CIA memos and report on secret prisons programme released yesterday

August 25, 2009

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Reprieve welcomes Obama Administration’s decision to release new CIA memos yesterday and today providing further disturbing details on the CIA’s overseas secret prisons programme for ‘terror suspects’.

The 2004 report by the CIA Inspector General John Helgerson reveals new details of torture of prisoners in CIA custody, where interrogators went far beyond rules of military engagement in their treatment of prisoners. During interrogations, CIA agents conducted mock executions, stuffed rags in prisoners’ mouths and poured water over them until they choked, dragged prisoners along corridors, forced prisoners to inhale smoke until they vomited, and threatened at least one prisoner with a gun and a power drill.

Further documents released today reveal a detailed legal analysis of ‘standard conditions’ inside the CIA secret overseas prisons. CIA lawyers conclude that holding prisoners in isolation for years, with constant blindfolding, leg-shackling, 24-hour fluorescent lights, constant white noise and forcibly shaved hair, was all legal and legitimate.

In addition, a CIA memorandum from 2007 shows that the prisons were still active by that date, even though President George W. Bush had announced in September 2006 that the CIA prison system was empty.

Attorney General Eric Holder has now appointed a special prosecutor to conduct a preliminary investigation into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific prisoners in US custody overseas under the Bush Administration.

Clare Algar, Executive Director of Reprieve, said:

“These memos echo what our clients have said for many years about their abuse at the hands of a ruthless and immoral US government. It is a relief to see the truth finally coming out and some changes as a result: President Obama has broken the CIA interrogation monopoly by setting up a new FBI unit (High Value Interrogation Group) which will only use non-coercive techniques, and Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed John Durham to consider prosecuting those responsible for past abuses.

“Rather than creating low-level scapegoats, any prosecution should reveal that the criminal acts described in these memos were ordered by those at the very top of the CIA and Bush Administration.”

Clara Gutteridge, Renditions Investigator at Reprieve, said:

“By endorsing the use of extraordinary rendition, otherwise known as kidnap, President Obama is creating a global detention system of shocking apartheid. While US prisoners have legal rights, all other prisoners may be sent by the US to any rights-abusing country in the world for interrogation and detention.

“If these memos teach us anything, it must be that the rule of law must apply to everyone alike and equally. Only then can we hope to prevent the medieval abuse and disappearances that have disgraced the United States and shocked the world.”


Notes for Editors:


Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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