The secret American “black site” for interrogating suspected terrorists in Thailand was known to the CIA as “Detention Site Green” but for its first detainee, it was decidedly white.
Four halogen lights blasted the white walls 24 hours a day, according to Steve Coll in his book Directorate S, about the Pakistani spy service and those it arrested.
At other times, alleged terrorist Abu Zubaydah was kept in a coffin-sized box for hundreds of hours and waterboarded until he passed out, according to the Washington Post.
“Interrogation techniques such as slaps and “wallings” (slamming detainees against a wall) were used in combination, frequently concurrent with sleep deprivation and nudity,” stated a US Senate report in 2014.
Even now, it‘s still not clear where in Thailand the secret prison was located. Some reports speculate it was just outside Bangkok, others claimed it was inside a shortwave radio relay station built for broadcaster Voice of America in the northern province of Udon Thani.
Much later, when details began to emerge, the Thai Government and military denied any knowledge about a secret torture prison on its soil. Most of what we do know about the Cat’s Eye site comes from a 2014 US Senate Intelligence Committee report — a 528-word, partly redacted document that criticised the CIA’s interrogation tactics and results.
The report does not explicitly identify Thailand as the site, calling it “Country [REDACTED]”, however the Washington Post wrote, “Other details in the report … help indicate the locations of the secret prisons”. Details of the interrogation techniques were also described in a 2007 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The Thai site was reportedly established in haste after the arrest of Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan in March 2002. Abu Zubaydah was born in Saudi Arabia and grew up on the disputed Israeli/Palestinian West Bank before joining the mujahideen in Afghanistan.
He was believed to be a close aide to Osama bin Laden, involved with Al Qaeda training camps, counter-intelligence and major terrorist acts. According to The Washington Times, his arrest sparked an urgent decision about where to put the “high-value detainee” — somewhere far from US lawyers or the Red Cross.
The choice of Thailand for the first post-9/11 “black site” was a closely held secret. “The decision was reached without input from the National Security Council at the White House, the State Department, the US ambassador in Thailand or even the CIA’s station chief in that country,” wrote national security correspondents Greg Miller and Adam Goldman in a 2014 article for The Washington Post.
Then-president George W Bush approved the Thai site, wrote The Washington Times, but details about future sites were kept even from the commander-in-chief.
Waterboarded 83 times in a month
For most of 2002, Abu Zubaydah was the only prisoner at Cat’s Eye. He was the guinea pig for America’s experiments with “enhanced interrogation” techniques, later described by the Obama administration as torture.
Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002, according to a memo from then-deputy assistant attorney-general Steven G Bradbury to John Rizzo, who was acting general counsel for the CIA. Waterboarding involves restraining a detainee and pouring water over a cloth on their face to simulate drowning.
The Senate report said interrogators waterboarded Abu Zubaydah until he, “became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth”.
Despite months of deprivation and pain, Abu Zubaydah never provided any significant new information, according to Senate investigators.
“The CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees,” stated the 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report.
A second detainee arrived around November 2002. The alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombing, Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, was reportedly sent to the secret Thai detention centre after his capture in Dubai.
‘Template’ for torture
By late 2002, the New York Times had information about the Thai site. Although the newspaper refrained from publishing, the secret facility was closed down in December 2002 and its prisoners moved to another black site in Poland. Both men remain in detention at Guantanamo Bay.