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10 Secret CIA Prisons You Do Not Want To Visit

by Tim Bissell
fact checked by Jamie Frater

The US Central Intelligence Agency has, according to multiple investigative reports from both mainstream media outlets and human rights organizations, operated numerous “black sites” across the world. These locations, according to the reports, are secret prisons used to house “ghost prisoners.” Those sent to these places are held captive without being charged with any crime and are not allowed any form of legal defense.

Ghost prisoners are subject to what the CIA calls “enhanced interrogation tactics”; most others call it torture. The CIA and their operatives’ methods allegedly include waterboarding, sleep deprivation, humiliation, physical beatings, electric shocks, and worse.

These secret prisons, dotted all over the world, might just be the most terrifying places on Earth.

10 Diego Garcia
Indian Ocean

Diego Garcia

Photo via Wikimedia

Diego Garcia is an atoll in the Indian Ocean located around 1,600 kilometers (1,000 mi) south of India and 3,200 kilometers (2,000 mi) east of Tanzania. The locale is claimed by the United Kingdom as part of their British Indian Ocean Territory.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the UK deported the native people of the atoll to Mauritius and the Seychelles in order to allow the United States to construct a large naval and military base now known as Camp Thunder Cove. The installation is currently home to roughly 4,000 military personnel and independent contractors.

Although the UK has long claimed that “ghost prisoners” haven’t been held at Diego Garcia, in a 2015 interview with Vice News, Lawrence Wilkerson (US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s former chief of staff) revealed that terrorism suspects were abducted and brought to the ocean base for special interrogations. Wilkerson stated that this was done by the CIA in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

9 Temara Interrogation Centre

The Temara Interrogation Centre can be found in a forest 14 kilometers (9 mi) outside of Rabat, Morocco. The facility is operated by a Moroccan government unit known as the Directorate for the Surveillance of the Territory (DST).

In 2003, Morocco was examined by the UN Committee against Torture. The UN considered evidence presented by the Moroccan government as well as by Amnesty International. Their findings were that, although human rights had generally improved in Morocco over recent years, there was also an increase in reported torture cases in the North African nation.

In 2004, Amnesty International alleged that the DST is a recurrent and flagrant abuser of human rights and that many of these offenses have occurred at Temara. Amnesty International’s report stated that Moroccan interrogators had repeatedly beaten, humiliated, electrocuted, burned, and waterboarded inmates at Temara. The alleged goal of the DST torturers was to extract confessions or information from detainees or to have them sign or thumbprint statements (the content of which the detainee may have no knowledge).

In 2010, the Associated Press reported that several US officials had confirmed that the facility was operated by Moroccans but was financed by the CIA. Morocco officially denies that the facility exists.

8 Mihail Kogalniceanu Airport

Milhail Kogalniceanu Airport

Photo credit: Crispas

Mihail Kogalniceanu Airport is the main airport for Romania’s southern Dobrogea region, located just a stone’s throw away from popular tourist resorts on the Black Sea coast. In 2015, the airport managed 2,227 flights involving over 63,000 passengers. However, some have alleged that a number of these flights were used to traffic ghost prisoners to and from a secret prison on the airport’s premises.

Romania claims that Mihail Kogalniceanu Airport is only used as a transfer point for CIA prisoners and not for actual detainment or interrogations. However, in 2008, USA Today quoted an unnamed Romanian official who claimed that the military portion of the airport contained three buildings which were strictly off-limits to Romanian officials but were frequented by US agents.

More evidence supporting the airport’s role in CIA detentions arose in 2010 when Der Spiegel reported that the Swiss intelligence agency’s Onyx satellite surveillance system had intercepted a fax between an Egyptian foreign minister and his ambassador in London. The communique described the detention of 23 Iraqi and Afghan captives at the airport.

7 Detention Site Green

Thailand denies the existence of any black sites in its territory, despite multiple reports describing the mysterious Detention Site Green and hinting that it may be located just outside of Bangkok or somewhere in the northern province of Udon Thani.

According to The Guardian, in 2009, the CIA themselves confirmed that they had destroyed 92 tapes of interviews with terror suspects which were filmed somewhere in Thailand. The report also claimed that Site Green was somewhat of an experiment, where the CIA honed their waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques, which would later be used at the larger European sites which the agency would go on to construct.

One of the CIA’s guinea pigs was Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi national captured in Pakistan in 2002. Zubaydah was reportedly waterboarded so severely that bubbles would rise out of his open mouth. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombings, was also supposedly held at Site Green. Reports state that he, too, was waterboarded, in addition to being threatened with sodomy.

6 Camp Lemonnier

Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport

Photo credit: Eduard Onyshchenko

Djibouti is a highly strategic location for the US military, primarily due to its close proximity to terrorist hot zones such as Somalia and Yemen as well as the pirate-filled Gulf of Aden. Located at Djibouti’s Ambouli International Airport is Camp Lemonnier, a US Naval Expeditionary Base. Officially, it is home to the Combined Joint Task Force—Horn of Africa, a US combat unit that was mobilized during Operation Enduring Freedom, aka The War on Terror.

Unofficially, according to a 2014 report from Al Jazeera America, Djibouti’s Camp Lemonnier is also a CIA black site that saw dozens of suspects secretly detained, interrogated, and tortured. The report also stated that the site had been used as recently as 2012 by the Obama administration, despite President Obama signing an executive order in 2009 banning the use of black sites by the CIA.

In 2015, The Intercept revealed aerial shots of Camp Lemonnier showing how the base, which is a crucial takeoff point for Reaper and Predator drones, has been steadily expanding.

5 Antaviliai

Less than 16 kilometers (10 mi) from the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius is a mysterious former riding school in the village of Antaviliai. According to The Washington Post, the school was converted into a jail by the CIA in 2004. The report continued to state that the site was used to interrogate Al-Qaeda suspects who had been captured in Afghanistan.

The property was purchased in 2004 by Elite LLC, a company registered in Washington, DC. Locals described seeing US contractors digging around the property, creating what they assumed was an underground complex beneath the main building. In 2009, unnamed former intelligence agents told ABC News that the site at Antaviliai was operational for over a year and that during that time, it held at least eight suspected terrorists within its walls. In 2007, Elite LLC sold the property to the Lithuanian government and then disappeared. Since then, the site has been used to train Lithuania’s state security service.

4 USS Ashland
Various Locations

USS Ashland

Photo via Wikimedia

In 2008, The Guardian reported that human rights organization Reprieve, which claimed that the US has admitted to holding at least 26,000 people in secret prisons, had discovered that the US was operating a fleet of “floating prisons” that span the globe. Reprieve’s research pointed to at least 17 US warships being used as secret CIA black sites.

Among those ships was the USS Ashland, a Whidbey Island–class dock landing ship that weighs 16,000 tons and measures 186 meters (610 ft) in length. The Ashland houses 500 US Marines onboard. Reprieve believes that the ship is connected to a series of abductions carried out by Somali, Kenyan, and Ethiopian forces around 2007. The Guardian also stated that the United States previously admitted that the USS Bataan and the USS Peleliu were also used as prison ships between 2001 and 2002.

John Walker Lindh, aka The American Taliban, is one of the most well-known detainees to sail on the United States’ secret prison fleet.

3 Stare Kiejkuty

Stare Kiejkuty is a restricted military area in northeastern Poland that was used as a Nazi SS outpost during World War II. In the 1970s, the area was used by Polish intelligence officers, despite maps naming the site as a holiday resort.

In 2008, a Polish intelligence source revealed to the BBC that Stare Kiejkuty’s facilities were used by the CIA to detain and interrogate “high-value detainees.” The BBC report stated that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the so-called architect of the 9/11 attacks, had been interrogated in Poland, among other places.

In 2014, former Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski confirmed that he had made agreements with the United States to allow the CIA to operate black sites in Poland during his time in office between 1995 and 2005. Kwasniewski stated that a US memorandum informed him that detainees would be treated as prisoners of war and would be afforded the internationally recognized rights that come with such a designation. The sources who spoke to the BBC stated that the Polish president likely had no idea what was really going on at the Stare Kiejkuty base.

2 The Salt Pit

The Salt Pit, also known as Cobalt, is a former brick factory located north of Kabul in Afghanistan. In 2002, the site was converted into a detainee center by the CIA, which earmarked more than $200,000 for its construction.

In 2012, The Daily Beast described the Salt Pit as “the CIA’s Sadistic Dungeon” in an article that examined a high-profile death which occurred at the site. On November 20, 2002, Gul Rahman died of hypothermia after being beaten, stripped naked, and chained to the floor during a freezing cold night.

In 2014, the US government declassified a US Senate Report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. That report stated that no CIA officers were ever charged with crimes relating to the death of Rahman. Instead, five months after his death, the lead CIA officer who ordered Rahman be chained up was given a $2,500 bonus for “consistently superior work.”

Of the 119 detainees identified in the US Senate Report on torture, nearly half were detained at the Salt Pit.

1 Camp Eagle
Bosnia And Herzegovina

In 2005, two Bosnian men, Nihad Karsic and Almin Harbeus, spoke to Bosnia’s public television broadcaster BHTV about their ordeals at Camp Eagle, near Tuzla, close to the Bosnian border with Serbia. Both men stated that they were violently abducted by Bosnian soldiers, who then accused them of being terrorists.

At Camp Eagle, a former Yugoslavian air base, the pair claimed that they were beaten and harassed by soldiers before being held and questioned by Americans in civilian clothing. The men said that they were eventually released and given $500 in compensation. They also said that they were threatened and told not to speak publicly about what had happened to them.

According to the BBC, in 2006, a Swiss investigation into CIA black sites named Bosnia as one of the many countries which had partnered with the CIA to secretly detain suspected terrorists, along with Italy, Sweden, and Macedonia. That same report cited Spain, Turkey, Germany, and Cyprus as “staging posts” and the UK, Portugal, Ireland, and Greece as “stop-off points” for detainees being flown to black sites such as Camp Eagle.

Tim Bissell is a writer and researcher who works in the Canadian television industry. He also writes for online publications such as OZY and Bloody Elbow. Follow him @timothybissell.

fact checked by Jamie Frater