‘Black sites’ and rendition: what the Senate report failed to publish

Much of the content of the recent, heavily-censored US Senate report on CIA torture and rendition was not unfamiliar to many investigative researchers. But it’s worth reminding ourselves of the depth and expanse of this research and below we identify over 100 CIA black sites from a range of sources (Section 1); an exposition of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (Section 2) together with background information on two of its architects – Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell and who were referred in the Senate report as “Dr. Grayson Swigert” and “Dr. Hammond Dunbar”; details of the Survival Evasion Resistance Escape program (Section 3); and a list of every known rendition occurrence by country/victim and flight (Section 4). We also include an extensive list of investigations. (Section 5).

Any credible investigation into CIA torture should, as a minimum, include former Vice President Dick Cheney; Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington; the former C.I.A. director George Tenet; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the Office of Legal Counsel lawyers who drafted what became known as the torture memos. Also Jose Rodriguez Jr., the C.I.A. official who ordered the destruction of torture videotapes; the psychologists who devised the torture regimen; those who provided torture training; and the CIA employees who carried out that regimen.

Torture is still illegal under US law and banned by the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified by 153 countries, and by the universally adopted Geneva Conventions of 1949.

1. Black sites

Around 50 prisons have been used as black sites to hold detainees in 28 countries, in addition to 25 more prisons in Afghanistan and 20 in Iraq. Around 17 US ships were also used as floating prisons since 2001.

Countries that held suspects on behalf of the US include Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Israel, Jordan, Kenya, Kosovo, Libya, Lithuania, Mauritania, Morocco, Pakistan, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Somalia, South Africa, Thailand, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, Yemen, and Zambia.

Swiss senator Dick Marty’s memorandum on “alleged detention in Council of Europe states” stated that about 100 persons were kidnapped by the CIA on European territory and subsequently rendered to countries where they may have been tortured.


In Thailand, the Voice of America relay station in Udon Thani was reported to be a black site.

Middle East

In Afghanistan the prison at Bagram air base was housed in an abandoned brickmaking factory outside Kabul, known as the “Salt Pit”, but later moved to the base when a young Afghan died of hypothermia after he was stripped naked and left chained to a floor. During the period the prison operated there were several incidents of torture and prisoner abuse. At some point prior to 2005 the prison was relocated again, this time to an unknown site. Metal containers at Bagram air base were reported to be black sites. Some Guantanamo Bay detainees reported being tortured in a prison they called “the dark prison” near Kabul.

Jalalabad and Asadabad have been reported as suspected black sites too.

In Iraq, Abu Ghraib was a black site and the centre of an extensive prisoner abuse scandal. Additionally, Camp Bucca (near Umm Qasr) and Camp Cropper (near Baghdad International Airport) were reported as black sites.


Some reported black sites in Egypt, Libya and Morocco, as well as Djibouti. The al-Tamara interrogation centre, five miles outside the Moroccan capital, Rabat, is cited.

On January 23, 2009, The Guardian reported that the CIA ran a secret detention centre in Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, a former French Foreign Legion base.

British Overseas Territories

The US naval base in Diego Garcia was a black site, but UK and US officials initially denied this. However, it was later revealed by Time magazine and a “senior American official” source that the island – which is designated as being part of British Overseas Territory – was used by the US as a secret prison.  In February 2008, Foreign Secretary David Miliband admitted that in 2002 two rendition flights, each carrying a detainee, stopped over in Diego Garcia. There was also evidence that the UK Government knew of a US black site on Diego Garcia.

Reprieve also documented 23 suspicious stops between 2001 and 2005 in the Turks and Caicos by aircraft that had been associated with extraordinary renditions – these include aircraft N379P (also known as N8068V), N313P, N85VM, and N829MG.

For a complete list of flights where the UK Government has been alerted to concerns regarding rendition through the UK, its Overseas Territories or the Crown Dependencies, click here.


Several European countries (particularly the former Soviet satellites and republics) hosted black sites: the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Armenia, Georgia, Latvia, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

The interior minister of Romania, Vasile Blaga, claimed that Mihail Kogălniceanu Airport was used only as a supply point for equipment, and never for detention. However, a fax intercepted by the Onyx Swiss interception system, from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry to its London embassy stated that 23 prisoners were clandestinely interrogated by the US at the base. (In 2007, it was disclosed by Dick Marty (investigator) that the CIA allegedly had secret prisons in Poland and Romania.)

There were reported black sites in Ukraine and the Republic of Macedonia.

In June 2008, a New York Times article claimed, citing unnamed CIA officers, that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was held in a secret facility in Poland, near Szymany Airport, about 100 miles north of Warsaw and it was there where he was interrogated and that waterboarding was applied. It is claimed that waterboarding was used on him about 100 times over a period of two weeks. In September 2008, two Polish intelligence officers made the claims about facilities being located in Poland in the Polish daily newspaper Dziennik. One stated that between 2002 and 2005 the CIA held detainees inside a military intelligence training base in Stare Kiejkuty in north-eastern Poland. The officer said only the CIA had access to the base, which was used because it was a secure site far from major towns and close to a former military airport.

On January 23, 2009, The Guardian reported that the CIA had black sites at Szymany Airport in Poland, Camp Eagle in Bosnia and Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo.

In November 2009, there were reports in a Washington Post 2005 article that a black site had been located in Lithuania. A former riding school in Antaviliai, a village some 25 kilometres from Vilnius, was said to have been converted into a jail by the CIA in 2004.

Mobile sites

  • U.S. warship USS Bataan was used by the US military as a temporary initial interrogation site (after which, prisoners are then transferred to other facilities, possibly including black sites).
  • On May 31, 2008, The Guardian reported that the human rights group Reprieve said that up to 17 US Naval vessels may have been used to covertly hold captives. In addition to the USS Bataan The Guardian named: USS Peleliu and the USS Ashland, USNS Stockham, USNS Watson, USNS Watkins.
  • Aircraft:
    • N221SG a Learjet 35
    • N44982 a Gulfstream V (also known as N379P)
    • N8068V a Gulfstream V
    • N4476S a Boeing Business Jet

2. Enhanced Interrogation Techniques

Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell

The CIA physical and psychological methods were originally codified in the Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual, published in 1963, and in CIA torture training handbooks for Latin American regimes, published in the 1970s and 1980s, and employed during the Cold War, the CIA’s Phoenix program in Vietnam, and the CIA’s Operation Condor in South America. The other primary source for SERE techniques was the 1960s CIA “mind control experiments”, using sleep deprivation, drugs, electric shock, and isolation and extended sensory deprivation. Some of the less physically damaging methods that were derived from what was at the time called “defensive behavioural research” were refined as training techniques for the SERE program (see below).

Enhanced interrogation techniques (EIT) refers to the US government’s program of systematic torture of detainees by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and various components of the US Armed Forces at black sites around the world, including Bagram, Guantanamo Bay, and Abu Ghraib, all authorized by officials of the administration of President George W. Bush. The methods include the “five techniques” – prolonged stress positions, hooding, subjection to deafening noise, sleep deprivation to the point of hallucination, deprivation of food and drink, waterboarding, walling, nakedness, subjection to extreme cold, confinement in small coffin-like boxes, and repeated slapping or beating. There were also cases of rectal violation, rape, threats to abuse and rape family members, and sodomizing children in front of their parents.

There has never been an authoritative tally of the number of detainees subjected to these methods. However, the CIA admits to waterboarding three people implicated in the September 11 attacks: Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Mohammed al-Qahtani, and the agency is also known to have waterboarded Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. As well, a waterboard surrounded by buckets of water was photographed at the Salt Pit, a CIA prison where the CIA claimed never to have used the technique. In 2005 the CIA destroyed videotapes depicting prisoners being interrogated under torture; an internal justification was that what they showed was so horrific they would be “devastating to the CIA”, and that “the heat from destroying is nothing compared to what it would be if the tapes ever got into public domain.”

The US Administration disputes that EIT violates US anti-torture statutes or international laws such as the UN Convention against Torture or the Nuremberg Code. However, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, stated that waterboarding is torture — “immoral and illegal”. In July 2014 the European Court of Human Rights formally ruled that EIT is torture and has ordered Poland to pay restitution to men tortured at a CIA black site there.


The main US Air Force SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape) school is located at Fairchild AFB, Washington; SERE training for the US Army is located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and at Fort Rucker, Alabama. The Navy and Marine Corps SERE School has locations at the US Navy Remote Training Site at Warner Springs, California, the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center at Bridgeport, California, and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. Here is a link to the SERE website and a link to a US Air Force promotion of SERE.

The chief psychologist for SERE was Bruce Jessen, who began his career in the US Air Force. The SERE program was initially based on the experience of US soldiers captured in the Vietnam War and included mock executions, waterboarding, isolation, etc. In 2001 Jessen studied an Al-Qaeda training manual that outlined techniques to resist interrogation procedures and a year later left the US Air Force to join with James Mitchell and formed a company – Mitchell, Jessen and Associates – in Spokane. Mitchell and Jessen then put together a proposal to the CIA for an interrogation program. MJA was subsequently contracted to the CIA to oversee EIT, which Jessen and Mitchell called “learned helplessness”.Their fee was “more than $1,000 a day” plus expenses, tax free.

In April 2002 an al Qaeda prisoner, Abu Zubaydah was held at a CIA safe house in Thailand and the CIA invited Mitchell to try out his methods on the prisoner. Mitchell ordered that Zubaydah be “confined like a dog” in a small box. When that didn’t work Mitchell ordered that Zubaydah be waterboarding and other, more extreme, measures be deployed. The interrogation was videotaped and progress reports were sent by email to Alberto Gonzales, who was George W Bush’s personal lawyer and was later appointed Attorney-General. It is reported that Mitchell, Jessen and Associates netted around $81million from the US Government (specifically the CIA) for their EIT ‘advice’.

4. Analysis of Rendition Circuits

The following is sourced from The Rendition Project:

A. Rendition Circuits By Date

B. Rendition Circuits By Detainee Name

C. Rendition Circuits By Aircraft Involved

D. Rendition Circuits By Country Transferred To/From

5. Investigations (including more recent opeds):

Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses (Editorial)

CIA on the Couch: Why there would have been no torture without the psychologists by Steven Reisner

The Luxury Homes That Torture and Your Tax Dollars Built by Michael Daly

Bruce Jessen Built CIA Interrogation Program; Quit Role As Mormon Bishop by Reuters

Who Are Jim Mitchell And Bruce Jessen? CIA Torture Psychologists Were Experts In Communist Chinese Interrogation by Philip Ross

CIA Psychologist’s Notes Reveal True Purpose Behind Bush’s Torture Program by Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye

Fairchild’s torture ties extend their reach by Shawn Vestal

US Pentagon Releases Training Manual Used As Basis For Bush’s Torture Program by Andy Worthington

CIA: Detainee’s Torture Drawings, Writings, “Should They Exist,” to Remain Top Secret by Jason Leopold

Guantánamo files: US agencies fought internal war over handling of detainees by Ewen MacAskill

The Dark Desires Of Bruce Jessen: The Architect Of Bush’s Torture Program by Andy Worthington

Was Bush Torture Really About Interrogation? by Andrew Sullivan

Expanding the Investigation into SERE Torture by Valtin (Michael Otterman)

Expose (Part 3): Roger Aldrich, the Al Qaeda Manual, and the Origins of Mitchell-Jessen by Jeff Kaye

Roger Aldrich, the Al-Qaeda Manual, and the Origins of Mitchell-Jessen by Aldin (Michael Otterman)

Expose (Part 2) : Expanding the Investigation into SERE Torture by Jeff Kaye

Expose (Part 1): NYT Misses Full Story on Mitchell-Jessen by Jeff Kaye

Senate report reveals torture planning began in 2001, by Mark Benjamin

The CIA’s Torture Teachers by Mark Benjamin

Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture.

Was there a covert CIA prison system? by Josh Clark

Map of CIA detention centres by Amnesty International

More than a quarter of the world’s countries helped the CIA run its torture program (Huffington Post)

From blame game to half confessions, how global leaders are reacting to torture report by Akbar Shahid Amed

Globalizing torture: CIA secret detention and extraordinary rendition by Open Society Foundation

CIA prisoners missing: at least 20 people missing from secret ‘black site’ detention centers, by Cora Currier

This entry was posted in Intelligence, no category, War and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to ‘Black sites’ and rendition: what the Senate report failed to publish

  1. Pingback: Rendition/torture: documents, memo and ruling expose UK Govt role as more cases line up | UndercoverInfo

  2. Pingback: Rendition/torture: UK Govt still in denial despite irrefutable evidence | UndercoverInfo

  3. Pingback: Dysfunctional CPS gives green light to rendition/torture; fails to prosecute spy chief | UndercoverInfo

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