Bush Concedes CIA Ran Secret Prisons Abroad

President Bush's Speech

President Bush acknowledges the existence of secret CIA prisons around the world and says 14 high-value terrorism suspects have been transferred from the system to Guantanamo Bay for trials.

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Today President Bush acknowledged publicly for the first time the existence of secret overseas prisons run by the CIA. The president said top terrorism suspects had been interrogated at these prisons, giving the U.S. information that's prevented major attacks.

The president also announced that 14 terrorist leaders have been transferred from CIA custody to Defense Department custody at Guantanamo Bay. And he called on Congress to approve his bill creating military commissions to try those prisoners.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports from the White House.

DON GONYEA: The president's speech today was heavily promoted by the White House. In the audience in the East Room were the vice president, members of the Cabinet, representatives from Congress and people who lost family members in the 9/11 attacks. From the start the president stressed that potential attacks have been thwarted, in part because of information the CIA has collected from al-Qaida members.

GEORGE W: Captured terrorists have unique knowledge about how terrorist networks operate. They have knowledge where the operatives are deployed and knowledge about what plots are underway. This is intelligence that cannot be found any other place. And our security depends on getting this kind of information.

GONYEA: And the president defended the practice of using previously secret CIA prisons.

BUSH: To win the war on terror, we must be able to detain, question and when appropriate prosecute terrorists captured here in America and on the battlefields around the world.

GONYEA: Today he announced that 14 such prisoners had been transferred from CIA custody and turned over to the Department of Defense, but he said this does not mean the CIA is out of the picture. He said there are currently no terrorists in the program but that, as more are captured, having such a program will continue to be crucial.

The prisoners just transferred to Guantanamo include some major al-Qaida operatives who have been held for years, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is believed to have been a leading figure in the 9/11 attacks, and Abu Zubaida, said to be a key link between al-Qaida leaders and terror cells around the world. The president said that during CIA interrogation, these prisoners yielded important information but only very reluctantly and over time.

BUSH: I cannot describe the specific methods used. I think you understand why. If I did, it would help the terrorists learn how to resist questioning and to keep information from us that we need to prevent new attacks on our country. But I can say the procedures were tough and they were safe and lawful and necessary.

GONYEA: The United States has been accused of mistreating prisoners at Guantanamo and elsewhere, but the president insisted that they are being and will be treated humanely.

BUSH: While at Guantanamo they will have access to the same food, clothing, medical care and opportunities for worship as other detainees. They will be questioned subject to the new U.S. Army field manual, which the Department of Defense is issuing today. And they will continue to be treated with the humanity that they denied others.

GONYEA: The president again said he'd like to eventually close Guantanamo but that won't happen until the 445 prisoners being held there are either tried or when their home nations agree to take them back.

And the president called on Congress to act this month on his bill creating military commissions to try these suspects. The bill includes rules that would allow the court to try suspects without showing them evidence considered to be classified information. That did not please one key senator, Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who said the U.S. would never allow another country to try Americans under such rules.

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Do you want our guys tried in a forum where they never saw the evidence? No. I don't believe from a practical point of view that there are going to be cases where the only evidence to convict the accused is of a classified nature and can't be shared. I just don't think that's a reality that we need to be dealing with.

GONYEA: But Mr. Bush today asked Congress to accept his proposed rules immediately, saying those who lost loved ones on 9/11 have waited too long for justice.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.

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Bush Concedes CIA Held Suspects in Secret Prisons

Guard tower at Guantanamo Bay i i

hide captionThe United States military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been holding hundreds of prisoners from the invasion of Afghanistan and the war on terror since 2002.

Brennan Linsley/AFP/Getty Images
Guard tower at Guantanamo Bay

The United States military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been holding hundreds of prisoners from the invasion of Afghanistan and the war on terror since 2002.

Brennan Linsley/AFP/Getty Images

Guantanamo by the Numbers

Since 2002, the United States military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been holding prisoners from the invasion of Afghanistan and the war on terrorism.

 

There are 459 prisoners remaining at Guantanamo; 315 have either been transferred to the custody of their home governments or released.

 

Most detainees — held for more than four years, most held without charge — are from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Afghanistan.

 

Ten have been charged, but their trials are on hold while Congress decides what rules they should be tried under.

 

An additional 120 detainees have been determined either not to be enemy combatants or to no longer be threats to the United States and its allies. However, they are still being held at Guantanamo because the United States fears they may be persecuted upon their return home; the United States can't get guarantee that they won't be released once they're returned home; or their home governments don't want them.

 

The United States has built one hard-walled prison (unlike the chain-link cells that have been used for about three years), called Camp 5, which holds the "worst of the worst" detainees at Guantanamo. Camp 5, which can hold up to 100 prisoners, is about half full. The military is building another hard-walled prison called, Camp 6, with a capacity of 200 detainees.

 

The U.S. military is also expanding an existing prison in Afghanistan, called Pol-e-charki. When it is completed in early 2007, scores of Afghan prisoners at Guantanamo will be moved there.

 

Source: Defense Department

 

—Jackie Northam

Sept. 11 Suspects in Custody

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

hide captionThis image of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, was released shortly after his capture in March 2003. President Bush announced that Mohammed is among 14 high-profile terrorism suspects transferred to Guantanamo for trial.

U.S. Defense Department

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush on Wednesday acknowledged the existence of 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, Cuba, for trials.

He said the "small number" of detainees that have been kept in CIA custody include 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.

"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, attacks making up part of 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.

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, 2001, hijacker; Abu Zubaydah, who was believed to be a link between Osama bin Laden and many al-Qaida cells before he was also captured in Pakistan, in March 2002.

The list also includes Riduan Isamuddin, known additionally as Hambali, who was suspected of being Jemaah Islamiyah's main link to al-Qaida and the mastermind of a string of deadly bomb attacks in Indonesia until his 2003 arrest in Thailand.

Defending the program, the president said the questioning of these detainees has provided critical intelligence information about terrorist activities that have enabled officials to prevent attacks not only in the United States, but Europe and other countries. He said the program has been reviewed by administration lawyers and been the subject of strict oversight from within the CIA.

Bush would not detail the type of interrogation techniques that are used through the program, saying they are tough but do not constitute torture.

"This program has helped us to take potential mass murderers off the streets before they have a chance to kill," the president said. "It is invaluable to America and our allies."

The president's announcement, which the White House touted beforehand and asked to be televised live on the networks, comes as 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 again for Republicans this year.

The president said the 14 key terrorist leaders, including Mohammed, Binalshibh, and Zubaydah, that 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.

Bush also laid out 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.

Aides said the legislation being introduced on Bush's behalf later Wednesday on Capitol Hill insists on provisions covering military tribunals that would permit evidence to be withheld from a defendant if necessary to protect classified information.

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