MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. Alex Chadwick is on assignment. I'm Madeleine Brand.
Coming up, Catholics on the US Supreme Court and what their presence means for future decisions.
But first, the CIA is interrogating top al-Qaeda officials in secret compounds around the world. One of them is in Eastern Europe. That's in today's Washington Post, which reports that the covert prison system was set up by the CIA just after 9/11. Len Downie is the executive editor of The Post, and he joins me now from Washington.
And at various times, your paper reports, this system included sites all over the world called black sites. Who authorized this? And how many people know about it?
Mr. LEN DOWNIE (Executive Editor, The Washington Post): They were set up by the CIA under authorization by the president following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 when a presidential directive for various kinds of covert action to deal with the terrorist threat was signed. And the CIA originally set these up in kind of emergency fashion, we're told, because they began capturing senior al-Qaeda and other important terror suspects and did not want to bring them into the American judicial system at that time and didn't know where else to put them. And so they began setting up those sites, first in Guantanamo Bay and some other places around the world, and then gradually the system of now roughly eight sites at the moment around the world evolved.
BRAND: Why doesn't the CIA want to bring these detainees into American custody?
Mr. DOWNIE: At the moment they're holding them indefinitely so they're not subject to habeas corpus and other kinds of legal protections that might--that would pertain if they were brought inside the American legal system.
The story recounts that there's currently a debate going on within the CIA as to whether or not this is a sustainable program now after four years of existence, both in terms of keeping locations secret and not allowing anyone to come and inspect these sites.
BRAND: And does Congress know about them?
Mr. DOWNIE: Only the chairman and ranking minority members of the Intelligence Committees of the two houses.
BRAND: So this is a top-secret operation. Concerns that these prisoners have been tortured?
Mr. DOWNIE: We just don't know. We don't know how the questioning is being carried out. However, at the moment, the CIA is not limited in its interrogation methods, which is why--at these sites and other places where the CIA is in charge--which is why Senator McCain introduced--actually passed by the Senate an amendment to the defense appropriations legislation that would require that all such interrogation sites, no matter who's in control of them, would have to follow international norms. And then Vice President Cheney, as The Washington Post reported a couple weeks ago, has sought to convince the Senate to make an exception for the CIA which, of course, would cover these sites.
BRAND: And the internal debate, if you could go into that a little bit more, is basically revolving around the legality and morality of holding these prisoners?
Mr. DOWNIE: Yes, and also just how long you can maintain a program like this in such secrecy and how long you can sustain the support of the seniormost people in the host countries.
BRAND: Right, because there was at least one instance that you report, in Thailand, where the government shut down...
Mr. DOWNIE: Closed it down after it was exposed by earlier coverage some time ago.
BRAND: And has the CIA said whether it's been able to gain valuable intelligence from these sites?
Mr. DOWNIE: We've been told by officials that they have been able to gain valuable intelligence from the interrogations.
BRAND: And the Eastern European country that you refer to is not named in your story.
Mr. DOWNIE: Correct.
BRAND: Why is that?
Mr. DOWNIE: When we report out stories like this, we listen carefully if senior government officials raise issues about whether or not certain details in the story might be harmful to national security. And in this case, they made a showing that naming of the specific one--a few of the specific countries could compromise important other anti-terrorist activities. And so, for now we've withheld the names.
BRAND: Len Downie, executive editor of The Washington Post, thank you for joining us.
Mr. DOWNIE: Thank you very much.
BRAND: And NPR sought a response from the CIA to the story, but they declined to comment.