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Reports of Secret CIA Prisons Prompt Concern

Lawmakers and others say the U.S. should reassess its handling of terrorism suspects.

November 03, 2005|Siobhan Gorman and Tom Bowman | The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration should reevaluate its long-term plan for detaining suspected terrorists in light of reports that the CIA has a secret prison system, members of Congress and current and former intelligence officials say.

Details of the post-Sept. 11 network of "black sites" were first reported in Wednesday's Washington Post, and the locations were confirmed by the Baltimore Sun. The report raised questions about how the CIA was treating its detainees in Thailand, Afghanistan and Eastern Europe.

Rep. William M. "Mac" Thornberry (R-Texas), who chairs a House subcommittee on intelligence oversight, said it was time for the country to decide how to handle detainees in a conflict with no clear end.

"What do we do with these folks?" he asked. "The country has to think about it."

If the reports are true, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said, the problem of questionable treatment of prisoners is more widespread than he thought.

McCain wrote legislation that would set standards for interrogating anyone detained by the Defense Department. The Bush administration has been battling to block McCain's proposal, which the Senate approved 90 to 9 last month as an amendment to the defense spending bill.

As part of that fight, a new Army interrogation manual, which specifically prohibits the harsh techniques that came to light in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, is being held up by Pentagon officials who want to make sure the document does not conflict with practices at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, government officials said.

The new manual prohibits techniques such as sleep deprivation, stripping prisoners and the use of dogs.

Some members of Congress said news of the secret prisons bolstered the case for standards of treatment for detainees.

"We're going to have to move forward and oversee and develop the standards that are necessary," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), a member of the intelligence oversight panel.

Several current and former intelligence officials said it was time for a public debate.

The country needs "to come to a national consensus about what constitutes appropriate treatment for these prisoners," said Jennifer Sims, a former top State Department intelligence official.

Stephen Hadley, President Bush's national security advisor, declined to speak specifically about the reports of the CIA prisons, noting the administration's policy against commenting on intelligence matters.

But in response to questions, he said, "While we have to do ... what is necessary to defend the country against terrorist attacks and to win the war on terror, the president has been very clear ... that the United States will not torture, the United States will conduct its activities in compliance with law and international obligations."

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