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’s War on Terror in 2001. Since the events of September 11, 2001, Americans have used the potential threat of terrorism to set up and commit horrific acts within CIA black sites all over the world.
Some of the world's most infamous terrorists have found themselves inside the walls of various black sites like the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. While there, these individuals - and numerous others who were only suspected of anti-American activities - underwent unbelievable and unconstitutional acts of torture, all in the name of discovering information about terrorist activities.
In 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to limit enhanced interrogations and stop sites like Guantanamo from admitting new prisoners. Then, in 2018, President Donald Trump reversed the order, bringing the topic of CIA black sites back into the public consciousness.
The History Of Secret US Prisons Goes Further Back Than The War On Terror
Officially, CIA black sites began operation in 2002 under the auspices of the War on Terror. However, the history of the United States operating secret prisons goes back much farther than that, and some black sites have even existed on US soil.
Japanese internment camps are an early example of this, but more traditional prisons like Alcatraz and USP Marion have been sites of clandestine unconstitutional acts against prisoners for decades. In both these cases, the facilities were publicly known to contain the country's most ruthless criminals, 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 within political prisoners.
The Line Between Enhanced Interrogation And Torture Blurs At A Black Site
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 War on Terror.
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, definitely are.
The use of waterboarding, a horrific technique that simulates drowning, has proven particularly controversial.
Much Of The Torture Is Psychological, And Developed By Psychologists
Not all the torture performed on detainees in CIA black sites involved physical violence or the threat of death. Other techniques were more psychological in nature, and some were even designed by psychologists to push detainees past their breaking point.
Prisoners were held in shackles with their arms above their heads, unable to sleep for days on end. Cold showers and extreme temperatures simulated the effects of freezing to death. The fears and beliefs of detainees were used against them, and threats against their families were regularly brought up.
Perhaps most disturbingly of all, some detainees were kept alive solely by rectal feedings.
Torture Can Result In Death
The conditions at CIA black sites could be horrific, most infamously at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, but not exclusively there. In at least one case, those conditions proved fatal.
In November 2002, an Afghan militant who was suspected of working for Al-Qaeda died while being held in a black site within Afghanistan known as COBALT. His name was Gul Rahman, and he was 34 years old.
Rahman died of hypothermia after being beaten, doused with cold water, and chained to the concrete floor of his cell without clothes. The details of his death 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 has not released his body to his family members.