Accounts of the Rendition Process
Marwan Jabour’s account of his transfer from Pakistan to a secret CIA site and (more than two years later) from the CIA site to Jordan
The account of Marwan Ibrahim Ali al-Jabour's case described in these pages is drawn largely from the Human Rights Watch investigation, Ghost Prisoner: Two Years in Secret CIA Custody. We are grateful to Human Rights Watch for granting permission for us to use this information here.
Pakistan to secret CIA prison
Jabour was transferred out of the Islamabad facility on the evening of June 16, 2004. The Pakistanis brought Jabour and three other prisoners (the Palestinian, the Afghan, and the Libyan) to the airport. The prisoners were blindfolded; their hands were cuffed, and their legs shackled. Jabour said that the drive to the airport took less than 20 minutes.
Before he was put on the plane, Jabour was led to the bathroom, where the Americans took off his blindfold. “I saw Americans in front of me, talking in sign language. A doctor was there, and he took my blood pressure and gave me an injection. I knew it was the end of my life.” Then the Americans put a sack over his head and changed his handcuffs. The injection made him a bit woozy, but he did not pass out. Jabour said everyone entered the plane through the back, using what seemed like the door of a military plane. The plane seemed fairly small, like it could hold perhaps 20 to 30 people. The prisoners were on one side, with a seat between them. Their hands were cuffed behind their backs, and their legs were cuffed and shackled to the floor. There were four prisoners and about a dozen other people on the plane.
Secret CIA prison to Jordan
The prison subdirector said he knew where Jabour was going to be sent, but that he could not tell him. He said there was no toilet in the plane so Jabour would have to wear diapers, and that they would make a video of his naked body to show that his body had not been harmed. He told Jabour to be ready to leave at 6 p.m.
The transfer team picked him up the next evening. They put cotton over his eyes, cotton in his ears, and rubber over that. Then they put a band around his head, a mask over his face, and head phones over his ears. His hands were cuffed in front and his legs were shackled. A belt was put around his legs, above the knees, and his handcuffs were attached to it. “I felt like a mummy,” Jabour said.
They brought Jabour outside to a car, and laid him down in it. Jabour is fairly certain that another prisoner was next to him. The car drove for about an hour. Jabour was brought outside and put in a chair, and he heard three shots. “I was afraid,” he said. “I thought they were shooting people.” The team was very aggressive with him, increasing his fear. Suddenly they removed all of his wrappings and took off all his clothes. When his eyes opened, he saw a man pointing a video camera at him. Then the transfer team put a diaper on him, and put the same outfit back on, except this time they used plastic handcuffs. He could only feel the airplane; he could not see it, but it seemed to him to be a small civilian jet. The seats faced forward, as in a normal passenger aircraft. In the plane, during the flight, a doctor took his blood pressure. The flight lasted about three-and-a-half to four hours.
Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah’s account of his transfer from Jordan to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan in October 2003, and his transfer from this site to another secret prison in April 2004
Jordan to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan
I was driven for about thirty minutes to the airport. At the airport I was pulled from the car and placed in a room. I was seated on a chair with my hands still in cuffs and my blindfold still on.
Very shortly thereafter, I was taken violently to another room where my clothing was rapidly cut off until I was entirely naked. My blindfold was taken off and strong light beams were directed at my face while someone put their hand over my eyes. I was not able to see clearly because of this, but I could see some things in the room by peeking through the fingers of the hand over my face. There were at least three people there. One of them was the one holding me from behind and covering my eyes with his hand. I didn’t see the person holding me, but the other two that I did see were dressed head to toe in black, with black masks covering their faces and surgical gloves on their hands. They beat me and kicked me, roughing me up badly. Another person took pictures of me, and then one of them forcefully stuck his finger into my anus. I was in severe pain and began to faint.
After this ordeal I was put in a diaper like a baby and dressed in a blue shirt and pants that came below the knee, to about the mid-shin. Both the shirt and the pants had been cut to be about three-quarters length and were made of sweatshirt material. I was forced to go without shoes. They stuffed my ears with spongy material and taped all around that before putting headphones on. They blindfolded me by putting dressing, like you would on a wound, over my eyes and then taping over it. Later this tape was painfully removed, and with it clumps of my hair. They tied my legs together and chained them to my waist. Then they tied my hands together and also chained them to my waist. I was also hooded. I was in a lot of pain at this time, but I was mostly worried about my mother and wife because I did not know what was happening to them. I was taken up six or seven steps to get on board a plane where I was forced to lie on my back. I was then strapped across the chest and legs to a metallic board, which was like a hospital gurney. This plane traveled for about four hours before landing. During the flight, I suffered pain in my head, sides, and knees from blows and kicks from the men who prepared me for the transfer and forced me onto the plane.
After the flight landed, two men untied the chains that affixed me to the metallic board. Then they untied my handcuffs and shackles from the chain around my waist, removed them, and replaced them with tight plastic bindings. Then they removed the chain around my waist and brought me down the steps of the plane. I was put into the back of a vehicle that was like a jeep and I was forced to lie down while someone sat on my back so I couldn’t raise my head.
Secret CIA prison in Afghanistan to second secret prison
The guards then came into Interrogation Room Two and took me to Interrogation Room Three where people wearing black masks forced me to wear a diaper, a cotton shirt, and pants that came below the knee, to about the mid-shin. They blindfolded,
shackled, and hooded me before placing a pair of headphones over my ears. This process, along with the medical exam, took about twenty minutes, after which I was taken to an area in the courtyard which I felt was near the facility’s inner gate. I sat waiting in this state for an hour to an hour and a half. While I was waiting, I could feel the presence of others joining me in the area. After this long wait, I heard someone yell, “five by five” in English. I believe this was an instruction to move us out in groups of five.
I was then forced into what seemed to be a jeep, where I could feel other detainees very close to me. As we entered they made us lie down head to feet such that my head was next to someone else’s feet and someone else’s head was next to my feet. I think there were four to five persons in the car with me, as well as there being more than one carload of prisoners because of the instruction to move us “five by five.” Every time someone got into the jeep I could feel the jeep sag under that person’s weight. In the vehicle we were packed together very closely and I reached out to the person who was next to me. I put my hand on his thigh and with my finger wrote “who are you?” He responded by writing that he was “Naser.” I knew that this was Salah Naser Salem Ali Darwish (“Mr. Darwish”), a Yemeni national who had also lived in Indonesia and who had been held in the two rows of cells in which my first cell was located. Mr. Darwish was later sent back to Yemen with me on May 5, 2005. We were driven for less than half an hour and then forced onto a waiting plane at the airport. I was taken up several steps to the plane’s entrance and was seated on the right side of the plane, where my knee touched the knee of the person to my right. It took about half an hour to load the plane before it took off and flew for several hours. During the flight I could feel two other people brush up against me as the plane swayed.
After landing, I waited on board for about thirty minutes and began to hear helicopters arriving. I am sure that there was more than one helicopter as the sound was loud enough that I could hear it through my headphones and because as I heard one leave I could hear another one coming in, and it would take seven to eight minutes for the sound of the departing helicopter to fade away. I believe that I was being made to wait on board while the other detainees were unloaded.
I was taken off the plane and could feel the tarmac under my shoeless feet and very strong wind from the helicopter blades. Two people carried me to the helicopter and then one person from inside the helicopter picked me up through what felt like the back and put me on the floor of the helicopter. The noise was deafening despite the headphones.
The helicopter flew for a couple of hours and after landing, I was taken to a vehicle that was right next to the helicopteras soon as I got off I took only a couple of steps before being put inside. Inside the vehicle I was forced to lie down just as I had been when leaving the facility in Afghanistan, with my head to someone else’s feet. We travelled for about ten minutes, first over a dirt road and then a paved road. The unpaved part of the road was very short.
Khaled al-Maqtari’s account of his transfer from secret detention in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq to a CIA prison in Afghanistan in January 2004
In a procedure which has also been described to Amnesty International by other detainees transported by the CIA, a three- or four-person removal team, dressed completely in black, with black gloves and facemasks, came to prepare Khaled al-Maqtari for his departure. They put him in a diaper, socks, short trousers, and a shirt without buttons, then covered his eyes and stuffed his ears with cotton, taped firmly into place, before hooding him and topping it off with noise-reducing headphones. “They do not talk, not even a word, the same as the ninjas in the secret prisons. It is clear that they have a lot of experience. They know what they are doing, and each of them had a specific role. I mean if I wanted to get dressed myself, I wouldn't be able to do it so fast.”
“Whenever they put on or take off the chains, they grab you harshly, so that we do not escape. They were very strong, everything was horrifying, they even closed the doors violently to terrify us. I was not able to see anything, everything was black. They did not want you to be comfortable; they wanted us to be in an atmosphere of terror all the way there”.
He was brought to the airstrip in the back of a jeep or truck, and felt that at least one other prisoner, possibly two, was transported with him. He thinks the other detainee transferred with him out of Iraq might have been a Saudi Arabian, whose name, or nickname was Khaled al-Sharif. In Abu Ghraib, they had shown Khaled al-Maqtari a photo showing al-Sharif in Iraq; later, in Afghanistan, they showed him another photos of al-Sharif, this time taken inside the detention facility there.
He described the plane that brought him to Afghanistan as small and fast and quiet; the engines were barely audible through his headphones. He felt little vibration from the engines either before or after boarding the plane, which he entered via a short set of about five stairs, and this and the proximity of other passengers lead him to think it was a small jet. “This one was a modern plane and very nice. Although I was covered, I felt that the floor was very soft and like carpet. I fell on to it as soon as I got in the plane.”
He said that he lay on the floor because he was in so much pain from the beatings. “I even think they feared that I was dead or something, because they brought equipment to measure the oxygen and the blood pressure.” No matter what position he sought, the pain was too excruciating to allow him to sleep for long, and if he moved, he said, someone would kick him. “At first I couldn't believe that I found a place to lie down, I so wanted to sleep, I just wanted to rest because I was in pain all over, but then I couldn't sleep because the pain was so strong. My hands were tied around my back, and if I tried to move my hands to ease the pain, they kicked me.”
There are striking parallels between several of these renditions, particularly as they relate to the CIA’s methodology. It seems that in each separate case, rendition was carried out in an almost identical manner. Collectively the cases in the report testify as to the existence of an established modus operandi of rendition, put into practice by an elite, highly-trained and highly-disciplined group of CIA agents who travel around the world mistreating victim after victim in exactly the same fashion.
The “security check” used by the CIA to prepare a detainee for transport on a rendition plane was described to us by one source in the American intelligence community as a “twenty-minute takeout”. His explanation was that within a very short space of time, a detainee is transformed into a
state of almost total immobility and sensory deprivation. “The CIA can do three of these guys in an hour. In twenty minutes they’re good to go.” An investigating officer for the Swedish Ombudsman was struck by the “fast and efficient procedure” used by the American agents, while the Swedish interpreter who witnessed the CIA operation at Bromma Airport said simply: “it surprised me how the heck they could have dressed him so fast”.
The general characteristics of this “security check” can be established from a host of testimonies as follows:
- it generally takes place in a small room (a locker room, a police reception area) at the airport, or at a transit facility nearby.
- the man is sometimes already blindfolded when the operation begins, or will be blindfolded quickly and remain so throughout most of the operation.
- four to six CIA agents perform the operation in a highly-disciplined, consistent fashion - they are dressed in black (either civilian clothes or special 'uniforms'), wearing black gloves, with their full faces covered. Testimonies speak, variously, of “big people in black balaclavas”, people “dressed in black like ninjas”, or people wearing “ordinary clothes, but hooded”.
- the CIA agents “don’t utter a word when they communicate with one another”, using only hand signals or simply knowing their roles implicitly.
- some men speak of being punched or shoved by the agents at the beginning of the operation in a rough or brutal fashion; others talked about being gripped firmly from several sides
- the man’s hands and feet are shackled.
- the man has all his clothes (including his underwear) cut from his body using knives or scissors in a careful, methodical fashion; an eye-witness described how “someone was taking these clothes and feeling every part, you know, as if there was something inside the clothes, and then putting them in a bag”.
- the man is subjected to a full-body cavity search, which also entails a close examination of his hair, ears, mouth and lips.
- the man is photographed with a flash camera, including when he is nearly or totally naked; in some instances, the man's blindfold may be removed for the purpose of a photograph in which his face is also identifiable.
- some accounts speak of a foreign object being forcibly inserted into the man's anus; some accounts speak more specifically of a tranquiliser or suppository being administered per rectum76 - in each description this practice has been perceived as a grossly violating act that affronts the man’s dignity.
- the man is then dressed in a nappy or incontinence pad and a loose-fitting "jump-suit" or set of overalls; “they put diapers on him and then there is some handling with these handcuffs and foot chains, because first they put them on and then they are supposed to put him in overalls, so then they have to alternately unlock and relock them”.
- the man has his ears muffled, sometimes being made to wear a pair of "headphones".
- finally a cloth bag is placed over the man's head, with no holes through which to breathe or detect light; they “put a blindfold on him and after that a hood that apparently reaches far down on his body”.
- the man is typically forced aboard a waiting aeroplane, where he may be “placed on a stretcher, shackled”, or strapped to a mattress or seat, or “laid down on the floor of the plane and they bind him up in a very uncomfortable position that makes him hurt from moving”.
- in some cases the man is drugged and experiences little or nothing of the actual rendition flight; in other cases, factors such as the pain of the shackles or the refusal to drink water or use the toilet make the flight unbearable: “this was the hardest moment in my life”.
- in most cases, the man has no notion of where he is going, nor the fate that awaits him upon arrival.