Bush acknowledges secret CIA prisons - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Bush acknowledges secret CIA prisons

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Posted: Wednesday, September 6, 2006 11:23 am | Updated: 3:02 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

WASHINGTON - President Bush on Wednesday acknowledged the existence of previously secret CIA prisons around the world where key terrorist suspects have been held and questioned.

He said the "small number" of detainees that fall into this category include people responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 in Yemen and the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

"The most important source of information on where the terrorists are hiding and what they are planning is the terrorists themselves," Bush said in a White House speech with families of those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, sitting in the audience. "It has been necessary to move these individuals to an environment where they can be held in secret, questioned by experts and, when appropriate, prosecuted for terrorist acts."

The announcement from Bush is the first time the administration has 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.

As he did in his speech yesterday, another in a series pegged to the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush said that the country was still under threat from terrorists.

"They're still trying to strike America and still trying to kill our people," Bush said. The U.S. must be able to "detain, question and, when appropriate, prosecute terrorists captured here in America and on the battlefields around the world."

Bush said such detainees provide essential intelligence to prevent terrorist attacks and to stop key terror suspects from again taking up arms against the United States. "We have a right under laws of war and an obligation to the American people to detain these people and prevent them from returning to battle," Bush said.

"They are in our custody so that they can't kill our people."

The president successfully emphasized the war on terror in his re-election campaign in 2004 and is trying to make it a winning issue again for Republicans this year.

The announcement from Bush is the first time the administration has 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.

Bush also will unveil his proposal for how trials of such key suspected terrorists - those transferred to Guantanamo and already there - should be conducted, which must be approved by Congress. Bush's original plan for the type of military trials used in the aftermath of World War II was struck down in June by the Supreme Court, which said the tribunals would violate U.S. and international law.

Pushing a hard line with legislation he promoting for Capitol Hill consideration later Wednesday, Bush was insisting on military tribunals in which evidence would be withheld from a defendant if necessary to protect classified information.

The official, who had spoken only on grounds of anonymity because the president's announcement was still pending, said the suspects transferred to Guantanamo would be afforded some legal protections consistent with the Geneva conventions.

Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have drafted a rival proposal. It would guarantee certain legal rights to defendants, including access to all evidence used against them.

"I think it's important that we stand by 200 years of legal precedents concerning classified information because the defendant should have a right to know what evidence is being used," said McCain, R-Ariz., who was among the Senate leaders briefed ahead of time on Bush's plan.

Administration officials also have said that allowing coerced testimony in some cases may be necessary, while McCain said the committee bill would ban it entirely.

"We have some differences that we are in discussion about," said McCain, who had not seen the White House bill in writing. "I believe we can work this out."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is expected to side with the administration. He planned to introduce Wednesday the White House legislative proposal on the floor and refer it to the Armed Services Committee for review.

Frist "believes it is a dangerous idea that terrorists and those around them automatically receive classified information about the means and methods used in the war on terror," said a senior Frist aide.

Senate Democrats so far are in agreement with Warner and McCain, setting up a potential showdown on the floor this month just before members leave for midterm elections.

"It's going to get worked out," White House press secretary Tony Snow declared. Asked if the White House will negotiate with the lawmakers, he replied, "It may be that the Hill is willing to negotiate."

Also on Wednesday, the Pentagon was releasing a new Army manual that spells out appropriate conduct on issues including prisoner interrogation. The manual applies to all the armed services, but not the CIA.

The United States began using the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in eastern Cuba in January 2002 to hold people suspected of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban. About 445 detainees remain there, including 115 considered eligible for transfer or release.

The president has said he eventually wants to close Guantanamo as critics and allies around the world have urged. But Snow said Bush wasn't announcing any such plan now.

Guantanamo has been a flashpoint for both U.S. and international debate over the treatment of detainees without trial and the source of allegations of torture, denied by U.S. officials. Even U.S. allies have criticized the facility and process.

The camp came under worldwide condemnation after it opened more than four years ago, when pictures showed prisoners kneeling, shackled and being herded into wire cages. It intensified with reports of heavy-handed interrogations, hunger strikes and suicides.

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