The Ghost Prisoners


The US has been asked to reveal the location of 39 people believed to have been kidnapped and held in secret CIA prisons.

The names and details of the missing have been published by six leading human rights organisations in the most comprehensive list so far on “ghost detainees”.

The groups are calling on the US government to put a permanent end to the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret detention and interrogation programme and to disclose the identities, fate and whereabouts of all detainees.

“The US administration must end this illegal and morally repugnant practice once and for all,” Claudio Cordone, Amnesty International’s senior director for research said last night.

“The duty of governments to protect people from acts of terrorism is not in question. But seizing men, women and children and placing them in secret locations deprived of the most basic safeguards certainly is.”

The report, “Off the Record”, states that children, one as young as seven, are among those held.

“The reality of ‘enforced disappearance’ is kidnap, torture, abuse and sometimes murder,” Clara Gutteridge, a researcher for Reprieve, one of the groups who compiled the report, said.

“At the last count, the US Congress estimated that 14,000 individuals were in some kind of US detention around the world, in named locations including Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. The 39 individuals on this list are truly ‘off the record’. They are being held in unknown locations and remain completely unaccounted for,” Gutteridge said.

“The CIA detention programme and the larger US military detention programme of which it is a part are doing unutterable damage both to individuals and to the safety of us all. US counter-terrorism policy is undermining not only US national security, but the security of all of us,” she added.

The CIA insists that it “acts in strict accordance to US law” and that its activities have helped save lives.

US President George W. Bush admitted in September that secret camps existed but he said they were no longer in use.

The rights groups say that prisoners had been captured in countries such as Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Sudan and Somalia and flown in “extraordinary rendition flights” to secret camps. There are concerns that some or all were later flown to countries where torture is used.

A lawsuit has been filed in the US under the Freedom of Information Act seeking disclosure of information concerning “disappeared prisoners”. The groups want access to documents that are known to exist. These documents have information on the individuals held captive and legal analysis of their detention and fate.

“It’s time for the US government to come clean. These 39 people have been missing for years and the evidence shows they were in US custody at some point,” Clive Stafford Smith, legal director for Reprieve, said.

TOM CLIFFORD is a journalist based in Dubai. He can be reached at:



Tom Clifford, now in China, worked in Qatar with Gulf Times from 1989-1992 and covered the Gulf War for Irish and Canadian newspapers as well as for other media organizations.