U.S. urged to re-examine plans for terror detainees


WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration should re-evaluate its long-term plan for detaining suspected terrorists in light of reports that the CIA has a secret prison system in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, members of Congress and current and former intelligence officials say.

Details of the post-9/11 network of so-called "black sites" were first reported by The Washington Post and the locations confirmed by The Sun. The report raised questions about how the CIA is treating detainees in its prisons in Thailand, Afghanistan and Eastern Europe.

Rep. William M. "Mac" Thornberry, the Texas Republican who chairs a House subcommittee on intelligence oversight, said it is time for the country to decide how to handle detainees in a war with no clear end.

"What do we do with these folks?" he asked. "The country has to think about it."

If the reports are true, said Sen. John McCain, the problem of questionable treatment of prisoners is more widespread than he thought.

The Arizona Republican wrote legislation that would set standards for interrogating anyone detained by the Defense Department. The Bush administration has been battling to block McCain's proposal, which was approved 90-9 by the Senate last month as an amendment to the defense spending bill.

As part of that fight, a new Army interrogation manual, which specifically prohibits the harsh techniques that came to light in the Abu Ghraib scandal, is being held up by Pentagon officials who want to make sure the document does not conflict with practices at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, government officials said.

The new manual prohibits techniques such as sleep deprivation, stripping prisoners and the use of police dogs. It would follow the Geneva Conventions and is being promoted by some in Congress as a model for the military services. But the 500 prisoners detained at Guantanamo Bay do not come under the Geneva Conventions, and certain practices allowed there are not included in the new manual.

One example, government officials said, is "environmental manipulation," which allows for "altering the environment to create moderate discomfort," such as "adjusting [the] temperature" to hot or cold or introducing an "unpleasant smell."

Senior Pentagon lawyers and officials who are drafting military policies on detention and interrogation are delaying approval of the new manual until the issues can be resolved, government officials said.

However, Army officials say the manual provides an option that allows more-intense interrogation methods. It stipulates that to "go beyond" approved techniques, soldiers or commanders would have to get approval from superior officers or the Pentagon hierarchy.

"Which means the secretary of defense can supplant the manual or put [harsher techniques] in a policy letter," a government official said.

Brian Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, denied any delay, adding that a number of policy directives, including the Army manual, are under review.

Tom Malinowksi, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said the delay in the release of the manual and news of a loophole are troubling. "The rules aren't really rules if the secretary of defense doesn't have to follow them," he said.

Some members of Congress said news of the secret prisons bolsters the case for standards of treatment for detainees such as those proposed by McCain.

"We're going to have to move forward and oversee and ... develop the standards that are necessary," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat on the intelligence oversight panel.

Several current and former intelligence officials said the time has come for a public debate about the treatment of U.S. prisoners.

The country needs "to come to a national consensus about what constitutes appropriate treatment for these prisoners," said Jennifer Sims, a former top State Department intelligence official.

The top ranks at the CIA have been reluctant to consider long-term plans, said a former agency official. He said he had drafted a memo, read "at very high levels of the CIA," that advocated a 21st-century version of the former British penal colony at Botany Bay, Australia. It got no response, he said.

News of the prison network also opened debate over whether the CIA is the right agency to be running secret prisons. One senior intelligence official said CIA officers are not trained to be wardens and worried that the least-experienced officers were being sent to run the facilities.

But a former top CIA official said he did not trust any other agency to handle sensitive detentions, such as that of al-Qaida's former No. 2 official, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

Stephen J. Hadley, President Bush's national security adviser, declined to respond to questions about the reports of the CIA prisons, noting the administration's policy against commenting on intelligence matters.

siobhan.gorman@baltsun.com tom.bowman@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Gwyneth K. Shaw contributed to this article.

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