CIA Director Panetta Says Agency Is No Longer Operating Secret Prisons

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 10, 2009

The CIA no longer operates any secret overseas prisons, Director Leon Panetta said yesterday, and has not detained anyone since he became chief in February.

Panetta's statement, contained in a message to the CIA workforce, also said the agency will no longer use contractors to conduct interrogations or to provide security for remaining detention sites.

Referring to "black sites," as the secret prisons were known, Panetta said the agency has a plan "to decommission the remaining sites," an apparent reference to facilities still in existence but no longer operational. He said that "Agency personnel" will take charge of that process and that any outside contracts still involved in site security will be "promptly terminated."

The CIA has never revealed the locations where it secretly held and interrogated as many as 100 high-level al-Qaeda and other terrorism suspects captured overseas after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. News reports have said the sites were in Thailand, Romania and Poland, among other places.

Panetta's statement was the first public acknowledgement that some of the sites still exist.

The CIA has acknowledged that many of the prisoners were subjected to harsh interrogation techniques that were approved by the Bush administration's Justice Department. Human rights organizations, legal groups, members of Congress and a number of Obama administration officials have described those techniques -- including simulated drowning, or waterboarding -- as illegal torture.

Under executive orders issued Jan. 22, President Obama ordered the closure of the secret CIA sites, along with the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and banned interrogation techniques not authorized by the U.S. Army Field Manual.

Obama did not prohibit the process known as "extraordinary rendition," under which prisoners are secretly transferred from their place of capture to another country outside the United States. Panetta said that the CIA "retains the authority to detain individuals on a short-term transitory basis" but that no such detentions "have occurred since I have become director."

"We anticipate that we would quickly turn over any person in our custody to U.S. military authorities or to their country of jurisdiction, depending on the situation," he said.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last month launched a review of the CIA's detention and interrogation program that it said will "run parallel to a White House review to be conducted as part of President Obama's Executive Orders on detention and interrogation."

Panetta said the CIA will cooperate with the reviews of "past interrogation practices" and reiterated his insistence that agency officials who acted on Justice Department guidance "should not be investigated, let alone punished."

He said he had sent a letter to Congress outlining current CIA policies on interrogations, including the use of contractors.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) responded with a statement saying she supports Panetta's decision prohibiting the use of contractors during interrogations or to provide security "at the remaining CIA sites."

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