Navigation menu

Bookmark and Share  

Khaled al-Maqtari

Photo: Amnesty International

 

Nationality: Yemeni
Date of birth: 1971
Place of birth: unknown
Aliases: Firas al-Yemeni

Capture: Fallujah, Iraq, 13 January 2004
 
SSCI prisoner number: 96

Entered CIA custody: 22 January 2004
Period of CIA custody: 950-958 days
Left CIA custody: 29 August 2006 – 6 September 2006

Detained: Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen

Current status: released, as of May 2007

 

Timeline of Key Events

13 January 2004
Capture, Fallujah, Iraq

13-21 January 2004
Detention, Abu Ghraib, Iraq

21-22 January 2004
Rendition, Iraq-Afghanistan

22 January - 24 April 2004
Detention, Dark Prison, Afghanistan

24 April 2004
Transfer, Dark Prison - CIA black site, unknown location (likely in or nearby Afghanistan)

24 April 2004 - early August 2006
Detention, CIA black site, unknown location (likely in or nearby Afghanistan)

Early August 2006
Rendition, Afghanistan (likely) - unknown location

Early August 2006
Detention, medical facility, unknown location

Early August 2006
Rendition, unknown location-Afghanistan (likely)

Early August - 31 August/1 September 2006
Detention, CIA black site, unknown location (likely in or nearby Afghanistan)

31 August/1 September 2006
Rendition, unknown location - Yemen

1 September 2006 - May 2007
Detention, Political Security Prison, Sana'a, and prison in Hodeidah, Yemen

May 2007
Release

 

Khaled al-Maqtari is a Yemeni national who was captured in January 2004 and spent two and half years in secret US detention, first in Iraq, then in Afghanistan, and finally in an unknown destination (which may also have been in Afghanistan).

He was tortured throughout his time in detention, and was held alongside numerous other detainees in the CIA prisons: indeed, al-Maqtari's account of his time in secret detention has provided one of the clearest pictures of conditions and treatment in the CIA prison network, as well as the whereabouts of several other detainees.

Al-Maqtari was captured on 13 January 2004, during a US raid on the Al-Ghufran Market in Falluja, Iraq. He had been working in an internet cafe in the area, having arrived in Falluja several months earlier. According to al-Maqtari, US forces in armoured vehicles and tanks arrested many market workers and shoppers during the raid. All those captured during the raid were cuffed and hooded, and al-Maqtari was transferred by truck to a US military base on the outskirts of Fallujah. His plastic 'flexi-cuffs' were pulled so tight that, when they came to be removed, they could not be snipped off, but had to be be cut out of the grooves they had dug into his wrists.

At the base, US soldiers forced him to crawl while they kicked and beat him. After this initial treatment, al-Maqtari was moved to another cell in the same military complex, where he was forced to remain standing while hooded and cuffed. A soldier would periodically creep into al-Maqtari's cell and 'scream or laugh maniacally into Khaled al-Maqtari's ear'. According to al-Maqtari, '[h]e was just shouting at me like a beast, I don't think he was saying words, just shouting'.

Later that day, al-Maqtari was transferred by helicopter, alongside at least two other detainees, to Abu Ghraib Prison on the outskirts of Baghdad. On arrival at Abu Ghraib, al-Maqtari was taken to a small room where his clothes were cut off 'from his feet to his neck' and he was 'hooded and shackled in chains'. At that point, the torture started.

Al-Maqtari's account of torture in Abu Ghraib (source: Amnesty International)

The men dragged him to a larger room, measuring about three by four metres, which he calls "the torture room". There was always water on the floor, "just enough to make it slippery and too uncomfortable to sit or lie down on, and to make it worse when I fell down on it."  Once inside, he was beaten again by the three men, who hit him with fists and sticks, "taking turns, as though it was a children's game. There was a CD machine, playing some kind of terrorising music to create a frightening atmosphere, and it was very loud." He was still hooded, and said he could not judge where the wall was, so kept smashing into it, especially after they swung him in circles to increase his disorientation.

After a while, his assailants sat down to rest while making him stand on a chair in front of a powerful air conditioner, holding up a full case of bottled water. They removed his hood and periodically poured cold water over his head, so that the air conditioning blasted against his wet skin and naked body, and made him shiver so hard that he could barely remain standing. When his arms began to shake so that he could not support the heavy box, he was beaten with a stick to keep him standing, but he eventually could not even stand to stop the beating and collapsed. They continued to beat him with a stick, and every time he was about to pass out they would put some kind of smelling salts under his nose, so he would not lose consciousness, or they would put a mentholated ointment in his eyes, which was so painful that he was afraid he would lose his vision. Sometimes when he was about to pass out an interpreter would come in and shout wake up in Arabic and then the Americans would resume the beating.

A chain was hung from the ceiling of the room, and he was suspended upside down by his feet, with his arms still cuffed behind his back, while a pulley was used to lower him up and down over the water crate. As they lowered him down over the box, his torso was distorted, causing both pain and fear. All of my muscles were tensed up to stop me from collapsing down, and I was terrified if I let go it would have broken my back. When they pulled him up again, he had to tense up different muscles, and this too caused incredible pressure on his back and legs. His interrogators kept moving him up and down slightly so that I could experience all the different kinds of pain, and when he was lowered onto the box they beat him with sticks and put the CD player alongside his head at full volume. While he was on the box, one of the interrogators used him as a footstool, sitting in a chair nearby and resting his feet on Khaled al-Maqtaris head or back, and once putting a cigarette out on his shoulder.

Al-Maqtari was subjected to numerous torture sessions like this, which at one point involved being made to crawl across a gravel courtyard and being terrorised with dogs: 'When he got to the middle of the area, they brought the dogs, three of them, from three different directions. It was cold and dark, and he was still naked, wet and shivering. "The dogs came and put their noses right against me and made terrible noises. I had no defence, not even any clothes. Later I thought that they were very well trained because they only made the noises and showed me their teeth, but it was very, very frightening because I never knew that they were not going to bite me. I still have dreams about this".' At other times, al-Maqtari was threatened with rape, and had very strong lights shone directly into his eyes until he fainted. Between these torture sessions, al-Maqtari was held in a small box with a door in one end, which was just large enough for him to lie hunched up. This may have been one of the cells to which the ICRC was denied access in its January 2004 visit to the prison, which were totally darkened, measuring two metres long by less one metre wide, and devoid of any bedding. On the door of one such cell, the ICRC delegation noted the words "The Gollum", in reference to the subterranean-dwelling creature from The Lord of the Rings.

At points during his detention at Abu Ghraib, al-Maqtari was transferred by helicopter to Mosul and Falluja, where he was taken in a van and made to identify the houses he had stayed in. One of these tours was conducted by UK Special Forces, who received him while he was bearing clear marks of his torture, and then returned him to US custody. While in Abu Ghraib, al-Maqtari was not assigned an Internment Serial Number (ISN), suggesting that he was turned over directly to Military Intelligence as a 'foreign fighter' (likely the US Army's 205th Military Intelligence Brigade). It was this unit which took control of al-Maqtari's treatment and interrogation while in the prison, and it is likely that he was only handed over to the CIA when he was taken to Afghanistan (although the CIA did also take part in interrogations in Abu Ghraib).

At the end of his first week in custody al-Maqtari claims he was visited by a medic who looked at his injuries and gave him pain killers and antibiotics. His ribs, back and legs were severely bruised, he was spitting blood, and he had deep gouges in his wrists from the cuffs. On 21-22 January 2004, his ninth day in detention, al-Maqtari was rendered from US military detention in Iraq to CIA detention in Afghanistan.

Al-Maqtari's account of rendition to Afghanistan

One of the interrogators came and said: 'the Mossad and the CIA are waiting for you', then they put me in a small room, in the dark, and I was without clothes, shaking and crying. Someone with an Iraqi accent came to me and asked me if I wanted water, and at first I thought it was a man, but she was a woman and she gave me a drink of water and said to read the Quran and disappeared. My dreams were nightmares. Always someone was shouting, I dreamed of bizarre things, like dogs, all through the little half hour when they allowed us to sleep. I still have these nightmares.

After six or four hours, the ninjas came for me. 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 has 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 chains, they grab you harshly, so that we do not escape. They were 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.

Dressed in a diaper, with eyes and ears taped, shackled and hooded with ear defenders, al-Maqtari was taken from Abu Graib in the back of a jeep or truck, alongside one or two other detainees. Here, he was taken five or six steps up into the aircraft, which was small and had a carpeted floor. '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'. Flight data demonstrates that al-Maqtari was rendered to Afghanistan onboard the CIA-owned Gulfstream V jet with tail number N379P (which by that time had been re-registered with tail number N8068V), which left Baghdad in the early hours of 22 January and flew direct to Kabul. Click here for our analysis of the flight data and documentation associated with al-Maqtari’s rendition from Iraq to Afghanistan.

On arrival in Afghanistan, al-Maqtari was taken to his first CIA prison. By piecing together al-Maqtari's extensive testimony with that of several detainees known to have been held in the same facility at the same time, it appears likely that this site was near to Kabul, and was the facility referred to by some as the 'Dark Prison'. A floorplan of the prison provided by Khaled al-Maqtari corresponds closely with one provided by Mohamed Bashmilah, which depict twenty cells in one large space, in two rows of ten, and then a separate set of interrogation rooms. Drawing on this information, and additional testimony from those held at the site, it is possible to identify at least some of the detainees in the Dark Prison between April 2003 and May 2004.

Detainees in the Dark Prison, 2003-2004 (aliases by which they were known while at the site in brackets):

On arrival the the Dark Prison, al-Maqtari was seen by a medical professional who drew blood from him and took a urine sample. Despite this initial medical evaluation it was a number of weeks before al-Maqtari received any medical treatment for his ailments. He was initially placed in a small cell close to a bathroom. After about two weeks he was moved to a larger cell on the same corridor. Both rooms had cameras. Interrogations took place most afternoons and went into great depth about al-Maqtari’s life. The playing of extremely loud music was a frequent occurrence at this site. According to al-Maqtari, Majid al-Maghrebi who was in the cell next to his managed to speak to him during a break in the ‘excruciatingly loud’ music, and told him that Hassan bin Attash, also in the prison, and had been ‘tortured horribly’ in Jordan.

In April 2004, likely to have been either 24 or 25 April, al-Maqtari was transferred alongside several other detainees to a second CIA black site, where he would continue to be held in secret detention for a further 28 months. Again, through piecing together the testimonies of several detainees moved from the Dark Prison at the same time, including al-Maqtari's, it is possible to build a picture of this transfer, including the identities of at least some of those likely to have been moved, and the possible location of the second black site.

April 2004 transfer of detainees, from the Dark Prison to a second CIA black site

Through cross-checking multiple accounts from detainees held in the Dark Prison in early 2004, it is possible to say with some degree of certainty that the following nine detainees were transferred together from the CIA prison outside Kabul to a second CIA prison in an unknown location.

These nine detainees were held in the black site for anywhere from four months to nearly two-and-a-half years, and were later joined by others (either transferred from other facilities, or newly-captured). There is no evidence of anyone being detained at this site before April 2004, suggesting that these detainees may have been among the first to be held there.

According to detainees involved in the transfer, they began to be prepared around midday on or about 24 April: they were individually taken to one of the interrogation rooms in the Dark Prison, stripped, and subjected to a medical examination, with injuries marked on a sheet (al-Maqtari counted nine separate sheets on the doctor's desk). After examination, the detainees were taken to a separate room, where a transfer team (masked and wearing black) cut their clothes off, examined their eyes, ears and mouth, photographed them and then placed them in a diaper, loose clothes, blindfold, hood and headphones. This process took 20-30 minutes for each detainee, after which they were taken to a holding area in the courtyard of the facility. The first detainees were kept there for several hours as others were prepared, and then they were moved as a group and loaded into jeeps or trucks. Multiple accounts are clear that detainees were moved as a group, with individuals speaking of being squashed up against up to a dozen others.

From the Dark Prison, the detainees were driven for a short period (some say up to 30 minutes, although others say it was a shorter journey). Once at the airport, which is likely to have been in Kabul, they were again made to wait as detainees were loaded onto the aircraft. By this time it was around sunset, which at that time of year would have been at about 18:30 local time. The aircraft was a cargo-type plane, larger than the Gulfstream jets which some had been rendered onboard previously, with benches along each side rather than rows of seats facing forwards.

Several detainees involved in the transfer testify that they were flown for 3-4 hours, and then transferred to a fleet of helicopters which flew for between one-and-a-half and three hours. Accounts also agree that from the helicopters the detainees were moved into vehicles which drove from the helicopter landing site to the prison. The duration of this stage of the journey is disputed, and given anywhere between 5-30 mintues. However, later accounts of transfers out of the site suggest that it was only a 5-10 minute drive from a military airbase, which is likely (although not certain) to have been where the helicopters landed. Indeed, some of the detainees testify to hearing aircraft from their cells, although the airport was apparently quiet, with 2-3 movements per day at the most, and some days with none (Wednesdays was noted as a particularly busy day).

The location of this prison has been the subject of much speculation. The first accounts to emerge from those detained there - from Bashmilah, Qaru and al-Asad - led their lawyers to believe that the prison was in Europe. This was apparently confirmed by the flight duration, and various other circumstantial evidence, such as the cold winter nights and 'European' food served to detainees. However, later accounts have contested this conclusion. Al-Shoroeiya and al-Sharif were both sure that the site was still in Afghanistan, and that the long transfer time was designed deliberately to deceive the detainees (with the aircraft in fact flying in circles): We lived in Afghanistan for a long time. We know the atmosphere and the climate there. When you look at the buildings, you can tell from the structure and the materials they are made out of that it is Afghanistan. A location in Afghanistan or nearby also fits with two separate accounts (from Mustafa al-Mehdi and Marwan Jabour) of being transferred to the facility in June 2004 from Islamabad - a flight which took between 30 minutes and two hours, suggesting a destination in Afghanistan or nearby. Others have spoken of Afghan guards, and regional food, while cold winter nights also fit into this profile.

Perhaps the clearest indication that the black site was in Afghanistan comes from flight data and documentation held by The Rendition Project relating to the rendition of several detaines out of the prison in 2004 and 2005. Specifically, the August 2004 rendition of al-Shoroeiya, al-Maghrebi and Di'iki to Libya points to Afghanistan as the prison location, somewhere close to a military airbase. Although flight data gives this transfer as coming from Kabul, the use by the CIA of 'dummy' flight plans to disguise the location of their sensitive sites means that this data cannot be trusted 100%, and a nearby location is also possible.

Regardless of the prison's location, combining detainee testimony has made it possible to identify at least some of those held there from April 2004 onwards.

In addition, it is possible that some of the High-Value Detainees (HVDs) were held in the prison at some point after their detentions in Eastern Europe. Click here for further analysis of the whereabouts of these detainees in 2005 and 2006, including a possible detention at this location.

On arrival at this black site, al-Maqtari, along with the detainees he had been transferred with, was held in a large container for a few hours. He claims he felt that he and the other detainees were waiting for ‘other detainees to arrive and be processed’. When he was finally taken from the container and into the site, al-Maqtari was photographed from all angles and had all the marks and injuries on his body noted down. The facility was new or recently refurbished, extremely well organised and was run to ‘ensure maximum security and secrecy, as well as disorientation, dependence and stress for the detainees.’

Al-Maqtari was held in three cells during his time at this site. In the first cell he was chained to the wall, meaning he had trouble reaching the toilet in his cell. The cell had a camera which had a red light that blinked if al-Maqtari moved and a speaker in the wall. He was held in this cell for four months. The following two years were divided about equally between two subsequent cells. During interrogations, al-Maqtari was often asked about how many prisoners were held at the site and where he thought it was located. Al-Maqtari’s treatment was initially harsh, but improved the longer he was held at this site. For example, in the second year he was given access to books, writing materials and DVDs, and started to be taken out for exercise.
 
Al-Maqtari believes that towards the end of his time at this site, Majid Khan was held nearby. Moreover, he was allowed to speak to another detainee, Ahmed Abdel Rashid, on a number of occasions. They were not allowed to speak about certain topics such as why they thought they were being held.

In early August 2006 al-Maqtari was transferred once more, this time to a medical facility for treatment for persistent stomach pain and bleeding. This episode is alluded to in the SSCI report, which lists al-Maqtari as one of a number of detainees where "due to a lack of adequate medical care at CIA detention sites and the unwillingness of host governments to make hospital facilities available, CIA detainees had care delayed for serious medical issues." According to al-Maqtari, he was flown alongside another detainee on two flights; the first about five to six hours long and the second about eight hours long. Once they had landed the two detainees were driven on a bus for about 30 minutes. Security at the medical facility was as tight as at the second CIA site. Al-Maqtari states that he was told that an endoscopy would be performed. Once this procedure was carried out he was taken straight back to the second site. This transfer took place alongside the same detainee that had been brought to the medical facility with al-Maqtari. Al-Maqtari was only held at the second site for three weeks after his return following the medical investigations.

On either 31 August or 1 September 2006 he was told he would be transferred. He had a suspicion that he would be taken to Yemen as one of the sites interrogators told him, 'now you can start your life again'. Altogether, including his brief time at the medical facility, al-Maqtari was held at this site for a total of 28 months. Late in the afternoon of the day he was told he would be transferred, al-Maqtari was brought a set of clean clothes and some cotton shoes. He was hooded and driven in the back of a truck or small bus to a large container. He was held in the container for about 45 minutes before he heard an aircraft taxi to the outside of the container. At this point a team of three came in and removed his clothes, photographed his body, took his finger prints and scanned his retinas. Next, al-Maqtari's clothes were put back on and he was blindfolded and taken into a small plane. The plane flew for about six hours. . Analysis by The Rendition Project and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has established that this rendition would have been at some point between 29 August 2006 and 6 September 2006, after more than two and a half years (950-958 days) in CIA secret detention. On arrival in Yemen, al-Maqtari was taken to the Political Security Prison in Sana'a. He was held at this site for 16 days. He was assured by the Yemeni authorities that he would be released, but that 'he had to be patient'.

Al-Maqtari was transferred to a prison in Hodeidah, Yemen, in mid September 2006, and then released in May 2007 with a group of other prisoners as part of the celebrations for the day commemorating the unification of north and south Yemen. However, at no point during his 40 months in detention was his case ever reviewed by a judicial authority, and he was never charged with any offence.  

 

Further Reading

 

Amnesty International, March 2008, A Case to Answer. From Abu Ghraib to Secret CIA Custody: The Case of Khaled al-Maqtari

 

Rendition Research Team - © University of Kent
University of Westminster University of Kent E.S.R.C