Bangkok – It was a super-secret Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operation known only to a handful of American officials. And Thailand was part of the operation, if a report in The Washington Post is to be believed. According to the Post, Thailand was one of eight "black sites" used by the CIA to detain and interrogate secretly important Al-Qaeda operatives. Thailand, aware of the domestic and regional backlash that such a claim may generate, has dismissed the report as "groundless".
According to the Post, the secret facilities were part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA four years ago that, at various times, included sites in eight countries. These sites were in Thailand, Afghanistan, several democracies in Eastern Europe and the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
The existence of and locations of the facilities, which included underground interrogation cells, were known to only a handful of American officials and a few top intelligence officials in each host country, the US newspaper added.
Thailand, said the Post, served as the detention site for top Al-Qaeda operatives such as Abu Zubaida and Ramzi bin Alshibh.
Zubaida, the terror network's operations chief, was captured by Pakistani forces in March 2002 and flown to Thailand by the CIA. Bin Alshibh, one of the planners of the Sept 11, 2001, attacks in the US, was captured in Pakistan six months later and also detained in Thailand.
However, after published reports revealed the existence of the site in June 2003, Thai officials insisted that the CIA shut down the facility. The two terrorists were moved elsewhere, according to former government officials.
Counter-terrorism work between Thailand and the United States has been lukewarm ever since, the Post quoted officials as saying.
In Bangkok, government spokesman Surapong Suebwonglee described the Post story as "completely groundless". "There is no secret Al-Qaeda detention site here in Thailand," The Nation newspaper quoted him as saying on Nov 2.
Mr Surapong said Thailand has never permitted detention of any single Al-Qaeda suspect in the country since the US government began its hunt for members of the group following 9/11.
The government will assign the Foreign Ministry to clarify with the world community that Thailand is not one of the secret detention sites for Al-Qaeda suspects, as to counter the report by the Post, he added.
"The arrest of US-wanted terror suspect Hambali in Thailand is the only case in which we co-operated with the US government in its anti-terrorism campaign. There has been no more operation of such a kind after that," Mr Surapong said.
Hambali, a top Jemaah Islamiah leader wanted by the United States for his alleged roles in the October 2002 Bali nightclub bombing and other terror attacks across Asia, was arrested in the Thai province of Ayutthaya in August 2003 and immediately transferred into US custody in an undisclosed destination.
*Secret 'jail' report untrue (The Nation, Nov 3)