Newly Released Memo Inadvertently Reveals CIA Held (and Abused) Missing Prisoner

Among the recently released OLC memos, one inadvertently reveals the name of a ‘ghost detainee’

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This story first appeared on ProPublica.org.

Among the OLC memos released today, one appears to inadvertently reveal that a top al-Qaida suspect captured in northern Iraq in January 2004 was held by the CIA in a secret prison.

After Hassan Ghul was arrested in early 2004, President Bush told reporters: “Just last week we made further progress in making America more secure when a fellow named Hassan Ghul was captured in Iraq. Hassan Ghul reported directly to Khalid Sheik Mohammad, who was the mastermind of the September 11 attacks. He was captured in Iraq, where he was helping al Qaeda to put pressure on our troops.”

Military officials and former CIA director George Tenet described Ghul as an al-Qaida facilitator who delivered money and messages to top leaders.

The U.S. government never publicly discussed Ghul again.

The 9/11 Commission report said Ghul was in “U.S. custody.” But the government itself never discussed Ghul’s whereabouts. And the CIA has never acknowledged holding Ghul.

Three years after his capture, human rights groups were surprised when Ghul was not included among 14 high-value detainees who were transferred out of the CIA’s black sites program and sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2007.

Since then, he has been considered a missing, or ghost detainee. But in the heavily redacted OLC memo dated May 30, 2005, government censors appeared to have missed a single reference to his name and confinement during a lengthy description of the interrogation techniques used against him. The reference can be found at the bottom of Page 7 in the memo, where Ghul’s surname is spelled “Gul.”

According to the memo, Ghul was one of 28 CIA detainees at the time who had been subjected to the agency’s “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Specifically, the memo says he was subjected to “facial hold,” “facial slap,” “stress positions,” “sleep deprivation,” a technique called “walling,” in which a detainee’s shoulders are repeatedly smashed against a wall, and the “attention grasp,” in which the detainee is placed in a choke-hold and slapped.

So it appears we now have evidence Ghul was in a CIA prison. Where he is today is still a mystery.

We’ve called the CIA, and they declined to comment.

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WHO DOESN’T LOVE A POSITIVE STORY—OR TWO?

“Great journalism really does make a difference in this world: it can even save kids.”

That’s what a civil rights lawyer wrote to Julia Lurie, the day after her major investigation into a psychiatric hospital chain that uses foster children as “cash cows” published, letting her know he was using her findings that same day in a hearing to keep a child out of one of the facilities we investigated.

That’s awesome. As is the fact that Julia, who spent a full year reporting this challenging story, promptly heard from a Senate committee that will use her work in their own investigation of Universal Health Services. There’s no doubt her revelations will continue to have a big impact in the months and years to come.

Like another story about Mother Jones’ real-world impact.

This one, a multiyear investigation, published in 2021, exposed conditions in sugar work camps in the Dominican Republic owned by Central Romana—the conglomerate behind brands like C&H and Domino, whose product ends up in our Hershey bars and other sweets. A year ago, the Biden administration banned sugar imports from Central Romana. And just recently, we learned of a previously undisclosed investigation from the Department of Homeland Security, looking into working conditions at Central Romana. How big of a deal is this?

“This could be the first time a corporation would be held criminally liable for forced labor in their own supply chains,” according to a retired special agent we talked to.

Wow.

And it is only because Mother Jones is funded primarily by donations from readers that we can mount ambitious, yearlong—or more—investigations like these two stories that are making waves.

About that: It’s unfathomably hard in the news business right now, and we came up about $28,000 short during our recent fall fundraising campaign. We simply have to make that up soon to avoid falling further behind than can be made up for, or needing to somehow trim $1 million from our budget, like happened last year.

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