Secret World of Detainees Grows More Public
Thursday, September 7, 2006
The secret interrogation of senior al-Qaeda aide Abu Zubaida provided U.S. authorities with the clues they needed to capture the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and other key terrorism suspects around the world, according to new accounts provided yesterday by President Bush and administration officials.
In announcing the transfer of Zubaida and 13 other "high value" terrorism suspects to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Bush disclosed new details about some of the detainees subjected to what he called "tough" interrogation methods, which human rights advocates have condemned as torture. Bush defended an "alternative set of procedures" for interrogations that he said offered critical information about links between suspected terrorists and helped thwart eight plots aimed at killing Americans.
The group of suspects is an apparent who's who of al-Qaeda and its affiliates, including alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the Indonesian extremist leader known as Hambali, who is blamed for bombings in Bali and the Philippines. Officials said the group also includes those suspected in the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 and the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
"These are dangerous men with unparalleled knowledge about terrorist networks and their plans for new attacks," Bush said.
Bush asserted that information provided by some of the 14 detainees not only helped with the capture of others, but led to the unraveling of an al-Qaeda effort to manufacture anthrax spores; a plot to attack Marines at a base in Djibouti with an explosives-laden water tanker; a plan to attack the U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, with car and motorcycle bombs; and a plan to fly passenger jets into Heathrow Airport or Canary Wharf in London.
Bush called the interrogations by specially trained CIA officers "safe and lawful and necessary" and said the information gleaned from the detainees had allowed the CIA to "make sense" of seized documents and computer records, to identify voices on tape recordings of intercepted telephone calls, and to interpret what terrorist suspects had said to one another. He said the information was corroborated by other sources, but he did not give details about those sources.
"It's the rogue's gallery of al-Qaeda, the crown jewels of who we have," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert and Georgetown University professor. "But in attempting to resolve their status, the last thing you want is to give any impression that it's going to be a kangaroo court."
Intelligence officials said the suspects were transferred in secret over the past several days. But the prisons in which they were held, while now empty, are not closed, and officials said CIA staff members are continuing to maintain a presence at the facilities.
The public confirmation of the 14 men completes a list of all known detainees in U.S. custody, following the disclosure in May of others being held at Guantanamo Bay.
Overall, nearly 100 detainees had been held in the secret CIA prisons, officials said. Most were either transferred to jails in other countries, where they could be interrogated and held without trial, or set free, intelligence officials said.
In a series of "biographies" and other documents released by the director of national intelligence (DNI) yesterday, authorities provided startling new details about the CIA prison program, which had been wrapped in secrecy. At the same time, the information was carefully edited and included little if any information on how the detainees were arrested, how information was gathered and assessed, and where the prisoners were held or moved.
The 14 detainees can be roughly divided into two groups: those allegedly associated with al-Qaeda and the Sept. 11 attacks, and those suspected of having ties to Hambali and Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian extremist group linked to al-Qaeda.