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Report: CIA operates secret prisons

U.S. won't confirm use of Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe



Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Military Intelligence

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Suspected terrorists in U.S. custody are being treated humanely, Bush administration officials said Wednesday after a report that American agents are holding prisoners in a worldwide network of secret facilities.

National security adviser Stephen Hadley would not comment on the accuracy of a Washington Post report that top al Qaeda suspects were being held for questioning "at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe."

But he said President Bush has demanded that U.S. agents treat prisoners "in a way that is consistent with our values and principles."

"Some people say that the test of your principles is what you do when no one's looking," Hadley said.

"The president has insisted that whether it is in the public or it is in private, the same principles will apply and the same principles will be respected," he said. "To the extent people do not meet up, measure up to those principles, there will be accountability."

The Post cited U.S. officials and those from other governments familiar with the arrangement for its report. The network, the Post said, is "a central element" in the CIA's battle against terrorism, but its existence was known to only a handful of officials at home and abroad.

If true, the arrangement suggests U.S. agents are engaged in activities "that under U.S. law and in U.S. territory and by U.S. personnel would be clearly illegal," said former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, who was once a federal prosecutor.

"There are very serious questions also that what's going on here is also contrary to documents and treaties that the U.S. is a party to," the former congressman from Georgia told CNN.

But Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Bush has ordered his administration to act "in a way that is consistent with our legal obligations, both domestically and internationally," when dealing with prisoners.

"If we find that people are not meeting the standard, there are investigations and people will be held accountable," he said.

High-level al Qaeda operatives in U.S. custody, such as Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, are often held in what U.S. officials describe simply as "undisclosed locations" around the world.

CNN has previously reported that Abu Zubaydah and other CIA prisoners were once held in Thailand at a facility that has since been closed, and a few are held at the U.S. military's Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba.

Human rights groups have criticized the practice of "rendition," in which the CIA purportedly has been allowed to secretly transfer terrorist suspects overseas for interrogation. (Full story)

U.S. officials said the spy agency has gone to great lengths to ensure that prisoners were not tortured, but some of those seized and shipped to third countries have said they were drugged, beaten and subjected to electric shocks while in custody overseas.

Though the international monitor Human Rights Watch named former Soviet bloc countries where it says the CIA detainees are held, the Post and CNN have not identified those countries at the request of U.S. officials.

Human Rights Watch has published the names of towns in Europe where prisoners have been held and the identification numbers of aircraft used to transport them -- a tactic that angers many intelligence professionals.

"The exposure of such, either firms or aircraft, just undoes years of cover building and makes America weaker," said Michael Scheuer, a former CIA officer who once led the agency's hunt for al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.

Human Rights Watch spokesman Tom Malinowsky said the practice of holding suspects incommunicado in secret facilities has done "enormous damage" to the reputation of the United States without producing useful intelligence.

His group and others say suspected terrorists should be prosecuted rather than held indefinitely.

But U.S. intelligence officials say the prisoners are producing useful information and that they do not want to give that up.

Allegations that Americans have tortured prisoners have dogged the Bush administration since April 2004, when graphic photographs of Army reservists mistreating prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq became public.

But Hadley said more than a dozen investigations have been conducted into the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody, and procedures have been revised as needed.

In October the Senate voted 90-9 to require American troops to follow interrogation standards set in the Army Field Manual and barred "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" of prisoners in U.S. custody.

The provision was not included in a House bill, and the White House has threatened to veto a $440 billion Pentagon spending bill if the measure is part of the final legislation. (Full story)

The administration says existing law already prohibits the mistreatment of prisoners in American custody and the amendment would restrict Bush's power as commander-in-chief.

CNN's David Ensor contributed to this report.

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