Posts Tagged ‘terror suspects’

Top US lawyers were overruled on ‘torture’ of terror suspects

June 9, 2009

The Australian, June 8, 2009

WASHINGTON: Senior US Justice Department lawyers in 2005 sought to limit tough interrogation tactics against terror suspects but were overruled.

James Comey, who was then the No2 official at the Justice Department, tried to convince Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales that some of the tactics were wrong and they would eventually damage the reputation of the department.

The New York Times reported that Mr Comey had sent an email at the time describing his efforts to curtail the use of the tactics that critics call torture. “I told him the people who were applying pressure now would not be there when the s… hit the fan,” Mr Comey wrote in an email obtained by the Times.

“It would be Alberto Gonzales in the bull’s-eye.

“I told him it was my job to protect the department and the A-G and that I could not agree to this because it was wrong.”

A person familiar with Mr Comey’s concerns, speaking anonymously, said Mr Comey had sought to put limits on the use of the interrogation tactics on moral and ethical grounds, and because they didn’t work.

The Justice Department has been conducting an investigation into the conduct of the lawyers, who wrote memos authorising the CIA to use a variety of measures, including sleep deprivation, slamming suspects into walls and waterboarding to make them talk. The memos were the subject of internal debates within the Bush administration and were later made public by the Obama administration.

AP

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CIA terror suspects ‘kept awake for 11 days’

May 10, 2009

UK, May 10, 2009

More than 25 of the CIA’s war-on-terror prisoners were subjected to sleep deprivation for as long as 11 days at a time during the administration of former president George Bush, according to The Los Angeles Times.

At one stage during the war on terror, the Central Intelligence Agency was allowed to keep prisoners awake for as long as 11 days, the Times reported, citing memoranda made public by the Justice department last month.

The limit was later reduced to just over a week, the report stated.

Sleep deprivation was one of the most important elements in the CIA’s interrogation programme, seen as more effective than more violent techniques used to help break the will of suspects.

Within the CIA it was seen as having the advantage of eroding a prisoner’s will without leaving lasting damage.

The technique is now prohibited by President Barack Obama’s ban on harsh interrogation methods issued in January, although a task force is reviewing its use along with other interrogation methods, The Times said.

But details in the Justice Department memos released by Mr Obama suggest that the method, which involved suspects standing for days on end, dressed only in a nappy and shackled to the floor, was more controversial than previously known.

According to the memos, medical personnel were present to make sure prisoners weren’t injured. But a 2007 Red Cross report on the CIA program said detainees’ wrists and ankles bore scars from their shackles, the newspaper reported..

When detainees could no longer stand, they could be laid on the prison floor with their limbs “anchored to a far point on the floor in such a manner that the arms cannot be bent or used for balance or comfort,” a memo dated May 10, 2005, said.

“The position is sufficiently uncomfortable to detainees to deprive them of unbroken sleep, while allowing their lower limbs to recover from the effects of standing,” it said.

In the Red Cross report, prisoners said they were also subjected to loud music and repetitive noise.

“I was kept sitting on a chair, shackled by hands and feet for two to three weeks,” said suspected Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah, the first prisoner captured by the CIA, according to the Red Cross report. “If I started to fall asleep, a guard would come and spray water in my face.”

In the Justice Department memos, sleep deprivation was described as part of a “baseline” phase of interrogation, categorized as less severe than other “corrective” or “coercive” methods.

“Waterboarding was obviously the most controversial,” said a former senior U.S. government official who was briefed extensively on CIA interrogation operations. But “sleep deprivation is probably the most effective thing they had going.”

The Justice Department memos also cited research that suggested sleep deprivation was not harmful.

“Experience with sleep deprivation shows that ‘surprisingly, little seemed to go wrong with the subjects physically,’ ” said the May 10 memo.

But a British scientist whose name was one of those put on the studies said he had never been consulted by US officials about the study.

James Horne, director of the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University, said he didn’t know how his work was being used until the memos were released.

“My response was shocked concern,” Professor Horne told the LA Times. Just because the pain of sleep deprivation “can’t be measured in terms of physical injury or appearance . . . does not mean that the mental anguish is not as bad,” he said.

Four CIA chiefs said ‘don’t reveal torture memos’

April 20, 2009

Agency’s ex-directors objected to interrogation techniques being revealed. But Barack Obama went ahead anyway.

By Pamela Hess | The Independent, UK, April 19, 2009

Former CIA directors General Michael Hayden (above), Porter Goss, George Tenet and John Deutch fought the White House over release of embarrassing documents

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Former CIA directors General Michael Hayden (above), Porter Goss, George Tenet and John Deutch fought the White House over release of embarrassing documents

Four former CIA directors opposed the release of classified Bush-era interrogation memos, officials say, describing objections that went all the way to the White House and slowed disclosure of the records. Former CIA chiefs Michael Hayden, Porter Goss, George Tenet and John Deutch all called the White House in March warning that release of the so-called “torture memos” would compromise intelligence operations, current and former officials say.

President Barack Obama ultimately overruled the objections after internal discussions that intensified in the weeks that followed the former directors’ intervention. The memos were released on Thursday.

Mr Obama’s involvement grew as the decision neared, and he even led a National Security Council session on the matter, four senior administration officials said. White House adviser David Axelrod, who said he also talked to Mr Obama about the pending release of the memos in recent weeks, said the ex-directors’ opposition was considered seriously but did not impede the decision-making process. “The CIA directors weighed in and it slowed things down,” Mr Axelrod said on Friday.

The memos detailed the legal rationales that senior Bush administration lawyers drew up authorising the CIA to use simulated drowning and other harsh techniques on terror suspects. They described how prisoners were naked, shackled and hooded at the start of interrogation sessions. When the CIA interrogator removed the hood, the questioning began. When a prisoner resisted, the documents outlined techniques the CIA could use to bring him back in line:

* Nudity, sleep deprivation and dietary restrictions kept prisoners compliant and reminded them they had no control over their basic needs. Clothes and food could be used as rewards for co-operation.

* Slapping prisoners on the face or abdomen was allowed. So was grabbing them forcefully by the collar or slamming them into a false wall, a technique called “walling” intended to induce fear rather than pain.

* Water hoses were used to douse the prisoners for minutes at a time. The hoses were turned on and off as the interrogation continued.

* Prisoners were put into one of three “stress positions”, such as sitting on the floor with legs out straight and arms raised in the air.

* At night, the detainees were shackled, standing naked or wearing a nappy. The length of sleep deprivation varied but was authorised for up to 180 hours, or seven and a half days. Interrogation sessions ranged from 30 minutes to several hours and could be repeated as necessary, and as approved by psychological and medical teams.

The Bush administration approved the use of waterboarding, a technique in which a suspect was strapped to a board, his feet raised above his head, and his face covered with a wet cloth as interrogators poured water over it. The body responds as if it is drowning, over and over as the process is repeated. “We find that the use of the waterboard constitutes a threat of imminent death,” Justice Department attorneys wrote. “From the vantage point of any reasonable person undergoing this procedure in such circumstances, he would feel as if he is drowning at the very moment of the procedure due to the uncontrollable physiological sensation he is experiencing.”

But attorneys decided that waterboarding caused “no pain or actual harm whatsoever” and so did not meet the “severe pain and suffering” standard to be considered torture.

President Obama has ended the CIA’s interrogation programme. CIA interrogators are now required to follow army guidelines, under which waterboarding and many of the techniques listed above are prohibited.

The President gave the question of these documents’ release “the appropriate reflection”, Mr Axelrod said. He said Mr Obama’s deliberations revolved around “the issue of national security versus the rule of law”, and amounted to “one of the most profound issues the President of the United States has to deal with”.

On 18 March, the Justice Department told the Director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, as he was leaving for a foreign trip, that it would be recommending that the White House release the memos almost completely uncensored, officials said. Mr Panetta told the US Attorney General, Eric Holder, and officials in the White House that the administration needed to discuss the possibility that the memos’ release might expose CIA officers to lawsuits on allegations of torture and abuse. Mr Panetta also pushed for more censorship of the memos, officials said. The Justice Department informed other senior CIA leaders of the decision to release the memos and, as a courtesy, told former agency directors.

Senior CIA officials objected, arguing that the release would damage the agency’s ability to interrogate prisoners. They also said the move would tarnish CIA officers who had acted on the Bush officials’ legal guidance. And they warned that the action would erode foreign intelligence services’ trust in the CIA’s ability to protect national security secrets. The four former directors immediately protested to the White House, officials said. The enhanced interrogation procedures outlined in the memos had been approved on Mr Tenet’s watch during the Bush administration.

On 19 March, the Justice Department requested a two-week delay in responding to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that asked for release of the memos. Justice officials told the court dealing with that lawsuit that it was considering releasing the memos voluntarily. Two weeks later, Justice Department lawyers told the court the memos would come out on or before 16 April.

Inside the White House, according to aides, Mr Obama expressed concerns that releasing the memos could threaten current intelligence operations as well as US officials. He also echoed the CIA chiefs’ worries about US relationships with always-skittish foreign intelligence services. The Justice Department argued that the ACLU lawsuit would in the end force the administration to release the documents anyway, officials said.

Mr Obama eventually agreed. The administration decided it would be better to make the release voluntarily, so as not to be seen as being forced to do so, the officials said. The only items blacked out included names of US employees or foreign services or items related to techniques still in use. Still, CIA officials needed reassurance about the decision, the officials said.

Mr Obama took the unusual step of accompanying his decision with a personal letter to CIA employees. He also devoted a big share of his public statement to saying and repeating that he believed strongly in keeping intelligence operations secret, and operations about them classified. He said he would not apologise for doing so in the future

What the memos reveal

The Bush administration memos describe the interrogation methods used against 28 terror suspects, the fullest government account of the techniques to date. They range from waterboarding – or simulated drowning – to using a plastic neck collar to slam detainees into walls. The treatment of two suspects in particular are described:

Abu Zubaydah In 2002, the Justice Department authorised CIA interrogators to step up the pressure even further on the suspected terrorist. Justice Department lawyers said the CIA could place Zubaydah in a cramped confinement box. Because Zubaydah appeared afraid of insects, they also authorised interrogators to place him in a box filled with caterpillars (though the tactic was not in fact used). Finally, the Justice Department authorised interrogators to take a step into what the United States now considers torture: waterboarding. Zubaydah was strapped to a board, his feet raised above his head. His face was covered with a wet cloth as interrogators poured water over it.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed A memo dated 30 May 2005 says that before the harsher methods were used on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a top al-Qa’ida detainee, he refused to answer questions about pending plots against the US. “Soon, you will know,” he said, according to the memo. It says the interrogations later extracted details of a plot called the “second wave”, using East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner in Los Angeles. Plots that were disrupted, the memos say, include the alleged effort by Jose Padilla to detonate a “dirty bomb”, spreading radioactive materials by means of explosives.

Torture: Holding America to account

April 18, 2009

To read the four newly released Bush-era memos on America’s so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” for terror suspects is to enter a very dark moral world indeed. It is the Orwellian world of the concealed global detention network set up by the CIA on President Bush’s authority after 9/11 in which suspected terrorists – many of whom may have had a lot of blood on their hands – were secretly held in US bases from Afghanistan to Romania and systematically tortured. A world in which Britain is implicated too, do not forget.

The memos do not admit torture, of course. The United States, Mr Bush famously claimed in 2006, “does not torture”. The memos embody a cynical bureaucratic attempt to align what went on in the secret prisons with that claim. Yet no one who reads their argument that the threat of imminent drowning caused by waterboarding does not reach the level of “prolonged mental harm” which the Bush lawyers argue is necessary to constitute torture, can doubt that torture is precisely what the CIA had been permitted and encouraged to carry out. The truth, as the new US attorney general Eric Holder has said, is clear: “Waterboarding is torture.”

Jaw-dropping though they are, the memos are not the only evidence of the Bush administration’s embrace of torture. Two years ago, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was given access to 14 Guantánamo detainees who had been through the “alternative procedures”. Their experiences, retold in two recent essays by Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books (one of which we republish inside our own Review today), tell of the relentless abuse of detainees who were kept naked in low temperatures for weeks, forced to live in permanent bright light (or total darkness), required to wear nappies, deprived of solid food, blindfolded, shackled, forcibly shaved, and compelled to wear earphones through which loud music was repeatedly played.

The “procedures” discussed in the memos – grasping, slapping, holding, banging against walls, confinement in boxes (sometimes with insects), sleep deprivation, prolonged confinement in “stress positions” and waterboarding – were additional to these. The ICRC heard accounts of most of them from the detainees. These accounts are far more graphic (and even credible) than the cold lawyerish prose of the memos. The ICRC conclusion was emphatic: “The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA programme, either singly or in combination, constituted torture.”

America should hang its head at methods that Dick Cheney still defends (and which, importantly, may not have yielded much good intelligence). Barack Obama did the right thing by ending the abuses within hours of taking office. He did well to publish the legal memos too. In such ways Mr Obama makes clear that his administration is making a clean break with the discredited past, while at the same time graphically reminding the world why that past (and Britain’s role in it) was so disgraceful.

On balance Mr Obama may also be right to assure CIA personnel that they will not face prosecution if they carried out their work in good faith based on the old legal advice. But an essential part of the rule of law is that those who break it must be answerable for their actions. The Bush administration crossed a fateful threshold after 9/11. Its officials, including its lawyers, must be accountable for that. It is understandable that Mr Obama does not want his first term to be dominated by a reliving of the past. Yet America will only ensure it does not embrace torture again by getting to the bottom of why it did so this time. A full congressional inquiry is in order, as Speaker Pelosi has hinted. One way or another, those who ordered the abuses, from the president and vice-president down, must answer for them.

Barack Obama releases documents showing CIA ‘torture’ during Bush-era

April 17, 2009

April 16, 2009

Ankle handcuffs locked to the chair and floor in an interrogation room at Guantanamo Bay

(Haraz Ghanbari/AP)

Mr Obama ruled out prosecutions, saying the US needed a time of reflection, not retribution

President Obama last night released documents detailing the harsh CIA interrogation techniques that had been kept secret by the Bush Administration as he declared it was time to move beyond “a dark and painful chapter in our history”.

Four memos published yesterday showed that terror suspects had been subjected to tactics such as being slammed against walls wearing a special plastic neck collar, kept awake for up to 11 straight days, simulated drowning known as “waterboarding” and being placed in a dark, cramped box.

The CIA also approved exploiting one detainee’s fear of insects by putting caterpillars in the box with him. Others were kept naked and cold for long periods, denied food, shackled for prolonged periods or had their family threatened.

Many senior figures in the Obama Administration, as well as human rights groups, believe such practices amounted to torture.

Both the President and Attorney General Eric Holder, however, reassured CIA operatives yesterday that those involved in the interrogations would not face criminal prosecution so long as they had adhered the legal advice given to them at the time from the Justice Department. “Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past,” said the President. “This is a time for reflection, not retribution.”

CIA Director Leon Panetta told employees that the interrogation practices had been approved at the highest levels of the Bush administration and that they had nothing to fear if they had followed the rules. “You need to be fully confident that as you defend the nation, I will defend you,” he said.

The techniques were used against 14 detainees that the US considered to have high intelligence value after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks between 2002 and 2005. These included the alleged al-Qaeda mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who had initially refused to answer questions about other plots against the US.

Bush Adminstration officials believe that the “enhanced interrogations” subsequently used on him helped avert further attacks including one to crash a hijacked airliner into a tower in Los Angeles.

The memos, however, show just how much effort went into the squaring the techniques with the letter, if not the spirit, of international laws against torture. Interrogators were told not to allow a prisoner’s body temperature or food intake to fall below a certain level, because either could cause permanent damage. Passages describing forced nudity, slamming into walls, sleep deprivation and the dousing of detainees with water as cold as 41 degrees were interspersed with complex legal arguments about what constituted torture.

One memo authorised a method for combining multiple techniques, a practice that human rights lawyers claim crosses the line into torture even if any individual methods did not.

Although some sections were still redacted last night, the CIA had unsuccessfully argued for large parts of the documents to be blacked out. Gen Michael Hayden, who led the CIA during the Bush Adminstration, said: “If you want an intelligence service to work for you, they always work on the edge. That’s just where they work.” Foreign partners will be less likely to cooperate with the US because the release shows it “can’t keep anything secret.”

Mr Obama, however, said much of the information had already been widely publicised and it was important to emphasise that the programme no longer exists as it once did. Withholding the memos, he suggested, “could contribute to an inaccurate accounting of the past, and fuel erroneous and inflammatory assumptions about actions taken by the United States”.

The documents were disclosed to meet a court-approved deadline in a legal case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s impossible not to be shocked by the contents of these memos,” said ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer. “The memos should never have been written, but we’re pleased the new administration has made them public.”

UK Defence Seretary: We did hand over terror suspects for rendition

February 27, 2009

Defence Secretary sorry for misleading statements made by ministers

By Kim Sengupta

The Independent, uk, Friday, 27 February 2009

Defence Secretary John Hutton speaking in the House of Commons yesterdayDefence Secretary John Hutton speaking in the House of Commons yesterday

The British Government admitted for the first time yesterday that it had been involved in “extraordinary rendition”. The Defence Secretary John Hutton disclosed that terror suspects handed over to the US in Iraq were flown out of the country for interrogation.

Contradicting previous insistences by the Government that it had no played no part in the controversial practice, John Hutton revealed that details of the cases were known by officials and detailed in documents sent to two cabinet members at the time – Home Secretary Charles Clarke and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

The prisoners, two men of Pakistani origin who were members of the Lashkar-e-Toiba group, which is said to be affiliated to al-Qa’ida, were captured by SAS troops serving near Baghdad in February 2004. They were handed over to US custody and flown to Afghanistan within the next few months. Among other inmates who passed through the prison was Binyam Mohammed, the UK citizen recently freed from Guantanamo Bay.

Mr Hutton apologised to the Commons “unreservedly” for misleading statements made by the Government in the past, adding “in retrospect, it is clear to me that the transfer to Afghanistan of these two individuals should have been questioned at the time”.

Yesterday, Mr Clarke said he had nothing to add. A spokesman for Mr Straw said “passing references” were made to the cases in documents but he “was not alerted to the specific cases at the time”.

There were immediate calls for an inquiry. The former shadow Home Secretary David Davis said the case was the “latest in a series of issues where the Government has been less than straightforward with regard to allegations of torture”.

A fellow Tory MP, Crispin Blunt, asked why the transfer had not been more fully investigated in 2004, adding: “It is at the very least unfortunate that both officials and ministers overlooked the significance of these cases, not least since the issue of rendition was already highly controversial … The country is owed an account of what happened – nothing does more to undermine our fight against terrorism and violence [than] if we depart from the rule of law and the values we seek to defend.”

Last night, Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Ludford – who led an EU-wide inquiry into rendition in 2007 – said the admission was “another breach in the wall of denials and cover-ups”. She said there was further evidence of 170 stopovers at UK airports by CIA-operated aircraft flying to or from countries where prisoners could be tortured.

The Defence Secretary said the two men continue to be held in Afghanistan as “unlawful enemy combatants” and their status is reviewed on a regular basis. There was no “substantial evidence” he continued, that they had been mistreated or subjected to abuse.

However, a report released by Human Rights Watch in 2004 accused American forces in Afghanistan of inflicting “illegal and abusive treatment” on inmates. Members of the US Congress also alleged mistreatment, with Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy saying some inmates had died. The International Committee of the Red Cross issued a formal complaint to the US in 2007.

Mr Hutton told MPs there had been a number of other errors in previous statements to the Commons, including the number of prisoners held by the UK in Iraq, where ministers “overstated by approximately 1,000 the numbers of detainees held by UK forces”.

Bagram prisoners have no rights?

February 21, 2009

Joan Walsh | Salon.com, Saturday Feb 21, 2009

I said a few days ago that I would hold off on criticizing Obama for things he might do, after Charlie Savage’s disturbing piece on signs the new president might ultimately back Bush-Cheney terror policies like extraordinary rendition and indefinite detention of terror suspects. Late Friday came news of something Obama actually has done, and it’s appalling: He’s backed the Bush administration claim that terror suspects held at Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan have no constitutional rights, according to the Associated Press.

You might remember Bagram from Alex Gibney’s devastating “Taxi to the Dark Side,” which detailed the December 2002 torture and death — I would say murder — of a 22-year-old cab driver named Dilawar by U.S. soldiers there. Or maybe you remember Tim Golden’s riveting New York Times story in 2005, detailing the death of Dilawar and another detainee at Bagram.

After the Supreme Court ruled that Guantánamo detainees had the right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts, four Bagram prisoners tried to challenge their detention in U.S. District Court in Washington. The prisoners say the American military had detained and interrogated them without any charges and without letting them contact attorneys. According to AP, the suit was filed by relatives on their behalf; that was their only access to the legal system. The Bush administration defended against the suit by claiming all Bagram detainees have been deemed “enemy combatants” who had no right to U.S. courts. Today lawyers for the Obama administration decided to embrace the Bush defense.

“They’ve now embraced the Bush policy that you can create prisons outside the law,” the ACLU’s Jonathan Hafetz told AP. “The hope we all had in President Obama to lead us on a different path has not turned out as we’d hoped,” said Tina Monshipour Foster, a human rights attorney who represents one of the Bagram detainees. “We all expected better.”

In related news: Please read Mark Benjamin’s exclusive interview with retired Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, the man who investigated Abu Ghraib and was punished by Donald Rumsfeld for his honesty. Taguba is one of the leading voices asking Obama to establish a commission to examine Bush-era torture policies. I hope Obama listens, but I would say this decision on Bagram at least partly implicates Obama in those same policies.

Gitmo Detainees Subject to Detention Even If Acquitted: Pentagon

August 7, 2008

By AFP, August 6, 2008

Some detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba will likely never be released because of the danger they pose, and those tried and acquitted will still be subject to continued detention as enemy combatants, a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday.

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, made the remarks as Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni, awaited a verdict in the first war crimes trial to be held under a special regime created for “war on terror” suspects.

Morrell said Hamdan, a former driver of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, could appeal the verdict in US courts.

“But in the near term, at least, we would consider him an enemy combatant and still a danger and would likely still be detained for some period of time thereafter,” he said.

Morrell said there were plans for at least 20 more such trials at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba but he said a significant portion of the detainees being held there would neither be tried nor released.

He said efforts were being made to reduce the size of the population through transfers of prisoners to their home countries for incarceration or release.

“But I think, you know, there are still a significant population within Guantanamo who will likely never be released because of the threat they pose to the world, for that matter,” he said.

US ‘held suspects on British territory in 2006’

August 3, 2008

Terrorist suspects were held by the United States on the British territory of Diego Garcia as recently as 2006, according to senior intelligence sources. The claims, which undermine Foreign Office denials that the archipelago in the Indian Ocean has been used as a so-called ‘black site’ to facilitate extraordinary rendition, threaten to cause a diplomatic incident.

The government has repeatedly accepted US assurances that Diego Garcia has not been used to hold high-ranking members of al-Qaeda who have been flown to secret interrogation centres around the world in ‘ghost’ planes hired by the CIA. Interrogation techniques used on suspects are said to include ‘waterboarding’, a simulated drowning that Amnesty International claims is a form of torture. But now the government’s denials over Diego Garcia’s role in extraordinary rendition are crumbling. Senior American intelligence sources have claimed that the US has been holding terrorist suspects on the British territory as recently as two years ago.

The former intelligence officers unofficially told senior Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón that Mustafa Setmarian, a Spanish-based Syrian accused of running terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, was taken to Diego Garcia in late 2005 and held there for months. The Spanish are trying to locate and arrest Setmarian for separate terrorist offences.

It is thought that more than 10 high-ranking detainees have been held on Diego Garcia or on a US navy vessel within its harbour since 2002. The suggestion, if true, is acutely embarrassing for the British government which has admitted only that planes carrying al-Qaeda suspects landed on Diego Garcia on two occasions in 2002.

However, a former senior American official familiar with conversations in the White House has also told Time magazine that in the same year Diego Garcia was used to hold and interrogate at least one terrorist suspect.

The Council of Europe has also raised concerns that the UK territory has been used to house detainees. Earlier this year Manfred Novak, the United Nations special investigator on torture, told The Observer he had talked to detainees who had been held on the archipelago in 2002, but declined to name them.

The human rights group Reprieve said it believes most of high-level detainees captured by the US have been rendered through Diego Garcia at one time or another. These include Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi accused of being one of al-Qaeda’s top strategists, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, allegedly the mastermind behind 9/11.

‘We are confident high-value prisoners have been held on Diego Garcia for interrogation and possible torture,’ said a Reprieve spokeswoman. ‘We now have sources from the CIA, the UN, the Council of Europe and a Spanish judge who will confirm this.’


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