Amnesty Intl. Report Details Secret U.S. Prisons

Details about alleged secret "rendition" flights of terror suspects are featured in a new Amnesty International report that claims U.S. officials took suspects to secret prisons in eastern European countries and elsewhere, where they were held incommunicado and without charges. Madeleine Brand talks with Eric Olson, acting director of government relations for Amnesty International, about the organization's report.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, how a 1911 piano ditty composed by a future U.S. vice president keeps hitting the top of the charts over and over again.

BRAND: But first, new information is out today on the CIA's secret rendition of terror suspects. That's when a suspect is scooped and sent to another country for questioning. But there have been concerns about whether the CIA is sending people to countries that practice torture. There are also questions about secret detention sites, those so-called black sites in Eastern Europe or Central Asia where suspects were held.

Amnesty International has a new report out today that addresses those suspicions. And Amnesty official Eric Olson joins me now to tell us more about this report.

And Mr. Olson, what's new in your report?

Mr. ERIC OLSON (Acting Director of Government Relations, Amnesty International): We've had an extraordinary opportunity to interview extensively three Yemeni nationals who were basically disappeared by the U.S. government. They were snatched off the streets of Jordan, and one off the streets of Tanzania, turned over to U.S. officials, and then held for 18 months by the U.S. in various detention facilities in Europe. They were held in deplorable situations. And this is a real view inside this rendition program that the United States has.

BRAND: You said they were held in sites in Europe.

Mr. OLSON: Yeah, well, it's been, you know, difficult to know for certain where they were being held, because the detainers, you know, use extraordinary means to keep them out of public sight. But, based on the information they provided us, the length of their travel, the conditions under which they were detained, we've been able to determine that they were probably held for a time in Afghanistan, and then moved on to a black site run by the CIA in some part of Europe.

BRAND: Do they know who detained them in the first place?

Mr. OLSON: The first two were detained in Jordan by Jordan officials, and then quickly turned over to the United States. The third gentleman was detained in Tanzania, Dar Es Salaam, and then it was the United States that started to transport them to other detention facilities, and they ultimately ended up in a site that is considered a black site. It's not registered. The Red Cross does not have access to that site. And the conditions there are very difficult.

BRAND: You say in your report that two of the detainees, they allege that they were tortured.

Mr. OLSON: Well, they were all held in long-term solitary confinement, which, by international standards, in and of itself can be considered cruel and inhumane treatment. Two of them were in a facility where they were chained to a ring on the floor permanently. Some of them were made to stand for long periods of time, all of which is prohibited under international treaty and treaties that the United States itself has signed and ratified.

BRAND: The Council of Europe--that's the continent's top human rights watch dog--released its report on these so-called black sites last month, and it found no evidence of secret prisons in Europe.

Mr. OLSON: The Council of Europe is still investigating. That was not a conclusive, final report. There's still much that needs to be uncovered. Our own analysis--based on the information we've gathered both from former prisoners and our analysis of flight data information--is that there have been literally thousands of flights that the CIA has carried out into parts of Europe where we believe people are being held in these so-called black sites. Off the books, inaccessible to outside observers, and where there have been numerous reports of use of torture and inhumane treatment.

BRAND: And has the CIA responded at all to your allegations and to your report?

Mr. OLSON: No, they've given no response. We've asked for their--for information from them about these flights, and they have refused to respond in any way. The only reason we know that this is going on is the reports from the prisoners themselves and an acknowledgement by former CIA Director Tenet that there is indeed a renditions program.

BRAND: And how many prisoners do you believe are being held this way?

Mr. OLSON: Well, obviously, it's hard to know with certainty, because these are black sites when the U.S. does not acknowledge or give us a list of prisoners. But based on the information we have, we believe it could be in the hundreds.

BRAND: And these three Yemeni men you spoke with, they are now free?

Mr. OLSON: They are now released, and I think that's an important thing to remember. The U.S. detained them and shipped them to these sites but never charged them with any crime, never charged them with anything terror related, even though, presumably, that was the basis of their detention.

So, our concern is, of course that these men lost years of their lives and have never been charged with anything.

BRAND: Eric Olson is acting director of government relations at Amnesty International. The group has a new report out today on the CIA's alleged secret prisons.

Eric Olson, thank you very much.

Mr. OLSON: You're welcome.

BRAND: And a CIA spokesman told DAY TO DAY that the agency has declined comment on the Amnesty International report.

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