EXCLUSIVE: Sources Tell ABC News Top Al Qaeda Figures
Held in Secret CIA Prisons
10 Out of 11 High-Value Terror Leaders Subjected to
'Enhanced Interrogation Techniques'
Khalid Shaik Mohammed, the operational planner for
Sept. 11, is among those allegedly being held in
secret prisons. (AP Photo)
By BRIAN ROSS and RICHARD ESPOSITO
Dec. 5, 2005 Two CIA secret prisons were operating
in Eastern Europe until last month when they were shut
down following Human Rights Watch reports of their
existence in Poland and Romania.
Current and former CIA officers speaking to ABC News
on the condition of confidentiality say the United
States scrambled to get all the suspects off European
soil before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
arrived there today. The officers say 11 top al Qaeda
suspects have now been moved to a new CIA facility in
the North African desert.
CIA officials asked ABC News not to name the specific
countries where the prisons were located, citing
The CIA declines to comment, but current and former
intelligence officials tell ABC News that 11 top al
Qaeda figures were all held at one point on a former
Soviet air base in one Eastern European country.
Several of them were later moved to a second Eastern
All but one of these 11 high-value al Qaeda prisoners
were subjected to the harshest interrogation
techniques in the CIA's secret arsenal, the so-called
"enhanced interrogation techniques" authorized for use
by about 14 CIA officers and first reported by ABC
News on Nov. 18.
Rice today avoided directly answering the question of
secret prisons in remarks made on her departure for
Europe, where the issue of secret prisons and secret
flights has caused a furor.
Without mentioning any country by name, Rice
acknowledged special handling for certain terrorists.
"The captured terrorists of the 21st century do not
fit easily into traditional systems of criminal or
military justice, which were designed for different
needs. We have had to adapt," Rice said.
The CIA has used a small fleet of private jets to move
top al Qaeda suspects from Afghanistan and the Middle
East to Eastern Europe, where Human Rights Watch has
identified Poland and Romania as the countries that
housed secret sites.
But Polish Defense Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told ABC
Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross today:
"My president has said there is no truth in these
Ross asked: "Do you know otherwise, sir, are you aware
of these sites being shut down in the last few weeks,
operating on a base under your direct control?"
Sikorski answered, "I think this is as much as I can
tell you about this."
In Romania, where the secret prison was possibly at a
military base visited last year by Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld, the new Romanian prime minister said
today there is no evidence of a CIA site but that he
Sources tell ABC that the CIA's secret prisons have
existed since March 2002 when one was established in
Thailand to house the first important al Qaeda target
captured. Sources tell ABC that the approval for
another secret prison was granted last year by a North
Sources tell ABC News that the CIA has a related
system of secretly returning other prisoners to their
home country when they have outlived their usefulness
to the United States.
These same sources also tell ABC News that U.S.
intelligence also ships some "unlawful combatants" to
countries that use interrogation techniques harsher
than any authorized for use by U.S. intelligence
officers. They say that Jordan, Syria, Morocco and
Egypt were among the nations used in order to extract
confessions quickly using techniques harsher than
those authorized for use by U.S. intelligence
officers. These prisoners were not necessarily
citizens of those nations.
According to sources directly involved in setting up
the CIA secret prison system, it began with the
capture of Abu Zabayda in Pakistan. After treatment
there for gunshot wounds, he was whisked by the CIA to
Thailand where he was housed in a small, disused
warehouse on an active airbase. There, his cell was
kept under 24-hour closed circuit TV surveillance and
his life-threatening wounds were tended to by a CIA
doctor specially sent from Langley headquarters to
assure Abu Zubaydah was given proper care, sources
said. Once healthy, he was slapped, grabbed, made to
stand long hours in a cold cell, and finally
handcuffed and strapped feet up to a water board until
after 0.31 seconds he begged for mercy and began to
While in the secret facilities in Eastern Europe, Abu
Zubaydah and his fellow captives were fed breakfasts
that included yogurt and fruit, lunches that included
steamed vegetables and beans, and dinners that
included meat or chicken and more vegetables and rice,
sources say. In exchange for cooperation, prisoners
were sometimes given hard candies, desserts and
chocolates. Abu Zubaydah was partial to Kit Kats, the
same treat Saddam Hussein fancied in his captivity.
"One of the difficult issues in this new kind of
conflict is what to do with captured individuals who
we know or believe to be terrorists," Rice said. "The
individuals come from many countries and are often
captured far from their original homes. Among them are
those who are effectively stateless, owing allegiance
only to the extremist cause of transnational
terrorism. Many are extremely dangerous. And some have
information that may save lives, perhaps even
thousands of lives."
Sources tell ABC News that Jordanians, Egyptians,
Moroccans, Tunisians, Algerians, Saudis, Pakistanis,
Uzbekistanis and Chinese citizens have been returned
to their nations' intelligence services after initial
debriefing by U.S. intelligence officers. Rice said
renditions such as these are vital to the war on
terror. "Rendition is a vital tool in combating
transnational terrorism," she said.
Of the 12 high-value targets housed by the CIA, only
one did not require water boarding before he talked.
Ramzi bin al-Shibh broke down in tears after he was
walked past the cell of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the
operational planner for Sept. 11. Visibly shaken, he
started to cry and became as cooperative as if he had
been tied down to a water board, sources said.