Understanding the “Secret” Prisons

We have heard the terms “black site” or “secret prison” many times over on the television, read on the internet or in newspapers, however it is said with an almost casual demeanour and regularity nowadays that it appears almost as a footnote. For examples, see the Guardian article dated 26th September which states “Before the sentencing, Siddiqui repeated her claim that she had been abducted and held at a “secret prison” for several years.” Similarly, a BBC news article regarding Binyam Mohammed published in 2009 : “He was first held in Pakistan in 2002 – and then taken to secret prisons in Morocco and Afghanistan.” Of course, without context these statements are meaningless. It is the intention of the article to provide that context.

The first, obvious point, is that they are secret. This means no one knows ( or is not meant to know ) where (or is not meant to know where ) or what ( or not meant to know what ) happened. As such, its extremely hard to report on, and certainly that will be the excuse that the media will rely on, however there has been literally hundreds of pages of testimony received through letters, court depositions, human rights appendices and the like that means that it is impossible for us to ignore any longer, and we must endeavour to understand the perspective and context.

So if we picture the scene that we are hypothetically an Imam of a masjid, who is then grabbed from the streets on his way to prayers, bundled into a car and driven off at speed by men and women in balaclavas and sped off to an airforce base and flown to a site of torture. Only this is not hypothetical but instead relates to Abu Omar, an imam in Milan kidnapped by the CIA with the full knowledge of the Italian government. One cannot possibly imagine the terror that would be facing someone emotionally from such a kidnap, where one would be disoriented, unaware of the captors, and such like. Unfortunately, he was taken to the notorious Tura prison, just outside Cairo, and electrocuted, raped and other horrific inflictions against the person. What happened only Abu Omar knows, as well of course as his interrogators. He was finally released with no charges, and lost the hearing in his right ear as a result of this treatment. He was held for seven months in detention, and he states ; “The seven months passed like seven years. They told me I was in a place no living soul could ever find me. They told me that the Italians handed me to Egypt and no one from Italy would come to take me out of this living hell. They also ordered me to sign a document given up my political asylum in Italy.”

The case above is famous, however the case of Mohammed Shakir not so. He again was kidnapped whilst in Syria, and became a resident of a prison where it is believed Mustapha Nasr is now being held, “Palestine prison”. Mohammed Shakir was kidnapped from the streets of Damascus at the behest of the Italian government, who denied all knowledge of him. He describes his conditions “At Palestine Prison, The cell was very small, 1 meter 50 cm High, and 70cm Width. Theres no windows, covers or blankets. It’s a very old prison, and all the cells are underground. Nobody visited us here and no-one knew our news. In the whole time there, there was never a doctor. We used to pray all the time for Allah(swt) not to make us sick, because we did not have even any medication. Two brothers died from tuberculosis, one from Iraq and another from Syria. The food was so bad we could not even swallow it. The cells were so cold in Winter, Spring and Autumn because the cells were underground.” He also suffered incredible torture, undoubtedly at the behest of the Italian government.

Then there is Bagram, another site which we know the name but little of what happens there. This is where Aafia Siddiqui was held, and many of those who ended up in Guantanamo Bay. One statement of an inmate there, Ahmed Al-Darbi ,states :- “During about the first two weeks at Bagram, I was kept in complete isolation, and I did not even know I was in Afghanistan…. While I was questioned, I was kept for many hours in painful positions. For example, I would be forced to kneel with my hands cuffed above my head, often through the night, so that I was not allowed to sleep. This position caused very sharp pain in my knee-caps. If my hands began to fall or I tried to stretch to relieve the pain in my back while I knelt, the interrogators kicked me in the back… During these first two weeks, I hardly slept at all. I was purposely kept awake much of the time, and it seemed that every time I started to fall asleep, they would hit me to keep me awake. Also, during that period, I was not allowed to pray.”

To suffer treatment as this, which is only a small part, for any period of time would require immense physical strength and mental stamina. To survive conditions like these for years, as others have done, is a near-miracle. How many of those did not make it out those doors at Bagram, how many bodies are in the mountains of Afghanistan, dumped in the night by US captors? The nature of a secret prison free from accountability is that we will never know.

Of course the stories of Guantanamo have been documented, proven and truly horrendous, yet its becoming clear that the secret prisons are indeed the caverns of hell themselves, with Guantanamo the end of the road of this satanic map.

To expect those who have suffered these prisons for 5, 6, 8 years, as Adel ben Mabrouk, Aafia Siddiqui, Moez Fezzani have, to now have a fair trial and to take their testimony as evidence is to insult the justice system itself. How can anyone remain sane, form a defence, call witnesses, and argue in a coherent manner after the most inhumane torture afflicted on them beggars belief. However, this is what the USA would like you to believe through the conviction of Aafia Siddiqui, only ever seeing her captors for 6 years. Or what Italy want you to believe with Adel, Moez and Riadh Nassari, all of whom are in prison awaiting a trial when they should be the prosecutors for the crimes this war-on-terror has committed! How many more are in these secret prisons?

Its perhaps no secret that some of this has become public, in order to create an atmosphere of Orwellian subjugation. Only by standing up to this oppression can this be stopped. We can’t possibly imagine what these prisons are like, however to find the truth we must make those who committed these atrocities be accountable for their actions and never forget, as the detainees who suffered (and suffer) also will never forget. Until we see Rumsfield, Bush, Obama, Blair, Brown, Miliband, Berlusconi, Prodi, Mubarak, Assad, Zardari, Karzai, Musharraf and all the other criminals around the world in the dock, we must convey to those who listen the nightmare of the secret prisons.

Umar Abdullah, 10th October 2010