogs (20)Waterboarding (92)

Documents

Internal Memos/Reports (95)Presidential Directives (8)

Specific Events or Operations

Destruction of CIA Tapes (94)Operation Copper Green (9)Qala-i-Janghi Massacre (17)

US Bases and Interrogation Centers

Abu Ghraib Prison (Iraq) (187)Al Jafr Prison (Jordan) (8)Al Qaim (Iraq) (6)Bagram (Afghanistan) (60)Camp Bucca (Iraq) (13)Camp Cropper (Iraq) (13)Diego Garcia (8)Gardez (Afghanistan) (7)Guantanamo (US Base in Cuba) (293)Kandahar (Afghanistan) (19)Salt Pit (Afghanistan) (34)Stare Kiejkuty (Poland) (21)US Base (Thailand) (15)USS Peleliu (7)Other US Bases and Centers (40)

High Ranking Detainees

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (32)Abu Zubaida (52)Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (6)Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (26)Hambali (9)Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (10)Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (34)Majid Khan (7)Ramzi bin al-Shibh (13)Other High Ranking Detainees (14)

Other Detainees

Abed Hamed Mowhoush (8)Asif Iqbal (20)Binyam Mohamed (14)Bisher al-Rawi (11)Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (37)Huda al-Azzawi (10)Jamal Udeen (10)Jamil al-Banna (9)John Walker Lindh (29)Jose Padilla (31)Khalid el-Masri (17)Maher Arar (14)Moazzam Begg (8)Mohamed al-Khatani (13)Mohammed Jawad (14)Rhuhel Ahmed (22)Saddam Salah al-Rawi (8)Salim Ahmed Hamdan (12)Shafiq Rasul (20)Tarek Dergoul (11)Yaser Esam Hamdi (22)Other Detainees (167)
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