Revealed: the plight of prisoners caught up in US rendition

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The Independent US

Three Yemeni prisoners who were apparently seized and held in secret jails by the CIA for 18 months have spoken for the first time about their detention - providing important new details about the systematic "rendition" of prisoners.

The three men, none of whom was ever charged with any terrorism-related offence, were seized in 2003 and then held in four secret locations by "black-masked ninja" US operatives who made considerable efforts to ensure the prisoners did not know where they were being held. They were eventually released about a month ago.

While it remains unclear where exactly the men were held, human rights campaigners who interviewed them believe they were held in Djibouti, Afghanistan and somewhere in eastern Europe. It was alleged last year that the CIA had been operating covert "black site" prisons in Romania and Poland.

The three men - Muhammad Bashmilah, Salah Qaru and Muhammad al-Assad - are now struggling to rebuild their lives. Mr Assad told Amnesty International, which today publishes the men's testimony in a new report: "For me now, it has to be a new life, because I will never recover the old one."

Mr Bashmilah and Mr Qaru were arrested in Jordan in October 2003 and handed over to the US authorities. Mr Assad was arrested in Tanzania the same year. They were returned in May 2005 to the Yemeni authorities, who charged them with obtaining false travel documents. The men pleaded guilty but were released after the judge decided their time held by the US was sufficient time served.

The Amnesty report details how the men's US guards removed all labels from the food and clothing they were given to make it difficult for them to know where they were. Campaigners narrowed down the likely location of their internment based on the length of their rendition flights, the changing position of the sun when the men were allowed outside to pray, and the winter temperature.

"Labels were usually removed from their clothes and their bottles of water. They had some blankets and T-shirts made in Mexico, while their water cups, although made in China, had the name and telephone number of a US company embossed on the bottom," says the report.

Controversy over the rendition of suspects has been growing since it emerged last year that the CIA has been regularly seizing prisoners and flying them to third countries for interrogation. Sometimes the interrogations are carried out by foreign security personnel, sometimes by US operatives. Suspects' families cannot find out what is going on. Some prisoners said they were tortured while in custody.

Britain and other European countries have been accused of complicity in rendition by allowing the CIA to use their airports to refuel and land. Human Rights Watch claimed last year that since the 11 September attacks, planes operated by the CIA for the transfer of prisoners had made at least 300 stops in European countries. Amnesty says the planes have made at least 185 landings at UK airports, including British facilities in the Caribbean. Where the US holds its prisoners, especially those considered "high value" targets, is unknown though a number of possible locations have been identified by campaigners, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Morocco. The British government has persistently denied reports that prisoners have been held on the Indian Ocean islands of Diego Garcia, home to a US air base.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said: "With mounting evidence of illegal CIA rendition flights through European airspace - and multiple landings and take-offs of CIA planes at UK airports - there must be an independent inquiry into all aspects of UK involvement in these sinister practices."

A spokeswoman for the CIA yesterday refused to comment.