Journalism in the Public Interest

At Least 20 CIA Prisoners Still Missing

In 2009, we identified more than thirty prisoners once held by the CIA who weren’t accounted for. Since then, a few have resurfaced and many remain missing.



In one of President Barack Obama first acts in the White House, he ordered the closure of the CIA’s so-called “black-site” prisons, where terror suspects had been held and, sometimes, tortured.  The CIA says it is “out of the detention business,” as John Brennan, Obama’s pick to head the agency, recently put it.

But the CIA’s prisons left some unfinished business.  In 2009, ProPublica’s Dafna Linzer listed more than thirty people who had been held in CIA prisons and were still missing.

Some of those prisoners have since resurfaced, but at least twenty are still unaccounted for.

Last week the Open Society Foundations’ Justice Initiative released a report pulling together the most current information available on the fates of the prisoners. A few emerged from foreign prisons after the turmoil of the Arab Spring. One has died. (The report relied exclusively on media accounts and information previously gathered by human rights groups. The Open Society Foundations also donate to ProPublica.)

The report counts 136 prisoners who were either held in a CIA black site or subject to so-called extraordinary rendition, in which detainees were secretly shipped to other countries for interrogation.

Many of the prisoners were tortured, either under the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” program or by other countries after their transfer. The report also lists 54 countries that assisted in some way with detention and rendition. The U.S. has not disclosed the countries it worked with, and few have acknowledged their participation.

The CIA declined our request to comment.

Here are the fates of a few of the prisoners we listed as missing back in 2009:

  1. Ayoub al-Libi, also known as Mustafa Jawda al-Mahdi, is a Libyan who was allegedly interrogated and detained by US personnel in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2004. The next year he was returned to Libya, where he was sentenced to death as member of LIFG, an Islamist anti-Gaddafi group (designated a terrorist organization by the U.S.) He was released when uprisings began against Gaddafi in February 2011. Human Rights Watch interviewed him in 2012.
  2. Hassan Rabai, also known as Mohamed Ahmad Mohamed Al Shoroieya, is a Libyan who was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and later transferred to Afghanistan – where he alleges that he was waterboarded by U.S. personnel. Bush administration officials have repeatedly said that only three terror suspects were ever subjected to waterboarding; Rabai would be the fourth.  He was eventually transferred to prison in Libya, where he remained until February 2011. Human Rights Watch interviewed him last year.
  3. Khaled al-Sharif, also known as Abu Hazam, was picked up with fellow Libyan and LIFG member Hassan Rabai and also held in Afghanistan. He remained in Libyan prison until March 2010, according to interviews he gave to Human Rights Watch.
  4. Mohammed Omar Abdel-Rahman is an Egyptian who was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and  considered a “senior Al-Qaeda operative.” He was transferred to prison in Egypt and was released in late 2010. He gave an interview in 2011 in which he admitted to running training camps in Afghanistan prior to 2001 but saying he had renounced violence.
  5. Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, also known as Abu Musab al-Suri, was tied to the bombings in Madrid and London in 2004 and 2005. Picked up by the CIA in 2005, he was transferred to prison in his native Syria. According to Syrian media, he was released by Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad in February 2012.
  6. Ali Abdul-Hamid al-Fakhiri, also known as Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, was a Libyan detained shortly after the 9/11 attacks. He was reportedly held in CIA as well as Egyptian custody over the next several years. According to a Senate Intelligence Committee report, he provided information about links between Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction and Al Qaeda – information he later said he had fabricated. He was transferred to Libyan prison in 2005 or 2006, and was found dead in his cell in May 2009.

The whereabouts (and in some cases identities) of many more remain unknown or uncertain.

In 2007, then-CIA director Michael Hayden said that “fewer than 100 people had been detained at CIA’s facilities.” But only 16 have been officially identified by the U.S. government. President George W. Bush acknowledged the CIA’s detention program in September 2006 and announced the transfer of 14 “high-value” detainees to Guantanamo Bay prison. Two other high-value detainees were subsequently acknowledged.

Much else about the CIA program is still unknown. President Barack Obama closed the black-site prisons on entering office, but preserved the ability to render and to hold people for the “short-term.”

Obama banned torture, but announced that no one would be prosecuted for previously sanctioned harsh interrogations. A Justice Department investigation into deaths of detainees in CIA custody ended without charges.

The Senate Intelligence Committee recently completed a 6,000-page report on the CIA’s detention program. At Brenan’s confirmation hearings, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), said the report shows the interrogation program was run by people “ignorant of the topic, executed by personnel without relevant experience, managed incompetently by senior officials who did not pay attention to detail, and corrupted by personnel with pecuniary conflicts of interest.” Rockefeller is one of the few to have read the report, which remains classified.

The CIA says it is “out of the detention business,” as John Brennan, Obama’s pick to head the agency, recently put it.

My concern about this story is that he meant precisely what he said, nothing less and also nothing more.

In plain English, just because “it” (meaning the CIA) is out of the detention business, it doesn’t necessarily follow that “we” (the United States and our representatives) are out of it.  Shift a couple to another organization or an ally, and poof, no more “CIA black sites,” without actually reforming the process.

We have turned in to a banana Republic. Disappeared people didn’t Columbia and other like countries do that and we protested their actions. I would bet that our gov’t outsourced prisoners not only to other countries but under paid contractors.

With the passage of FISA no one in the USA is safe from being disappeared.

I believe a recent story in the NYTimes should raise some questions as to the accuracy of this article. I’m not sure why we would believe anything that this Adm says NOW as we are slowly learning! They also work in the dark such as the recent surveillance act (codifying Presidential power) signed behind closed doors with no photo op.

Stephanie Palmer

Feb. 13, 2013, 6:31 p.m.

Anything that is done in secrecy by any government can never be proven. The so-called reason of “national security” is absolute hogwash, and anyone who falls for it has accepted all of the fear put out by the chicken hawks.

To protect the country from Enemies foreign and domestic! This is a job for
Homeland security!! When you rearrange things make sure you rearrange it right

Jeff, I think protecting the country from enemies foreign and domestic extends far beyond Homeland Security.

My comment is, “So what?”  Can’t understand why this is still, or ever was, an issue.  They reigned terror down upon us and we retaliate so we’re the bad guys?  Bunch of bleeding heart puny liberals need to nut up and face reality - the world will try to destroy us so we need to come up with alternative methods to discover truths!  The days of sitting back and letting the world pass us by has come back to bite us in the butt…we’re under attack.

to protect means to protect the real author; this means ignorance, lies,
not to protect a country

Well I see the article reads The CIA is out of the detention Business and the NSA is now the Home land security so how far does it extend Weapons of mass destruction which where never found by the Bush Administration They Even sent Santa Claus to make his rounds (Imaginary) Enemies? who’s in charge?  Domestic Enemies are the only ones available, I live in St Louis Mo i don’t see Arab troops marching down my street or Afghan troops is it that the gov is doing such a good job that i also do not see any sharks on the Mississippi? come now who zooming who

Chris, how many of “their” civilians (ignoring the fact that “the” terrorists were Saudi Arabian and funded by the Pakistani government, places that we’ve notably never invaded) do we kill before you’re satisfied?  How many soldiers’ lives do we waste before you realize we’ve cut our noses to spite our faces?

And then how many of our lives do they need to kill to avenge our disproportionate response and start the cycle over?

Also, in ten years, where are all the terrorists we were promised were trying to murder us in our sleep?  Last I checked, every “terrorist plot” was FBI entrapment or comically inept.  We’re under attack by who, exactly?

If you want to live in a country where the population is kept in eternal fear of outsiders and freedoms are trampled to give the government more power, I’ll gladly pay for your plane ticket to Syria.  Me, I’d rather live someplace where we can be offended at military rule.

Some of the WMD’s from Iraq were transferred to Syria just before we invaded them. The rest of them were hidden at the bottom of the Euphrates River for later use.

I would be very interested in finding more about the WMD in Syria since the uprising there has produced none at least that i have heard,  and at the bottom of the Euphrates?

Check the White House for them!

does somebody care that Cora doesn’t know where they are?

Something we don’t know is the actual number of people who have been disappeared by US forces (including, but not limited to, the CIA). They don’t necessarily announce the capture of people and if, for some reason, a capture is not witnessed and reported, we wouldn’t know about it.

Also, the likelihood of a particular disappearance being revealed by government insiders is significantly lessened by the heavy handed prosecution of government employees who reveal information embarrassing to the government.

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