Europeans Seek More Info on Secret Jails

The Associated Press
Thursday, September 7, 2006; 2:25 AM

LONDON -- President Bush's disclosure that terrorism suspects had been held in CIA-run prisons drew approval from activists and defense attorneys, but some called for details on the secret lockups.

Bush said in a White House speech Wednesday that a small number of high-value detainees _ including the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed _ had been kept in CIA custody in order to be "held secretly, questioned by experts and, when appropriate, prosecuted for terrorist acts."

International lawmakers and civil rights campaigners have long called on Bush to acknowledge the United States used a network of secret prisons and have transferred prisoners between them on covert flights.

Manfred Nowak, the U.N. special investigator on torture, called Bush's acknowledgment of CIA secret prisons "progress," but said their existence was already known.

"We knew there was secret places of detention because we knew there were people who had been arrested and then we lost track of them," Nowak told the AP.

The deputy president of Malaysia's largest opposition party, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic party, condemned the CIA prisons and said Bush's acknowledgment was not surprising.

"To us this is nothing new, Bush's use of military and force to act upon his agenda," said Nasharudin Mat Isa. "This latest boast of his (about CIA secret prisons abroad) will make him even more unpopular among Americans."

Australia, a staunch U.S. ally in the war on terror, praised the secret prison program, with Foreign Minister Alexander Downer saying it achieved "a great deal."

Downer conceded the prisons were controversial, but said critics should "understand how important it's been to get information from detainees which has led to the capture and in some cases the killing of terrorists who might have otherwise killed innocent people."

Nowak, who reports to the U.N. Human Rights Council, the global body's top right watchdog, has said the use of secret prisons violate anti-torture commitments under international law because keeping detainees in such places is a form of enforced disappearance.

He said the transfer of 14 detainees from clandestine centers to Guantanamo Bay was "an improvement," but warned that "of course there are many others."

In his comments, Bush said that with the transfer of the 14 men to Guantanamo, there currently are no detainees being held by the CIA. A senior administration official said the CIA had detained fewer than 100 suspected terrorists in the history of the program.

"President Bush has finally realized that American values are the way to win the war on terror _ the values of true openness, a commitment to having fair trials and not allowing the torture of detainees," lawyer Zachary Katznelson, who represents 36 Guantanamo detainees, told the AP.

Marine Maj. Michael Mori, the Pentagon-appointed lawyer for Australian Guantanamo detainee David Hicks, said that legislation the White House wants to use to prosecute terrorist suspects in military trials is similar to provisions already deemed illegal by the high court.

"It appears to be just a rubber stamp of the old illegal commission system," Mori told the Australian Associated Press in the United States.

Bush is pressing Congress to quickly pass administration-drafted legislation authorizing the use of military commissions for trials of terror suspects after the Supreme Court in June ruled that trying detainees in military tribunals violated U.S. and international law.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of London-based human rights group Liberty, said Bush's disclosure raised fresh questions about a possible role of Britain and other countries in so-called extraordinary rendition flights, allegedly used to ferry prisoners to and from the secret prisons.

"After years of allegations come shocking admissions of guilt by the U.S. President as to the existence of secret prisons outside the rule of law," Chakrabarti said in a statement.

Andrew Tyrie, a British lawmaker and chairman of the All Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, said he hoped Bush would in the future provide more details about the treatment of detainees at the CIA prisons.

Bush said that interrogation techniques used were tough, but did not constitute torture.

Human Rights Watch has previously identified Poland and Romania as possible sites of secret prisons, a charge both countries have repeatedly denied.

© 2006 The Associated Press