Inside Romania's secret CIA prison

 

In northern Bucharest, in a busy residential neighbourhood minutes from the heart of the capital city, is a secret the Romanian government has long tried to protect.

For years, the CIA used a government building — codenamed "Bright Light" — as a makeshift prison for its most valuable detainees. There it held al-Qa'ida operatives Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, and others in a basement prison before they were ultimately transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2006, according to former US intelligence officials familiar with the location and inner workings of the prison. 

The existence of a CIA prison in Romania has been widely reported, but its location has never been made public. The Associated Press and German public television ARD located the former prison and learned details of the facility where harsh interrogation tactics were used. ARD's programme on the CIA prison is set to air today.

The Romanian prison was part of a network of so-called black sites that the CIA operated and controlled overseas in Thailand, Lithuania and Poland. All the prisons were closed by May 2006, and the CIA's detention and interrogation programme ended in 2009. 

Unlike the CIA's facility in Lithuania's countryside or the one hidden in a Polish military installation, the CIA's prison in Romania was not in a remote location. It was hidden in plain sight, a couple blocks off a major boulevard on a street lined with trees and homes, along busy train tracks. 

The building is used as the National Registry Office for Classified Information, which is also known as ORNISS. Classified information from Nato and the European Union is stored there. Former intelligence officials both described the location of the prison and identified pictures of the building. 

In an interview at the building in November, senior ORNISS official Adrian Camarasan said the basement is one of the most secure rooms in all of Romania. But he said Americans never ran a prison there. 

"No, no. Impossible, impossible," he said in an ARD interview for its "Panorama" news broadcast, as a security official monitored the interview. 

The CIA prison opened for business in the autumn of 2003, after the CIA decided to empty the black site in Poland, according to former US officials.

Shuttling detainees into the facility without being seen was relatively easy. After flying into Bucharest, the detainees were brought to the site in vans. CIA operatives then drove down a side road and entered the compound through a rear gate that led to the actual prison. 

The detainees could then be unloaded and whisked into the ground floor of the prison and into the basement. 

The basement consisted of six prefabricated cells, each with a clock and arrow pointing to Mecca, the officials said. The cells were on springs, keeping them slightly off balance and causing disorientation among some detainees. 

The CIA declined to comment on the prison. 

During the first month of their detention, the detainees endured sleep deprivation and were doused with water, slapped or forced to stand in painful positions, several former officials said. Waterboarding, the notorious interrogation technique that simulates drowning, was not performed in Romania, they said. 

After the initial interrogations, the detainees were treated with care, the officials said. The prisoners received regular dental and medical checkups. The CIA shipped in Halal food to the site from Frankfurt, Germany, the agency's European centre for operations. Halal meat is prepared under religious rules similar to kosher food. 

Former US officials said that because the building was a government installation, it provided excellent cover. The prison didn't need heavy security because area residents knew it was owned by the government. People wouldn't be inclined to snoop in post-communist Romania, with its extensive security apparatus known for spying on the country's own citizens. 

Human rights activists have urged the Eastern European countries to investigate the roles their governments played in hosting the prisons in which interrogation techniques such as waterboarding were used. Officials from these countries continue to deny these prisons ever existed. 

"We know of the criticism, but we have no knowledge of this subject," Romanian President Traian Basescu said in a September interview with AP. 

The CIA has tried to close the book on the detention programme, which President Barack Obama ended shortly after taking office. 

"That controversy has largely subsided," the CIA's top lawyer, Stephen Preston, said at a conference this month. 

But details of the prison network continue to trickle out through investigations by international bodies, reporters and human rights groups. "There have been years of official denials," said Dick Marty, a Swiss politician who led an investigation into the CIA secret prisons for the Council of Europe. "We are at last beginning to learn what really happened in Bucharest." 

During the Council of Europe's investigation, Romania's foreign affairs minister assured investigators in a written report that, "No public official or other person acting in an official capacity has been involved in the unacknowledged deprivation of any individual, or transport of any individual while so deprived of their liberty." That report also described several other government investigations into reports of a secret CIA prison in Romania and said: "No such activities took place on Romanian territory." 

Reporters and human rights investigators have previously used flight records to tie Romania to the secret prison program. Flight records for a Boeing 737 known to be used by the CIA showed a flight from Poland to Bucharest in September 2003. Among the prisoners on board, according to former CIA officials, were Mohammed and Walid bin Attash, who has been implicated in the bombing of the USS Cole. 

Later, other detainees — Ramzi Binalshibh, Abd al-Nashiri and Abu Faraj al-Libi — were also moved to Romania. A deceptive al-Libi, who was taken to the prison in June 2005, provided information that would later help the CIA identify Osama bin Laden's trusted courier, a man who unwittingly led them the CIA to bin Laden himself. 

Court documents recently discovered in a lawsuit have also added to the body of evidence pointing to a CIA prison in Romania. The files show CIA contractor Richmor Aviation, a New York-based charter company, operated flights to and from Romania along with other locations including Morocco and the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay. 

For the CIA officers working at the secret prison, the assignment wasn't glamorous. The officers served 90-day tours, slept on the compound and ate their meals there, too. Officers were prevented from the leaving the base after their presence in the neighbourhood stoked suspicion. One former officer complained that the CIA spent most of its time baby-sitting detainees like Binalshibh and Mohammed whose intelligence value diminished as the years passed. 

The Romanian and Lithuanian sites were eventually closed in the first half of 2006 before CIA Director Porter Goss left the job. Some of the detainees were taken to Kabul, where the CIA could legally hold them before they were sent to Guantanamo. Others were sent back to their native countries. 

AP

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Full Stack Developer (.NET 4.0, ASP.NET, MVC, Ajax, WCF,SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Full Stack ...

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pillar 1, 2 & 3) Insurance

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pilla...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn