||President Acknowledges Covert Detention Program
President Bush today announced the transfer to the Guantanamo Bay naval base of 14 al-Qaeda terrorist suspects previously held by the CIA in a secret detention program, and he called on Congress to pass legislation on special military tribunals so that they can be tried for crimes including the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
In a speech at the White House, Bush said the 14 include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 plot.
He said their transfer "means there are now no terrorists in the CIA program." But he stressed that as more suspects are captured, the continued existence of the CIA secret detention program "will be crucial" in extracting valuable information through interrogations and in preventing new attacks on U.S. soil.
Bush prefaced the announcement of the transfer by describing in unprecedented detail the results of CIA interrogations of Mohammed and other al-Qaeda operatives. He strongly defended the interrogations, which he described as "tough" but fully legal, saying they had helped to head off new plots and thus had saved lives in the United States and other countries.
In defending the CIA detention program, Bush explicitly confirmed its existence publicly for the first time since the covert prison system was revealed by The Washington Post in November 2005. He said those held in the CIA system have included "the key architects" not only of the Sept. 11 plot but of the suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000, the truck bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and other attacks.
"These are dangerous men with unparalleled knowledge about terrorist networks and their plans for new attacks," Bush said.
He described how the capture soon after the Sept. 11 attacks of an al-Qaeda operative known as Abu Zubaida led to the arrest of other key figures. He said Abu Zubaida, whom he called a "trusted associate of Osama bin Laden," initially disclosed some information to interrogators, then "stopped talking." But the CIA subsequently used "alternative procedures" to get more information out of Abu Zubaida that proved vital for capturing other al-Qaeda leaders and disrupting new plots, Bush said.
He said he could not describe these methods because doing so might help terrorists resist future questioning. But "I can say the procedures were tough, safe, lawful and necessary," Bush said.
The interrogation of Abu Zubaida helped lead authorities to Ramzi Binalshibh, another key Sept. 11 planner, and in turn to Mohammed, Bush said. He said information provided by Mohammed, who was captured in Pakistan in 2003, "helped us stop another planned attack on the United States."
Specifically, the interrogations led to a cell of 17 Southeast Asian operatives of a terrorist group led by an Indonesian militant known as Hambali, Bush said. After Hambali was captured in Thailand in August 2003, he admitted that the operatives "were being groomed for attacks inside the United States, probably using airplanes," Bush said.
He said other interrogations led to the arrest of key figures in an al-Qaeda "biological weapons program" involving the use of anthrax.
The Bush proposal for new legislation on military tribunals came a little more than two months after the Supreme Court struck down the military commissions established by the administration to try detainees at Guantanamo. The court ruled 5-3 on June 29 that the special military tribunals, outlined by Bush in a Nov. 13, 2001, military order, were not authorized by Congress and violated the standards of U.S. military justice and the Geneva Conventions.
The military commissions originally envisaged by Bush would have deprived defendants of protections that are accorded by U.S. military courts martial, including the right to see and hear the evidence against them, the court found.
The ruling prompted lawmakers to seek an alternative way to try detainees at Guantanamo, many of whom have been held without charge for more than four years after being picked up as suspected terrorists. Nearly 450 detainees are currently held at the U.S. naval base on the eastern end of Cuba, and more than 500 others are reportedly in U.S. custody in Afghanistan.
Three key Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee have drafted legislation governing special military trials of suspected terrorists and granting rights that the administration has sought to limit. The proposal -- sponsored by Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), the committee chairman, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) -- specifies that defendants have the right to know the evidence against them.
The senators' plan follows existing military procedures, rejecting an administration proposal to create a new military appellate court to review trial decisions. Instead, the plan calls for such reviews to be carried out by the existing military court of appeals.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, released a revised policy directive on detainees and a new Army Field Manual that bans some prisoner interrogation techniques that have come under criticism in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. The manual, which applies to all branches of the U.S. armed forces, prohibits such methods as intimidating prisoners with military dogs, placing hoods over their heads, staging mock executions, forcing prisoners to remain naked or perform sexual acts, inflicting any form of physical pain including electric shocks and simulating drowning through a "waterboarding," a technique that human rights advocates have denounced as a form of torture.
In addition to 16 approved interrogation techniques that were covered in the previous field manual issued in 1992, three new ones were added on the basis of lessons learned in the war on terrorism, Pentagon officials said.
Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, the Army's deputy chief of staff for intelligence, said in a news briefing that the three additional interrogation techniques include one -- called "separation" -- that was requested by senior military commanders and is reserved "only for unlawful enemy combatants." He said the technique essentially means keeping suspected terrorists apart from each other during the interrogation process to prevent collusion.