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Ghost detainee is an official term used by the US Government to designate a person held in a detention center, whose identity has been hidden by keeping them unregistered and therefore anonymous.[1] It was also used in the same manner by the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center (JIDC) at the Abu Ghraib prison. According to Swiss senator Dick Marty's memorandum on "alleged detention in Council of Europe states", about one hundred persons have been captured by the CIA on European territory and subsequently rendered to countries where they may have been tortured. This number of one hundred extraordinarily rendered persons is in addition to the hundred U.S. ghost detainees.[2]


Secret CIA prisons (aka Black Sites)

According to CIA chief Michael Hayden, the CIA has detained up to 100 people at secret facilities abroad since the capture of suspected Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah in 2002.[3]

One example is the case of Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen abducted by the CIA in the Republic of Macedonia in January 2004 and taken to a secret CIA site in Afghanistan known as the Salt Pit for severe treatment and interrogation before being determined innocent in March and eventually released in May 2004 after some additional delays. His abduction was apparently a case of mistaken identity. Germany initially claimed that it didn't know of el-Masri's abduction until his return to the country in May 2004. However, the BND (German intelligence agency) declared on June 1, 2006 that it had known of El-Masri's seizure 16 months before Germany was officially informed of his arrest.[4]

In a 2007 report, Human Rights Watch related the claims of alleged ghost detainee Marwan Jabour, a Palestinian who was arrested in Lahore, Pakistan, in May 2004.[5] Jabour claimed he was held for more than a month in a secret detention facility operated by both Pakistanis and Americans in Islamabad, and then flown to a CIA prison in Afghanistan, where he was held in secret, incommunicado detention for more than two years. During his ordeal, he was tortured, beaten, forced to stay awake for days, and kept naked and chained to a wall for more than a month.

At least 39 detainees who were once held by the CIA in secret detention remain disappeared, according to a report [6] jointly published June 7, 2007 by six leading human rights groups, including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, and Human Rights Watch.[7] :

It reveals the extent to which the United States has illegally used “proxy detention” to empty its secret sites and demonstrates that far from targeting the “worst of the worst,” the system sweeps up low-level detainees and even involves the detention of the wives and children of the “disappeared,” in violation of their human rights. Off the Record also documents allegations concerning the treatment of detainees while in secret detention, including torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Abu Ghraib's "ghost detainees"

The practice of ghosting first achieved widespread attention in 2004 when the Washington Post broke a story suggesting that the U.S. Army and the CIA were detaining "unlawful enemy combatants" at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq with little or no due process.[8]

The Army and the Defense Department have acknowledged that the United States has used ghosting in the past, but have said it was limited to isolated incidents. According to documents obtained by the Post, "unregistered CIA detainees were brought to Abu Ghraib several times a week in late 2003."

The Post cited as evidence a report by Major General Antonio Taguba:[1]

... in a report describing abuses of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, [he] blamed the 800th Military Police Brigade, which guarded the prison, for allowing 'other government agencies' — a euphemism that includes the CIA — to hide 'ghost' detainees at Abu Ghraib. The practice, he wrote, 'was deceptive, contrary to Army doctrine, and in violation of international law'.

When news of a detainee known only as Triple X became known to the public in late 2003, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was questioned about him.[9] Rumsfeld was evasive, and speculated about why someone would want to keep a prisoner hidden from the Red Cross, which is considered a war crime under international law.

On September 9, 2004 General Paul J. Kern testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that an inquiry he lead found that the Army had cooperated with the CIA in hiding dozen of ghost detainees from the Red Cross.[10] Kern told the Committee there may have been as many as 100 ghost detainees.


The practice has been criticized by Amnesty International and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as improper and illegal because it prevents these prisoners from having contact with inspectors and human rights advocates, while the families of the victims are confronted with the fact of a "forced disappearance". One report by Amnesty International indicates that over one hundred ghost detainees may currently be being held in U.S.-operated black sites.

According to U.S. official sources there could be over 100 ghost detainees held by the U.S. In 2004, thousands of people were held by the US in Iraq, hundreds in Afghanistan and undisclosed numbers in undisclosed locations. AI (Amnesty International) is calling on the U.S. government to "close Guantanamo and disclose the rest." What we mean by this is: either release the prisoners or charge and prosecute them with due process."[11]

See also


  1. ^ a b The "Taguba Report" On Treatment Of Abu Ghraib Prisoners In Iraq: ARTICLE 15-6 INVESTIGATION OF THE 800th MILITARY POLICE BRIGADE, Findlaw
  2. ^ Information memorandum II on the alleged secret detentions in Council of Europe state, reported by Dick Marty, January 22, 2006
  3. ^ "CIA Chief Defends Detention of Suspects", Associated Press, September 7, 2007
  4. ^ "German Spy Agency Admits Mishandling Abduction Case", The New York Times, June 2, 2006
  5. ^ Human Rights Watch, Ghost Prisoner: Two Years in Secret CIA Detention, February 2007
  6. ^ Off the Record ListPDF (46.3 KiB)
  7. ^ US holding at least 39 detainees in secret prisons rights groups, Jurist, June 7, 2007
  8. ^ Army, CIA Agreed on 'Ghost' Prisoners, in the Washington Post, March 10, 2005
  9. ^ Pound, Edward T. Hiding a Bad Guy Named Triple X. US News and World Report. June 21, 2004
  10. ^ Russell Adkins (September 9, 2004). "Generals: CIA hid Abu Ghraib detainees from Red Cross". The Jurist. Retrieved 2007-01-23.  
  11. ^ Amnesty International Report 2005 Speech by Irene Khan at Foreign Press Association, Amnesty International, 25 May 2005


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