On 23 January 2004, a Baloch Pakistani national born in Saudi Arabia, Hassan Ghul, was detained in the north of Iraq. His arrest was given much attention and singled out for praise by the US authorities claiming that he was a high-value Al-Qaeda figure. From 2004 until 2009, there was no information about Ghul’s whereabouts as he was kept hidden as part of the CIA’s secret prison programme with only sparse references to his torture having accidentally been leaked. In June 2007 a report
issued by seven NGOs working on this field confirmed that Ghul was being kept in secret detention, his whereabouts were completely unknown.
The US jumped on his arrest claiming that they now had credible evidence that Al Qaeda had a presence in Iraq. According to General Ricardo Sanchez, "The capture of Gul is pretty strong proof that al-Qaida is trying to gain a foothold [in Iraq] to continue their murderous campaigns". During his detention a number of allegations were levelled against him, including that he had been working with Abu Zubaydah – an allegation which increasingly seems incredulous.
Indeed, very little was known of Ghul’s disappearance and his treatment in the intervening years until memos were released by the Obama administration
that indicated the authorisation of torture against Ghul came directly from the Office of Legal Counsel. The memo made it clear that 28 detainees had been subjected to various enhanced interrogation techniques
. He was specifically mentioned to have been subjected to the following techniques after being cleared for their use by a CIA physician: facial slap, facial hold, stress positions, sleep deprivation, walling (the shoulders of the individual are smashed against a wall), and the attention grasp (where the individual is held in a choke-hold and repeatedly slapped.
The only reason the world was made aware of Ghul’s treatment, was due to a mistake from the redacting officers who failed to remove a reference to the name 'Gul’. It was made clear that he had been subjected to a number of interrogation techniques but was spared water boarding, allegedly due to his obese size and history of ailments.
This official record was again the only reference to Hassan Ghul until Cageprisoners received testimony from a man who was detained in Pakistan with Ghul. Rangzieb Ahmed was detained in Pakistan and while he was being questioned by the CIA and British security agencies, was detained in the same prisons as Ghul. They were able to speak with one another at times and it was through Ahmed that Cageprisoners were able to receive an account of what happened to Ghul during the years between his detention in Iraq and disappearance into CIA custody.
Hassan Ghul was detained for around seven months in Iraq after his capture and kept incommunicado in an unknown location. Although having been detained in Iraq, he was handed over to the CIA by the US military authorities who then placed him into the High Value Detainee programme. From his time in Iraq, Ghul was flown directly to what he believed was Morocco – due to the sensory deprivation he could not be 100% sure that this was the case, however from the distanced travelled, the conditions of where he was kept and the ethnicity of his guards, he felt confident that the site of detention was Morocco.
With each rendition flight, Ghul was subjected to the standard CIA practice of sensory deprivation which included having goggles placed on top of cotton wool on his eyes, a hood over his head and earphones while having his arms and legs chained together. These techniques were once again implemented as Ghul was taken to Bagram in Afghanistan. It was there that Hassan Ghul would spend two years before he was finally sent to Pakistan, allegedly to be released back into the public.
Rangzieb Ahmed met Ghul for the first time in October 2006, but the two were moved around in various prisons as they were questioned by different agencies. According to Ahmed,
"The second time that I saw him, he was in a safe house with other prisoners and he explained what happened to him. It was at this safe house that he went on hunger strike for four days as he told them that he wanted to speak with his family. What they Americans said, after they brought him to Pakistan after two and half years, was that he would be released, however they went back on their word. They did not give him access to his family and that would not have been a problem for them as I know that they family are located in Pakistan. After the four days of strike, I do know that the Pakistani ISI did allow for him to speak with his family over a mobile."
The final time that Ahmed heard of Ghul, they were both being detained at Adiala prison in Rawalpindi where along with other prisoners, Ghul had going on a hunger strike that lasted twenty five days. According to the other prisoners, Ghul had been cleared for release by the Americans and Ghul went on strike due to his continued incarceration by the Pakistani authorities.
For years the human rights community have campaigned for the release of those who have been held in detention without charge or trial, particularly those who have been subjected to the CIA torture and rendition programmes. Ghul was touted as a high level Al Qaeda operative – his credentials as such were published internationally and all manner of claims were made against him. Yet why was this man never sent to Guantanamo Bay, or the US mainland to face charges over the alleged crimes he committed. The US had already sent the other High Value Detainees to Guantanamo, what was so different in Ghul’s case? Like in the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, there are many questions in relation to where he was eventually taken and why.
The case of Hassan Ghul continues to mystify all those who ever looked into the case. After his prolonged detention and abuse, it can only be hoped that he was released back to his family, for one thing remains a certainty, this man was never charged with a single crime.