Terrorism Suspects Held

In Secret CIA Prisons

The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

The hidden global internment network is a central element in the CIA's unconventional terrorism fight. It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA's covert actions.

The CIA and the White House, citing national security concerns and the value of the program, have dissuaded Congress from demanding that the agency answer questions in open testimony about the conditions under which captives are held.

-- Dana Priest

President's Popularity

Is at New Low in Poll

For the first time in his presidency a majority of Americans question the integrity of President Bush, and growing doubts about his leadership have left him with record negative ratings on the economy, Iraq and even the war on terrorism, a Washington Post-ABC News poll shows.

On almost every key measure of presidential character and performance, the survey found that Bush has never been less popular with the American people. Currently 39 percent approve of the job he is doing as president, while 60 percent disapprove of his performance in office -- the highest level of disapproval ever recorded for Bush in Post-ABC polls.

Virtually the only possible bright spot for Bush in the survey was generally favorable, if not quite enthusiastic, early reaction to his latest Supreme Court nominee, Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Overall, the survey underscores how several pillars of Bush's presidency have begun to crumble under the combined weight of events and White House mistakes. Bush's approval ratings have been in decline for months, but on issues of personal trust, honesty and values, Bush has suffered some of his most notable declines. Moreover, Bush has always retained majority support on his handling of the U.S. campaign against terrorism -- until now, when 51 percent have registered disapproval.

-- Rich Morin and Dan Balz

Bush Seeks $7.1 Billion

To Fight Flu Pandemic

President Bush asked Congress for $7.1 billion to help prepare the country for a global epidemic of influenza.

The request -- the latest addition to a burgeoning investment in public health preparedness since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- would go toward vaccine development, drug and vaccine stockpiling, disease surveillance, and local health departments' manpower needs.

The biggest share, $2.8 billion, would subsidize the rapid development of cell-based technology for making influenza vaccine -- an investment that the United States' dwindling vaccine industry has been making only slowly.

Between $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion would be used to build a 20 million-dose stockpile of an experimental vaccine based on the bird flu virus now circulating in Asia, $1 billion for antiviral medicines, $800 million to develop new flu treatments, and $644 million to help local governments make their own preparations for a flu pandemic.

-- David Brown

Panel Urges Changes

In Federal Income Tax

A presidential commission recommended a revision of the federal income tax that would lower rates, reduce paperwork and eliminate or scale back most tax breaks, including popular deductions for home mortgage interest and employer-provided health insurance.

The panel's report, presented to Treasury Secretary John W. Snow on Tuesday, faces an uncertain future, as lawmakers and interest groups attacked several of its components. Snow said he hopes to refine the suggestions for President Bush by year's end and expressed optimism that Congress would enact a version of them.

The President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax unanimously backed two plans. Both would decrease the number of tax brackets, bolster incentives for saving and investment, and repeal the provision considered the current system's costliest weakness: the alternative minimum tax. The AMT was originally designed to force millionaires who took extensive advantage of loopholes and tax shelters to pay at least some taxes, but it now threatens to increase taxes on moderate-income families.

The first proposal, labeled a "simplified income tax plan," would reduce the number of tax rates for individuals to four from six and set the top rate at 33 percent, down from 35 percent. The second proposal, called a "growth and investment tax plan," would slice the number of individual tax brackets to three and set the top rate at 30 percent.

Both plans would consolidate the personal exemption, the standard deduction and the child care credit into a single "family credit."

-- Jeffrey H. Birnbaum

Democratic Senators

Force a Closed Session

Democrats forced the Senate into a rare closed-door session Tuesday, infuriating Republicans but extracting from them a promise to speed up an inquiry into the Bush administration's handling of intelligence about Iraq's weapons in the run-up to the war.

With no warning, the Senate's top Democrat invoked the little-used Rule 21, which forced aides to turn off the chamber's cameras and close its doors after evicting all visitors, reporters and most staffers.

Republicans condemned the Democrats' maneuver, which marked the first time in more than 25 years that one party had insisted on a closed session without consulting the other party. But within two hours, Republicans appointed a bipartisan panel to report on the progress of a Senate intelligence committee report on prewar intelligence, which Democrats say has been delayed for nearly a year.

-- Charles Babington

and Dafna Linzer

Security Council Presses Syria

On Assassination Inquiry

The U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that Syria expand its cooperation with an investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri or face unspecified "further action," a veiled reference to economic sanctions.

The council's resolution, adopted by a 15 to 0 vote, also empowers the council to impose a travel ban and asset freeze on anyone suspected of involvement in the Valentine's Day killings of Hariri and 22 others. The United States, France and Britain, the resolution's chief sponsors, dropped a provision that explicitly threatened President Bashar Assad's government with sanctions, a change required to secure the votes of council members Russia, China and Algeria.

The high-profile meeting, attended by the foreign ministers of the United States, China, Russia, France, Britain and six other countries, was a major diplomatic blow to Syria, subjecting Damascus to the most intrusive international investigation of a member state since U.N. weapons inspectors left Iraq before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Unlike in past wars and crises, Syria appears to have no allies and little ability to ease or divert the international scrutiny, regional experts said.

-- Colum Lynch and Robin Wright