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Archive for the ‘Don Mueang’ tag

The Mystery of Detention Site Green

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Was the CIA’s torture prison in Thailand circa 2002 located here in Chiang Mai? ©2018 Derek Henry Flood

Chiang Mai- Arriving in Thailand after a couple of months working in Iraq and Syria, I had what might seem like a fairly simple idea: to precisely locate the site of the 2002 CIA ‘black site’ where Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded. Here in Thailand was where so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” first began as the terror wars got underway.

The exact geolocation of the black site, once referred to as “Cat’s Eye” but later formally called “Detention Site Green” is still a matter of debate some 16 years on. The sites, often termed a ‘secret CIA prisons’ were colour coded once the system had been well established for forcibly migrating, interrogating and torturing HVDs (High Value Detainees). The heavily redacted report titled Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Techniques was released in in April 2014 with a declassified version published the US Senate that December.

This dated Thai mystery has reemerged with the nomination of agency deputy director Gina Haspel as CIA director. Haspel’s controversial nomination hearing is slated for 9 May. I thought it would be an opportune time to find the one-time torture site but such is far easier imagined than actually done. The Thai government, ruled as a military junta since 2014 and led by former army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha , still essentially denies the black site’s existence here in practical terms.

The location has been commonly thought to be in the northern province of Udon Thani at a Vietnam War-era Voice of America relay station in Ban Dung district southeast of the Laotian capital of Vientiane. The then governor of Udon Thani as well as the Prime Minister’s office strenuously denied the VoA station doubling as a prison as a baseless rumour back in November 2005.

An outline of Ban Dung district in Udon Thani province where a 2005 report alleged Detention Site Green was located. This has never been corroborated.

Detention Site Green was also once rumoured to be at Bangkok’s Don Mueang International Airport. This version of the location hasn’t been as common in speculation as of late but a recent inconclusive report by the Los Angeles Times still mentions it as a possible locale.

The commercial area of Bangkok’s Don Mueang International Airport. The Los Angeles Times speculates Cat’s Eye may have been in a part of the facility used by the Royal Thai Air Force. ©2018 Derek Henry Flood

Adding to the conjecture, in 2016, The New York Times published a global black site map indicating the 2002 prison was located in the northern metropolis of Chiang Mai. But the article provided no supporting information regarding a possible Chiang Mai locale. In fact the place name Thailand is only mentioned in passing in said piece while Chiang Mai is not mentioned at all beyond the infographic illustrating the article.

A New York Times black site map published in October 2016 indicates the prison was in or near the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai but did not explain where this assertion originated from.

So where was Cat’s Eye/Detention Site Green? Was it in Chiang Mai as the NYT map asserts but does not explain? Was it in Udon Thani province as many originally suspected. A December 2014 report by the Bangkok Post that came in the wake of declassified Senate report alludes to it being in Udon Thani province but in a different locale at the Ramasun military camp rather than the old VoA rumour. Junta leader General Prayut adamantly denied the findings implicating Thailand in the 2014 report stating Thai authorities has no specific information on what their American allies were doing with terror suspects on Thai soil.

A 2014 Washington Post report states that The New York Times received a leak of the location of Detention Site Green but suppressed the information although the article by Greg Miller and Adam Goldman does not articulate why. Did the CIA via Bush White House convince then  NYT executive editor Bill Keller or Arthur Sulzberger Jr. to refrain from publishing the site’s location based on a lesser of evils concept regarding national security interests conflated with patriotism owing the the post 9/11 environment? Did the map the NYT published in 2016 specifically listing “Chiang Mai” hark back to that suppressed leak either inadvertently or surreptitiously? Did the NYT being the recipient of a leak lead to the end of Cat’s Eye and its coordinates forever vanishing into history?

Screenshot of a 2014 WaPo report mentioning the NYT has information on Detention Site Green.

This week the Los Angeles Times piece on Detention Site Green mentions a leak but doesn’t specify the outlet as WaPo did in 2014 above.

In contrast to the WaPo article from 2014, the LAT’s piece from 2018 does not mention NYT by name, but simply “U.S. media” by which I presume they mean the NYT unless there were other outlets that WaPo failed to mention in the citation above.

This forgotten yet incredibly significant locale in the context of the terror wars seems to have been buried in history. Those who know won’t or can’t talk and Thailand is not a politically transparent society under military rule after years of corrupt prime ministerships and protests in Bangkok. Here in the land of smiles was once the CIA’s first black site, a veritable laboratory for torture that would be used in other such dark venues in the early years of the terror wars. The use of torture greatly harmed America’s image abroad and I’m not simply referring to the European left.The known use of torture techniques here in Thailand and onto Afghanistan, Poland and elsewhere was detrimental to American foreign policy objectives in places far more sensitive where allies were needed to build sturdy partnerships.

Waterboarding undermined and betrayed American values at their core no matter who the suspects were. Men were snatched in Pakistan and other places and detained–and many still are detained–without due process of law, a fundamental American value. In the minds of captured suspects and their remaining fellow travelers still at large, this confirmed for them that the great power across the Atlantic was no better than Iraqi or Syrian Ba’athist mukhabarat, the Shah’s feared SAVAK or Communist Afghanistan’s ruthless KHAD  in is callous disregard for fundamental human rights.

Although Zubaydah’s interrogations in Thailand had supposedly ended by the time Haspel arrived here, she did oversee a couple of waterboardings of Saudi detainee Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri who Washington considers to be the mastermind of the USS Cole bombing that killed 17 sailors in Yemen’s Aden harbour in October 2000. In 2005 according the Associated Press, Haspel then facilitated the destruction of 92 videotapes that documented what occurred at Detention Site Green on her watch and that of her predecessor.

Yet we still have no reliable information on where this took place which is relevant to the historical record of the terror wars the world has been enduring for close to 17 years. Well, according to WaPo the NYT does…