On the first morning of what ended up being more than two years in CIA custody, Marwan Jabour was brought into a room full of people. He was completely naked, he later told Human Rights Watch, and all the hair on his head and face had been shaved off. He had spent the night in small, windowless cell, with one hand chained to the cell wall. He was tired, disoriented, and afraid.
In the room, which would later become familiar to him as an interrogation room, some ten people were waiting, including a bearded man, guards, and people who appeared to be doctors. The bearded man, speaking in American-accented English, said that he was the "emir" (director) of the facility. He said that Jabour had only one option: to cooperate.
Jabour was kept naked and in chains for the next month and a half, he told Human Rights Watch in a recent series of interviews. He would be led, blindfolded, into the interrogation room, then chained to a chair. Sometimes women would interrogate him; sometimes a huge, muscular man--whom Jabour thought of as a "Marine" because of his build--would stand behind the interrogator and act intimidating.
The room contained a wooden box, about 3 feet by 3 feet in size, which his interrogators called the "dog box." "They said that KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] had spent some time in the dog box and then he talked," said Jabour. "They kept threatening me: 'We could do this to you.'" As far as Jabour could tell, his interrogators could do whatever they wanted: there were no rules, no laws, and no protections.
Last year, when President George Bush described the CIA's secret prison system, he said he could not speak about the "specific methods" the CIA used. Very few former detainees have filled in the blanks of the president's speech--probably because nearly all of them are still in detention somewhere--making Jabour's account a rare glimpse into the CIA's activities.
While Human Rights Watch could not corroborate the details of Jabour's story, its outlines tally with what human rights groups have documented. Prisoners in the CIA program have been "disappeared," held for years in acknowledged detention in secret facilities, and barred from communicating with family members, lawyers, or anyone else outside. Intelligence sources have spoken to ABC News and others about the abusive interrogation techiques that CIA interrogators have employed.
Marwan Jabour was arrested in May 2004 in Lahore, Pakistan, he believes by the Pakistani intelligence services. He was badly beaten, tortured and threatened while in their custody. Both in Lahore and later, after he was transferred to a joint US-Pakistani detention facility in Islamabad, Jabour endured days of forced sleeplessness and forced standing. Twice he collapsed, falling unconscious.
But though he says that he suffered the worst physical abuse at the hands of the Pakistanis, his most painful memories are elsewhere. In June 2004, when he was transferred to the CIA prison in what he believes was Afghanistan, "I felt like my life had ended." Allowed no contact with anyone outside the prison, he was unable even to tell his wife, his three young daughters, and the rest of his family that he was alive.
The painful limbo that Jabour and his family endured continues for others. Many people--possibly even dozens of people--who may have been in CIA custody remain "disappeared." The wife of one suspected detainee told Human Rights Watch that she has continually lied to her four children about her husband's absence. She explained that she could not bear telling them that she didn't know where he was.
"[W]hat I'm hoping is if they find out their father has been detained," she explained, "that I'll at least be able to tell them what country he's being held in, and in what conditions."
Last September, President Bush announced that he had emptied out the CIA's prisons by sending 14 detainees to military custody at Guantanamo. He said nothing about what had happened to many other people who were believed to have been held by the CIA. By leaving their fate and whereabouts unknown, he displayed a callous disregard for their families, a contempt for human rights norms, and a blatant indifference to the moral standing of the United States.