The business of the CIA is always cloaked in mystery, especially when it comes to CIA black sites - locations deliberately kept “off-the-books” so the activities conducted there cannot be questioned.
Government black sites have a long, dark history, but they became much more common after the start of the United States’ War on Terror in 2001. Since the events of September 11, 2001, the American government has used the idea of potential threats to set up and commit horrific acts within CIA black sites all over the world.
Some of the world's most infamous individuals have found themselves inside the walls of various black sites, like the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. While there, these offenders - and numerous others who were only suspected of anti-American activities - have undergone unbelievable and unconstitutional acts of torture, all in the name of discovering information.
In 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to limit enhanced interrogations and stop sites like Guantanamo from admitting new prisoners. But in 2018, President Donald Trump reversed the order, bringing the topic of CIA black sites back into the public consciousness.
- Photo: US Army Medical Dept
The History Of Secret US Prisons Goes Further Back Than The War On Terror
Though the infamous Guantanamo facility opened in 2002, the history of the United States operating secret prisons goes back much farther than the fight against terror. And some black sites have even existed on US soil.
Japanese internment camps are an early example of this, but even traditional prisons like Alcatraz and USP Marion have been the location of clandestine unconstitutional acts against prisoners. In both these cases, the facilities were publicly known to contain the country's most ruthless law-breakers, which made it easy for Americans to ignore what went on inside the buildings' walls.
These locations also have a history of using less-than-legal techniques for all manner of purposes, including the quelling of dissidence from political prisoners.
The Line Between Enhanced Interrogation And Torture Blurs At Black Sites
Much of what is performed at CIA black sites is referred to as “enhanced interrogation,” techniques for extracting information that were given the go-ahead by President George W. Bush in the name of winning the US's battle against terror threats.
These techniques were considered to be ethically sound based on the arguments of Department of Justice attorney John Yoo. Some of the techniques Yoo condoned, like ice baths and sleep deprivation, are not considered true acts of torture under international law. But others, like waterboarding and forced rectal feeding, certainly qualify.
The use of waterboarding, a horrific technique that simulates drowning, has proven particularly controversial.
Much Of The 'Enhanced Interrogation' Is Psychological And Was Developed By Psychologists
Not all the torture performed on detainees in CIA black sites involves physical violence or the threat of death. Other techniques that have been uncovered are more psychological in nature, and some were even designed by psychologists to push detainees past their breaking point.
In certain facilities, prisoners have been held in shackles with their arms above their heads, unable to sleep for days on end. Cold showers and extreme temperatures have been used to simulate the effects of freezing to death. The fears and beliefs of detainees were used against them, along with threats against their families.
Perhaps most disturbingly of all, some detainees were kept alive solely by rectal feedings. There's no telling how many of these techniques are still in use, but they've been well-documented as staples of past black sites.
Torture Can Result In Death
The conditions at CIA black sites can be horrific, most infamously at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, but not exclusively. And in at least one case, those conditions proved fatal. In November 2002, an Afghan militant who was suspected of working for Al-Qaeda perished while being held in a black site within Afghanistan known as COBALT. His name was Gul Rahman, and he was 34 years old.
Rahman eventually succumbed to hypothermia after being beaten, doused with cold water, and chained to the concrete floor of his cell without clothes. The details of his treatment only came to light in 2016, 14 years after the fact, despite having been fully investigated by the CIA at the time.
As of 2018, the US still had not released Rahman's body to his family members.
There Were At Least Eight CIA Black Sites Used In The 21st Century
The total number of CIA black sites will probably never be known. Several locations are rumored to exist on nearly every continent on Earth, although most of these reports are vigorously denied. The public knows of at least eight facilities, however, including Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, two sites in Afghanistan, and others in Morocco, Thailand, and Europe.
Of course, that’s probably only a small sampling of the actual number of CIA black sites that were, or still are, operating.
Black Sites Allow The US To Skirt Their Own Laws
The United States is bound by a number of legal restrictions that define what they can and cannot do in the name of conflict. Internationally, the United States is supposed to obey the Geneva Conventions (among other agreements), and the US legal code has a number of anti-torture statutes as well.
Black sites offer the US government an opportunity to skirt these restrictions by performing "enhanced interrogation" and holding detainees in inhumane conditions at locations that are technically off-the-books.
These spaces are typically not located on United States soil, thus avoiding certain American laws statutes, and the activities performed within them are kept highly classified to avoid international and domestic attention.
The detainees held at these facilities as unlawful enemy combatants do not have the same protections as those captured in a traditional conflict, and thus are not given due process or basic legal rights. This is true even for individuals who are only suspected of being enemies.