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Bright Light, Big Scoop
December 8, 2011 9:42 AM   Subscribe

AP reporters Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo tracked down a former CIA secret prison in the basement of a a Romanian government building on a busy street in residential Bucharest. The black site, code named Bright Light, was used as a makeshift prison for the CIA's most valuable detainees from 2003-2006, including Khalid Sheik Mohammad, the mastermind of 9-11, Abu Faraj al-Libi, who unwilling provided information that would later identify Osama bin Laden's trusted courier and led to the discovery of bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, as well as other senior al-Qaida operatives.

More on CIA black site Bright Light:

> A floor plan of the the prison
> Satellite view of the area
> The detainees who passed through Bright Light
> Terror suspect Ramzi Binalshibh's journey from Karachi, Pakistan to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

> Google Map view (zoom in for street view)
posted by 2bucksplus (55 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Gawker has a little more information, including a screenshot of the Google street view (which doesn't appear to be working at the moment).
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:45 AM on December 8, 2011


Some of the links may need repair.
posted by swift at 9:50 AM on December 8, 2011


The links are fine - those four carats all go to the same AP slide show, because they're all part of it.

This is one hell of a story.
posted by mykescipark at 9:52 AM on December 8, 2011


It's very comforting to think of a normal-looking house near me secretly having a guy being tortured in the basement. It's even more comforting to think that if I accidentally stumbled on it I'd be disappeared, possibly after reporting it to the authorities.
posted by DU at 9:55 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Cells on springs? Is this a Thing I had forever missed in my reading and watching of spy thrillers?
posted by drpynchon at 9:56 AM on December 8, 2011


Cells on springs? Is this a Thing I had forever missed in my reading and watching of spy thrillers?

This is so you can torture them with the "Super Fly Snuka" technique without hurting yourself.
posted by spicynuts at 10:01 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thought Al Libbi didn't provide the info under torture. Thought Rummy insistent that on Fox, and then changed his tune the next day after all the other Bushies came out saying how fucking important torture was.

Fuck that.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:01 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I remember reading about political prisoners in Soviet Russia communicating through contact noise. Maybe putting the cells on springs was to prevent that communication.
posted by joost de vries at 10:02 AM on December 8, 2011


Court documents recently discovered in a lawsuit have also added to the body of evidence pointing to a CIA prison in Romania. The files show CIA contractor Richmor Aviation Inc., a New York-based charter company, operated flights to and from Romania along with other locations including Guantanamo Bay and Morocco.
A civil suit, of all things, between two of the government's contractors, turns out to be the public's best source of information regarding one of the nation's most shameful episodes.
A New York-based charter company, Richmor Aviation Inc., which supplied corporate jets and crews to the government, and a private aviation broker, SportsFlight Air, which organized flights for DynCorp, have been engaged in a four-year legal dispute. Both sides have cited the government's program of forced transport of detainees in testimony, evidence and legal arguments. The companies are fighting over $874,000 awarded to Richmor by a New York state appeals court to cover unpaid costs for the secret flights.
Just adds to the shame, I suppose.
posted by notyou at 10:03 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The springs kept the detainees constantly off balanced and disoriented. It sounds like horrible slow torture to me.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:04 AM on December 8, 2011


You know it is going on and I conveniently forget until something like this comes along. Shouldn't shock me, but it does. Glad there are people doing this work, journalism, not torture.
posted by josher71 at 10:06 AM on December 8, 2011


Richmor Aviation Inc., a New York-based charter company

!!! Holy shit! Richmor Aviation has run the tiny airport in Dutchess County where I grew up for like 50 years. My dad used to fly them on quick business trips in the 70s. Kinda makes more sense now why there is an airport in such a stupid place.
posted by spicynuts at 10:07 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow, actual investigative journalism! It's thrilling to read well researched stories like this.
posted by Nelson at 10:09 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is so you can torture them with the "Super Fly Snuka" technique without hurting yourself.

Great, cue the funny ha ha about Americans torturing captives in secret prisons. We've come a long way - down to the new normal.
posted by Rumple at 10:12 AM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


The basement consisted of six prefabricated cells, each with a clock and arrow pointing to Mecca, the officials said....During the first month of their detention, the detainees endured sleep deprivation and were doused with water, slapped or forced to stand in painful positions, several former officials said.

We're going to make sure you can pray, even though we're going to torture you?

The pretenses of respecting human rights around evil behavior is just pure insanity.
posted by yeloson at 10:21 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]



Great, cue the funny ha ha about Americans torturing captives in secret prisons.


Yes, let's all lock ourselves in a dark room and wring our hands and cry and gnash our teeth over something everyone has known was going on for 10 years. Finding some kind of humor in it will absolutely encourage the perpetrators to intensify their efforts and lead to even more secret prisons.
posted by spicynuts at 10:26 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


The thing that gets me is, there doesn't seem to be anything particularly "new" here, other than the actual location of the place. We all knew this was going on -- the government hasn't exactly been shy about it. We even, in our heart of hearts, know that it's very likely it's still going on. I guess it serves to make the whole ugly thing more "real" for some folks, but the sad thing is, this is all pretty old news that is just "what happened" and "the way things are".
posted by Legomancer at 10:33 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


We're going to make sure you can pray, even though we're going to torture you?

It's all part of the psyche out. Implied within that is: Look we're not complete monsters. We've given you a clock and an arrow to pray towards Mecca.

And anything given, further implies it can be taken away.


My problem here is that the Neocon apologist's and sadists, will try and point to rendition and torture as the reasons the information on OBL was eventually extracted. If they haven't already.

That whole Bush crew who speak as one on this need to do so, because they think History will forgive what they've done and what they did in the name of American security, but we all know they're war criminals, and history is a bitch, and is going to hound these POS forever I hope.
posted by Skygazer at 10:35 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


The basement consisted of six prefabricated cells, each with a clock and arrow pointing to Mecca, the officials said

I wouldn't put it past these CIA dumbasses to use that as part of the psychological torture, too, by for instance randomly changing the arrow direction while the victim wasn't watching, or moving the clock time sporadically.

Nothing is too low for these people.
posted by odinsdream at 10:38 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


What is wierd is not only have we admitted to it 10 years ago, this sort of stuff was part of the mythology of the American intelligence apparatus for much longer than that. We are just slowly losing our innocence. We can no longer believe that we are the good guys, the sheriff in the white hat. You can only believe that "America does not torture" if you belive that anything America does cannot be torture by definition.

When Canada fesses up, that is when I'll know the world has gone mad.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:46 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Finding some kind of humor in it will absolutely encourage the perpetrators to intensify their efforts and lead to even more secret prisons.

Used to be people would say "too soon" about past tragedies, which wasn't about practical solutions so much as showing a little respect for the suffering of others. But I guess "not too soon" is now "has been going on for long enough".

I don't know. I get black humour. But there's something particularly grim about hearing Americans joke about near-current torture practices of their government.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:52 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Kinda makes more sense now why there is an airport in such a stupid place.

IBM.
They ran their private jets out of there for decades up to the 90s.
Plus, before Stewart became commercial, there weren't a whole lot of alternatives for short-hop flights.

Still creepy to think of rendition flights coming out of my former backyard.
posted by madajb at 11:00 AM on December 8, 2011


[Yeah, this is not the site where "we" found the trail to Bin Laden.
It's not Bletchley Park, it's more like Londres 38.]

Interesting post. I was in both Poland and Thailand the year the black sites story really came out, and it weirdly changed my whole tourist's perspective of the geography to think about them.
posted by Mngo at 11:26 AM on December 8, 2011


When Canada fesses up, that is when I'll know the world has gone mad.

Canada was and perhaps still is up to its neck in the rendition issue, for example the celebrated Maher Arrar case and who knows how many other shameful episodes still to come to light.

So yeah, World Gone Mad, and we're taking it in stride.
posted by Rumple at 11:27 AM on December 8, 2011


"Bright Light" -- I've been haunted by that name for years. What a scary thing.
posted by grobstein at 11:29 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


a cell on springs is not slow horrible torture. a cell on springs is a boat.
posted by kitchenrat at 11:48 AM on December 8, 2011


We even, in our heart of hearts, know that it's very likely it's still going on.

We do? How do we know that?
posted by yoink at 12:00 PM on December 8, 2011


a cell on springs is not slow horrible torture. a cell on springs is a boat.

Boy, we're really starting to need a new Torture Minimizing Bingo card. It's not torture, it's "simulated drowning"! It's not torture, it's electroshock therapy! It's not beating, it's rubber-hose enhanced massage!
posted by RogerB at 12:15 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


How do we know that?

We don't know, but all trust and faith in the basic goodness of our government is gone.

If I had tried to tell you in August of 2001 the US had secret gulags in Romania where we tortured people, you'd have dismissed me as being in need of a tinfoil hat. Now, it's old news. Yes, we torture. Yes, we assassinate. Yes, we drag people off in the night and fly them to places where they will never be heard from again.

I cannot hate Bush & Co. enough for what they have done to our country.
posted by bitmage at 12:21 PM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


Cells on springs? Is this a Thing I had forever missed in my reading and watching of spy thrillers?

I once worked a contract for a firm located at The Presidio in Monterey, CA. It's where the defense language school is. So at the site there's this old wooden Army building that looks like a little warehouse. When you get inside you find two rows of "rooms"on either side of the building that are actually cells there . No windows. The floors are padded and on springs. They told me that is where they interrogated Japanese detainees during WWII. But the person who told me that , when they said "interrogated" the subtext was tortured. No one likes saying "tortured". The whole place had an aura of evil about it and I felt like I just wanted to burn the whole place down. I only went in there once . It's a monument to the inhumanity of men and apparently such monuments are still being built.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 12:24 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I cannot hate Bush & Co. enough for what they have done to our country.
You do realize this is still continuing with Obama, right?
posted by Poet_Lariat at 12:25 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]



We do? How do we know that?

These sites have been an open secret for years.
posted by timsteil at 12:25 PM on December 8, 2011


But there's something particularly grim about hearing Americans joke about near-current torture practices of their government.

We know there's nothing we can do about it. Black humor is a way to cope.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:28 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


You do realize this is still continuing with Obama, right?

Just one of the many problems I have with the man. But Bush started these policies, created the legal fictions to support them, and made it 'acceptable' by moving what would have been unthinkable to being standard policy.

The CIA was up to nastiness before Bush, of course. But it wasn't legal, and was denounced when discovered. Now, it's SOP.
posted by bitmage at 12:30 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


These sites have been an open secret for years.

The timeline in your linked site ends in 2007. The claim I was querying had to do with this still continuing today.

You do realize this is still continuing with Obama, right?

Cite?
posted by yoink at 12:32 PM on December 8, 2011


Now, it's SOP.

Cite?
posted by yoink at 12:33 PM on December 8, 2011


Looks like there was at least one person held in a ship.
posted by josher71 at 12:37 PM on December 8, 2011


NYT link from 2009 where Obama announced that we would continue rendition "with more oversight".
posted by bitmage at 12:37 PM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Boy, we're really starting to need a new Torture Minimizing Bingo card. It's not torture, it's "simulated drowning"! It's not torture, it's electroshock therapy! It's not beating, it's rubber-hose enhanced massage!

Don't forget the delicious pepper-spray food additive! Mmmm
posted by MustardTent at 12:48 PM on December 8, 2011


Scott Horton
Bush-era Justice officials continue to insist that the techniques were lawful; their successors at the Obama Justice Department disagree, but have declined to investigate or prosecute their predecessors, giving legitimacy to the “golden shield” memoranda of the Bush DOJ.
posted by adamvasco at 12:57 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Looks like there was at least one person held in a ship.

From your link:
The officials also said interrogators used only techniques in the Army Field Manual, which complies with the Geneva Conventions.
Obviously they may be lying--but your link is not evidence that they are.

NYT link from 2009 where Obama announced that we would continue rendition "with more oversight".

And from your link:
The Obama administration...pledges to closely monitor their treatment to ensure that they are not tortured, administration officials said Monday.

Again--this may be poppycock, but do you have actual evidence that it is?
posted by yoink at 12:58 PM on December 8, 2011


The SCIF rooms that the government uses to discuss classified information in the middle of unclassified buildings are prefabricated and on springs -- little ones, to prevent outsiders from analyzing vibrations. They are also very secure, manufactured by several different companies, and used by governments in many countries.

I wonder if the CIA just bought six SCIF rooms and installed them at the site in Romania. I mean, there probably aren't a lot of prefabricated secret prison cells that you can just buy and install on short notice. And if anyone asks questions, you can just say they're conference rooms for secret meetings.
posted by miyabo at 12:59 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


My mistake. I thought you were referring to secret detention sites.
posted by josher71 at 12:59 PM on December 8, 2011


Obama's indefinite detention policy: A more humane version of Bush (WaPo ed)

Whether the prisons are in Romania or Illinois doesn't concern me so much as the fact that many incarcerated haven't been accused of anything, and that our President has decided over the last three years that this is perfectly OK.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:15 PM on December 8, 2011


Obama's indefinite detention policy: A more humane version of Bush (WaPo ed)

From your link:
Not everyone on the left is down on the proposal. Ken Gude of the Center for American Progress says the changes "not only go well beyond the Bush process, but [include] significantly more process than is required by the Geneva Conventions."
Yeah, this doesn't seem at all in the same ballpark as torturing people in a CIA holding cell in Romania. I'm not saying that there's not significant room for improvement here, but being blind to the radical differences between what was going on under Bush and what is going on under Obama simply because Obama didn't make every conceivable bad thing go away seems counterproductive (and the distinctive hallmark of the American left).
posted by yoink at 1:24 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am not of the American left. I am a slightly left of centre European. In US political term this probably makes me some kind of pinko liberal commie hippy.
Enhanced interrogation techniques are criminal under the laws of Poland, Lithuania, and Romania, which are bound by the standards of the European Convention on Human Rights.
I would like ( cue flying pigs) to see some people in a court of law one day and the present President of the United States is not helping this process. Therefore if you are an American you are deemed in many European eyes to be acquiescing in the acts of your overlords.
posted by adamvasco at 1:56 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would like ( cue flying pigs) to see some people in a court of law one day and the present President of the United States is not helping this process.

The claim made in this thread that I asked for further information on was that torture was still continuing. It appears that no one has any evidence that this is, in fact, the case. That strikes me as a real and significant good. Turning around and saying "well, there's this other good thing I'd like to see happen and it hasn't" doesn't really seem very relevant.

Still, if you want to argue about that: sure, in a perfect world Bush and Cheney would end up in jail. On the other hand, if an incoming administration in a democratic nation makes its first act jailing the leaders of the previous administration you can, perhaps, agree that this will be a serious blow to the nation's polity. Frankly, you could have forgotten any hope of any legislative progress in that case. Nor, in the end, would convictions have been remotely likely (it is extremely difficult to prosecute members of the executive).

Of course, you probably could have gone after some of the lower level agents who actually performed the torture. On the other hand I doubt that anyone around the world would feel much satisfied by that: it's not as if politicians in the future who choose to go down that road are ever going to struggle to find someone willing to follow those orders, so the deterrence argument isn't very strong there.

Overall I think Obama made the right call. Attempting to prosecute the actual criminals involved would have plunged the nation into chaos and would almost certainly have failed to result in imprisonment. If anything that outcome would be the worst of all possible worlds: you would have a public vindication of the torturers who would emerge as heroes from a process that would inevitably look like political payback rather than justice.
posted by yoink at 2:31 PM on December 8, 2011


It appears that no one has any evidence that this is, in fact, the case.

It appears that you don't know how to use google. You are correct in asserting, though, that the CIA closed down its black sites, but it seems the DOD has picked up the slack.

Obama’s Black Sites

Inside a Secret DOD Prison in Afghanistan

More on JSOC’s Secret Prisons in Afghanistan

Commandos Hold Afghan Detainees in Secret Jails

Afghans 'abused at secret prison' at Bagram airbase

Red Cross confirms 'second jail' at Bagram, Afghanistan

Ah, oops, seems we were wrong; the CIA is back in the business of operating black sites. This time in Somalia.

The CIA's Secret Sites in Somalia

It took me all of 5 minutes to find these various reports on the continued existence of black sites under Obama's watch. If you want to continue with the indignant skeptic schtick go ahead, but it's not really convincing.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:05 PM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


Oh, and this doesn't even begin to touch on the subject of JSOC "kill teams" which have actually been expanded since Obama took office. I trust you will use google to find the appropriate documentation so that you will know I'm not blowing smoke up your ass.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:08 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yoink wrote: The claim made in this thread that I asked for further information on was that torture was still continuing. It appears that no one has any evidence that this is, in fact, the case.

Aelfwine has provided lots of links, but I want to address your reasoning:

The kidnapping, indefinite detention and torture has always been secret. It took lots of patient detective work to find out what we presently know - and our knowledge is still very limited. The USAn government has denied to prosecute the people responsible for it and it still keeps the details secret. Now, given that we didn't know about it initially; given that the same people or their associates are still in power; given that elements of these programs still exist; why would anyone possibly think that things have changed?
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:55 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


State, NSA, CIA and the DOD are full of people who have become far too powerful. Obama can only do so much. It isn't that they would launch a overt coup; they just have too much influence in congress, think tanks and the media. It is a difficult political game, we are making some progress. The executive branch has become more powerful. Yet the President seems personally less so.
posted by humanfont at 7:18 PM on December 8, 2011


We can no longer believe that we are the good guys, the sheriff in the white hat.

Sure we can.
We believed it through Manifest Destiny. This is a piece of cake.

But the game and the stakes are the same they've always been. Having a white hat is not an inherent property nor is it bound by the boarders of a given country. Pretty sure Goldman and Apuzzo are U.S. citizens. The AP is an American news agency.
There's work to be done. Always is.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:10 PM on December 8, 2011


State, NSA, CIA and the DOD are full of people who have become far too powerful. Obama can only do so much.

There is little evidence that he is doing anything.
posted by zipadee at 2:06 PM on December 9, 2011


Indeed, if only we gave Obama the power to designate people terrorists and imprison them arbitrarily the way Congress would like, we could avoid tyranny.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:40 PM on December 9, 2011


Perhaps if congress would let him make a few appointments such as the head of the CFPB or to the federal bench and various assistant secretaries he could delegate some things and get more done.
posted by humanfont at 9:11 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


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