Bush acknowledges secret CIA prisons
WASHINGTON – President Bush on Wednesday acknowledged previously secret CIA prisons around the world and said 14 high-value terrorism suspects — including the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks — have been transferred from the system to Guantanamo Bay for trials.
He said a small number of detainees have been kept in CIA custody including people responsible for the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 in Yemen and the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, in addition to the 2001 attacks.
“It has been necessary to move these individuals to an environment where they can be held secretly, questioned by experts and, when appropriate, prosecuted for terrorist acts,” Bush said in a White House speech. Families of some people killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks made up part of the audience.
Military tribunals could resume at Guantanamo Bay as soon as early 2007 if Congress approves new legislation to try the detainees, the military’s chief prosecutor for detainees at the base said Wednesday.
The Department of Defense would have three months after passage of the legislation to come up with new rules for the tribunals, which were struck down by the Supreme Court in June, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, told The Associated Press.
“I’m expecting we will be back in court around the first of the year,” the chief prosecutor said in an interview from his office in Arlington, Virginia.
Davis said that the military would probably prosecute about 75 detainees and would seek the death penalty in some cases, though he declined to give specifics.
‘These are dangerous men’
Bush said of the suspects: “These are dangerous men, with unparalleled knowledge about terrorist networks and their plans of new attacks. The security of our nation and the lives of our citizens depend on our ability to learn what these terrorists know.”
The announcement from Bush was the first time the administration had acknowledged the existence of CIA prisons, which have been a source of friction between Washington and some allies in Europe. The administration has come under criticism for its treatment of terrorism detainees. European Union lawmakers said the CIA was conducting clandestine flights in Europe to take terror suspects to countries where they could face torture.
“Today the administration finally recognized that the protections of the Geneva Convention should be applied to prisoners in order to restore our moral authority and best protect American troops,” said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. “Today’s shift in policy follows the sad legacy of five years during which this administration abused our Constitution, violated our laws and most importantly failed to make America safe.”
Pre-election focus on security
Bush has sought with a series of speeches to sharpen the focus on national security two months before high-stakes congressional elections.
The president successfully emphasized the war on terror in his re-election campaign in 2004 and is trying to make it a winning issue for Republicans again this year.
Bush said the CIA program has involved such suspected terrorists as Khalid Sheik Mohammed, believed to be the No. 3 al-Qaida leader before he was captured in Pakistan in 2003; Ramzi Binalshibh, an alleged would-be Sept. 11 hijacker; Abu Zubaydah, who was believed to be a link between Osama bin Laden and many al-Qaida cells before he was captured in Pakistan in 2002.
The list also includes Riduan Isamuddin, known as Hambali, who was suspected of being the mastermind of a string of deadly bomb attacks in Indonesia until his 2003 arrest in Thailand.
Defending the prison program, the president said the questioning of these detainees has provided critical intelligence information about terrorist activities that has enabled officials to prevent attacks, including with airplanes, within the United States. Other attacks thwarted through intelligence gathered in the program include a planned strike with an explosives-laden water tanker on U.S. Marines at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, an attack with car and motorcycle bombs on the U.S. consulate in Karachi, and a plot to fly passenger planes into London’s Heathrow Airport or Canary Wharf, Bush said.
Bush would not detail interrogation techniques used through the program, saying only that they are tough but do not constitute torture. He did use language that suggested its nature, saying the CIA turned to an “alternative set of procedures” that were successful after Zubaydah and others had stopped providing information.
“This program has helped us to take potential mass murderers off the streets before they have a chance to kill,” the president said.
Fewer detained by the CIA than alleged
A senior administration official said that fewer than 100 people have been detained under the CIA program, rejecting allegations that perhaps thousands have been held in secret prisons. With the transfer of the 14 detainees to Guantanamo, the CIA is no longer holding any suspects, the administration official said. He added, however, that the administration wants the program to continue.
The president said the 14 key terrorist leaders, including Mohammed, Binalshibh, and Zubaydah, who have been transferred to the U.S. military-run prison at Guantanamo Bay would be afforded some legal protections consistent with the Geneva Conventions.
“They will continue to be treated with the humanity that they denied others,” Bush said.