WASHINGTON -- Six human rights groups released yesterday a list of 39 people they believe have been secretly imprisoned by the United States and whose whereabouts are unknown, calling on the Bush administration to abandon such detentions.
The list, compiled from news media reports, interviews and government documents, includes terrorism suspects and those thought to have ties to militant groups. In some suspects' cases, officials acknowledge that they were at one time in U.S. custody. In others, the rights groups say, there is other evidence, sometimes sketchy, that they had at least once been in American hands.
The list includes, for instance, Hassan Ghul, a Pakistani who is accused of being a member of al-Qaida and whose capture in northern Iraq in January 2004 was announced by President Bush. At the other extreme, two unnamed Somali nationals are on the list because they were overheard in 2005 by another prisoner who was later released, Marwan Jabour, in the cell next to his at a secret U.S. detention center, possibly in Afghanistan.
Meg Satterthwaite of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University, one of the six groups, said the recent U.S. practice mimics "disappearances" of political opponents under Latin American dictators. "Enforced disappearances are illegal, regardless of who carries them out," she said.
The other groups that compiled the list were Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch and two British groups, Reprieve and Cageprisoners. Three of the groups are suing under the Freedom of Information Act to learn what became of the prisoners.
The Bush administration has defended secretly detaining some suspects as a necessity of the fight against terrorism because officials do not want to tip off terrorist groups that their operatives are in custody. They say the comparison with past Latin American regimes is unfair, because those seized by the Americans are not killed and their whereabouts will eventually be revealed.
A CIA spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, would not comment on the names on the list. But he said that "there is no shortage of myth about what the CIA has done to fight terror."
"The plain truth is that we act in strict accord with American law," he said, adding that the agency's actions "have been very effective in disrupting plots and saving lives."
In a reminder that the handling of captured terrorism suspects remains a pressing issue, Pentagon officials said yesterday that a courier linking terrorist cells in the Horn of Africa and al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan was captured recently in East Africa and transported this week to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.