10 April 2009

CIA Discloses Scope of Terror Prison Program

The CIA is disclosing what it says was the scope of its secret terrorist prison and torture network during the Bush Administation, and says that it was shut down in 2006. Can this be trusted? Who knows? Not telling is more their style than publicly lying, so it might mean something. The CIA wants to disavow its past practice, but protect those who carried it out from punishment.

The CIA said Thursday that it would decommission the secret overseas prisons where it subjected al-Qaeda prisoners to brutal interrogation methods . . .
[CIA Director Leon] Panetta and other top Obama administration officials have said they believe that waterboarding, the near-drowning method used in 2002 and 2003 on three prisoners, is torture.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which interviewed 14 prisoners, said in a report made public this week that prisoners were also repeatedly slammed into walls, forced to stand for days with their arms handcuffed to the ceiling, confined in small boxes and held in frigid cells.

Panetta said the secret detention facilities were no longer in operation, but he suggested that security and maintenance had been continuing at the taxpayers' expense since they were emptied under Bush in 2006. Terminating security contracts at the sites would save "at least $4 million," Panetta said.

The CIA has never revealed the location of its so-called black sites overseas, but intelligence officials, aviation records and news reports have placed them in Afghanistan, Thailand, Poland, Romania and Jordan, among other countries. Agency officials have said fewer than 100 prisoners have been held since the program was created in 2002, and about 30 were subjected to what the CIA called "enhanced" interrogation techniques.

Panetta also said he has banned the agency's use of contract employees to interrogate prisoners or provide security at the facilities.

The numbers are smaller than many had feared. Also, given the many locations of these secret prisoner, and the fact that not everyone was held there for the entire duration of the program, each site must have been quite small -- perhaps the size of a small town jail.

Indeed, if the Bush Administration had disclosed the limited size of the program to the public, the public might have been more trusting of its good judgment -- although the small size of the program makes the administrative resources piece of the argument against judicial review suspect. One criminal court judge in Colorado handles more felony cases in a single week. But, we still no little about how culpable these individuals were or how much helpful intelligence was provided by them.

It isn't clear how many prisoners have been transferred to non-secret military prisons in places like Baghram Air Force base in Afghanistan -- several dozen prisoners from outside Afghanistan have been transferred there (out of something on the order of six hundred prisoners), and a U.S. trial court judge has held that they are entitled to habeas corpus review becaue the U.S. has de facto control of the area, and has placed prisoners there for its own convenience rather than out of military extingency. Other terrorism suspects may have been victims of extraordinary redition outside these secret CIA prisons.

The biggest room for deception in this disclosure would be the possibility that other people were detained or tortured in other similar programs which were not disclosed. There is also little or no disclosure of what is going on with regard to U.S. military detentions of people other than U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other places where it is deployed.

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