Policies on Terrorism Suspects Come Under Fire

By Dana Priest and Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 3, 2005

The Bush administration's policies for holding and detaining suspected terrorists came under sharp scrutiny and criticism yesterday after disclosure that the CIA had set up covert prisons in several Eastern European democracies and other countries.

The U.N. special rapporteur on torture said he would seek more information about the covert prisons, referred to in classified documents as "black sites." Congressional Democrats and human rights groups warned that the secret system would damage the U.S. image overseas.

House Democrats said they plan to introduce a motion as early as today to endorse language in the defense spending package written by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), which would bar cruel and inhuman treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody, including those in CIA hands. The motion would instruct House conferees to accept McCain's precise measure.

Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.), ranking Democrat on the Appropriations defense subcommittee, urged the United States to adopt a doctrine of "no torture, no excuses," and said Congress needs to speak on the issue. "The United States of America and the values we reflect abhor human rights violators and uphold human rights," Murtha said in a statement.

McCain's amendment was endorsed last month by the Senate, 90 to 9, over the objections of the White House, which said it would restrict the president's ability to protect the country. The House Democrats said they already have 15 GOP supporters for their motion, and Republicans have told the White House they expect it to pass, an Appropriations Committee spokesman said.

The CIA and the White House are seeking language that would exempt prisoners held by the agency, which would include the 30 or so al Qaeda figures that sources said are being held in the black sites. Neither the White House nor the CIA will officially comment on the secret prison system, but intelligence officials have said in interviews that the arrangement is essential to gaining information about possible terrorist activities.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the CIA's covert detention system has at times established facilities in eight countries, including, among others, Thailand, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Those facilities are now closed. The Post did not publish the names of Eastern European countries involved in the program, at the request of senior U.S. officials. They argued that doing so could damage counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere, and could lead to retaliation by terrorists.

The governments of Russia and Bulgaria issued statements saying no such facility existed in their countries, Reuters reported. Thailand also denied hosting such a facility.

Yesterday, administration officials were buffeted by questions about the black sites.

"The fact that they are secret, assuming there are such sites, does not mean" torture would be tolerated there, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley told reporters.

"Some people say that the test of your principles [is] what you do when no one's looking," he said. "And the president has insisted that whether it is in the public or it is in the private, the same principles will apply and the same principles will be respected. And to the extent people do not meet up, measure up to those principles, there will be accountability and responsibility."

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack also declined to talk specifically about the sites, saying, "These are difficult issues. And we have ongoing discussions on a variety of different fronts with countries around the world about these issues, because the threat from terrorism . . . is a common threat to democracies and peace-loving nations."

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