Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Costs of War


Open Society Justice Initiative, Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition, 2013, available here, accessed 9 March 2013. 

The United States government has detained hundreds of thousands of people for various periods of time in conjunction with the post-9/11 wars.

In Iraq, over 100,000 prisoners passed through the American-run detention system, most with no effective way to challenge their imprisonment. In the first years of the war, many detainees were processed through the notorious Abu Ghraib prison facility, which housed over 8,000 prisoners at its peak in 2004.

In Afghanistan, there have been widespread concerns about abuses of Afghan prisoners who the U.S. has handed over to Afghan authorities. The U.S. has also operated its own detention facilities, where Afghan prisoners reportedly had no access to lawyers and were unable to challenge the basis for their imprisonment.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, many reports emerged of “black jails,” such as the now-closed Bagram Airbase prison north of Kabul, where detainees were held secretly without the International Red Cross (ICRC) oversight required by the Geneva Conventions. Our January 2022 report with the Human Rights Watch found that the CIA orchestrated a system of black sites throughout the world in which it rendered and secretly detained at least 119 foreign Muslim men, and tortured at least 39.

The U.S. has secreted away suspects to other CIA-run “black site” prisons or passed them to foreign countries with more lax human rights standards to be interrogated via the seizure process known as “extraordinary rendition.” A February 2013 report by the Open Society Foundations (OSF) confirmed that black sites were located in seven countries, and that as many as 47 additional countries were complicit in such operations, including proactive assistance and failure to act in protecting detainees. 

Key Findings 

  • Thousands of people in Afghanistan were detained as terror suspects, with 50,000 detained during just the first three years of war.

  • More than 100 times as many prisoners have been held in Iraq as in Guantánamo Bay, with fewer legal rights recognized by U.S. courts. 


  • In line with recommendations from the Open Society Foundations, the U.S. and partner governments should, first, do more to publicly acknowledge and repudiate, on a bipartisan basis, secret detention and extraordinary rendition and, second, secure accountability for human rights violations associated with these operations.

(Page updated as of January 2022)