President Bush admits secret CIA detention centres

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

President Bush during the announcement from the East Room of the White House. Photo:Kimberlee Hewitt

President Bush today confirmed that the CIA has held up to 100 terrorism suspects in secret overseas prisons. Speaking in a televised announcement, he said the CIA no longer held any prisoners and was disclosing information on the men's detention because the interrogation was complete. 14 of the men have been moved from CIA custody to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, is thought to be among 14 suspects moved, including Ramzi Binalshibh and Abu Zubaydah.

President Bush said that the CIA interrogations had been vital in tracking down and capturing further suspects; such as Mohammed. He denied that the men were tortured: "The US does not torture. I have not authorised it and I will not." Despite the frank disclosure the President would not confirm exactly where the secret prisons had been located, although last year The Washington Post reported on the possible existence of detention centers in Eastern Europe causing deep concern in the EU. The European Parliament also protested against so called 'rendition' flights across Europe to transport prisoners to the secret centers.

The announcement comes a month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the use of military commissions to try detainees was illegal. The president's proposal will help lay the groundwork for congressional legislation proposals, that if approved, would establish a legal basis for allowing military tribunal hearings of some prisoners held in the Cuban base. Mr Bush, speaking alongside family members of 9/11 victims, said it was now up to Congress to authorize the commissions so that, "the men our intelligence officials believe orchestrated the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001, can face justice." The new policy is more like a military tribunal than the previous proposals.

The president said he would submit the legislation today for consideration. It is reportedly causing controversy on Capitol Hill leaving Bush facing a potential rebellion from his own party, something he will be keen to avoid with his mid-term elections approaching. A spokesman for the Senate subcommittee that will consider the bill said there were "some sticking points with the administration" over the exact content.

A major part of the bill marks a role reversal by the Pentagon; previously the administration had argued that many of the detainees were "illegal combatants" and so not subject to the Geneva convention. The military commissions will now cover all Guantanamo Bay suspects with the convention, which, among other things, expressly forbids the use of torture. The president said that the bill would also ensure that individual US soldiers could not be sued by detainees in US courts.

The announcements coincide with a renewed focus on terrorism by Bush's Republican administration and comes as the party faces a tough mid-term election later this year.

The president concluded that the interrogation program had helped to prevent terrorism in America: "Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland. By giving us information about terrorist plans we could not get anywhere else, this program has saved innocent lives."