CIA shutters overseas secret shops of horror

Following 9/11, the United States set up a covert prison system in Eastern Europe where suspected terrorists were exposed to brutal torture. It took a new US president to put them out of business.

The Central Intelligence Agency announced Thursday that it would close the secret prisons, thus ending one of the darkest chapters of the Bush administration, which believed that such extraordinary actions were legal in light of the perceived threat of further acts of terrorism against the US.

Although the CIA has never revealed the locations of the mysterious “black-site” prisons, or the countries suspected of hosting them (Poland and Romania rank high on the list of suspected hosts), anonymous tips, aviation records and investigative journalism brought these secret detention facilities to public awareness in late 2005.

In an article in The Washington Post, quoting anonymous intelligence sources, the reason for keeping detainees in overseas facilities was to avoid legal restraints at home.

“It is illegal for the government to hold prisoners in such isolation in secret prisons in the United States, which is why the CIA placed them overseas,” the paper reported.

Yet, while attempting to escape the US court system, the article acknowledged that “the CIA’s internment practices also would be considered illegal under the laws of several host countries.”

Shackles on the floor, prison at Guantanamo Bay (AFP Photo / Brennen Linsley)
The CIA “enhanced interrogation” methods, included ‘water boarding', which gives the detainee the sensation that he is drowning; continuous solitary confinement, which meant “no contact with persons other than their interrogators or guards,” in some cases lasting up to 4 years; and sleep deprivation, where the prisoner is kept awake for long periods of time through the use of “forced stress positions (standing or sitting), cold water and the use of repetitive loud noise or music.”

Despite these extraordinary methods of extracting information from detainees, the agency’s director, Leon E. Panetta, said that operatives who were employed in the program “should not be investigated, let alone punished” because the Justice Department under George W. Bush had decreed their actions to be legal.

But US President Obama and his administration believes that the abovementioned techniques amount to torture, which is illegal under US and international law. In his first days in office, Obama ended the extraordinary interrogations and shut down the overseas detention facilities.

Panetta said that the CIA had not detained any suspects since he took office in February and that the secret prisons are now empty. In the future, terrorism suspects will be handed over to the American military or to a suspect’s native country.

US President Barack Obama signs an executive order to close the "War on Terror" prison at Guantanamo Bay (AFP Photo / Saul Loeb)

Panetta also announced that the CIA has stopped using contractors to interrogate prisoners and removed private security guards at the overseas prisons. Replacing the private guards with agency officers would save the intelligence agency some $4 million. The CIA refused to provide information about the contract, its total value and the company or companies that were removed from the assignment.

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross says staff members who monitored CIA interrogations of prisoners at covert overseas locations violated medical ethics.

The confidential Red Cross report, which was published Monday on the web site of The New York Review of Books, was based on interviews with 14 “high value” detainees who were transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in September 2006.

The report, the third of its kind by the Red Cross, recommends “adjustments” at the facilities, adding that the US government “never responded to the two [previous] ICRC consolidated reports,” which document cases of prisoner abuse.

Presently there is growing debate in the US Senate for the creation of a “truth commission” to investigate past counter-terrorism programs, some of which, critics argue, undermine civil rights.

The US Justice Department has until April 16 to decide whether to make public the legal arguments that attempt to justify the CIA’s harsh interrogation methods.

Robert Bridge, RT