WASHINGTON (IPS/GIN) – Three human rights groups sued the U.S. government June 7 to force it to disclose information about detainees allegedly held in secret prisons by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

More than three dozen detainees, who remain unaccounted for, are believed to have been locked up due to the “global war on terror” at some point during the past five years.

The three New York-based groups–Amnesty Interna-tional USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the International Human Rights Clinic of New York University School of Law–filed their suit under the Freedom of Information Act, alleging that the government is withholding documents that can shed light on what happened to the 39 “disappeared” detainees and where they might be found.


“What we’re asking is where are these 39 people now, and what’s happened to them since they ‘disappeared’?” said Joanne Mariner, Terrorism and Counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch. While not a plaintiff in the case, Ms. Mariner’s group contributed to a report, also released June 7, that forms the basis of the lawsuit.

“It is already a serious abuse to hold them in secret CIA prisons. Now we fear they may have been transferred to countries where they face further secret detention and abuse,” she added.

The 21-page report, to which two other groups–London-based Cageprisoners and Reprieve–also contributed, details the names and other information about 39 people who “disappeared” after their apprehension. Most were detained in Pakistan between 2001 and 2005.

The report, titled “Off the Record,” also records the detention of the wives or young children–in one case, as young as 6 months old–of several of the detainees. The six groups said it was the most comprehensive listing of detainees who have disappeared that has been compiled since the launch of the war on terror in late 2001.

“The duty of governments to protect people from acts of terrorism is not in question,” said Amnesty’s senior research director, Claudio Cordone, in London. “But seizing men, women and even children, and placing people in secret locations deprived of the most basic safeguards for any detainees, most definitely is. The U.S. administration must end this illegal and morally repugnant practice once and for all.”

The CIA declined to confirm or deny the accuracy of the information presented in the rights groups’ report.

The report divides the 39 who remain unaccounted for into three groups–three whose detention by the U.S. was officially acknowledged at one time; 18 about whom there is strong evidence, including witness testimony, that the U.S. held them in secret detention; and the remainder about whom there is some evidence of their being held by the U.S. in secret detention.

Although most of the individuals on the list were originally detained in Pakistan, many are nationals from other countries, including Egypt, Kenya, Libya, Morocco and Spain. Other initial seizures took place in Iran, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan.