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CIA to Close Secret Overseas Prisons, End Security Contracts

Jonathan S. Landay

WASHINGTON - The CIA is decommissioning the secret overseas prisons
where top al Qaida suspects were subjected to interrogation methods,
including simulated drowning, that Attorney General Eric Holder, allied
governments, the Red Cross and numerous other experts consider torture,
the agency said Thursday.

In an e-mail to the agency's work force outlining current interrogation
and detention policies, CIA Director Leon Panetta also announced that
agreements with the private security firms guarding the so-called black
sites will be "promptly terminated," and contractors no longer will be
used to conduct interrogations.

however, said that CIA officers who were involved in interrogations
using "enhanced" methods authorized by the Justice Department during
the Bush administration "should not be investigated, let alone

Justice Department is investigating the destruction of CIA
interrogation videotapes, while the Senate Intelligence Committee has
launched an inquiry into the interrogation and detention program
authorized by the Bush administration as part of its post-9/11 "war on

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the Senate
Judiciary Committee, has called for the creation of a truth commission
to investigate the Bush administration's detainee policies, but so far
the Obama administration has shown little appetite for the idea.

steps announced by Panetta are consistent with a Jan. 22 executive
order in which President Barack Obama directed the CIA to halt the use
of its secret overseas detention facilities and use only interrogation
procedures authorized by an Army Field Manual.

Panetta's actions
follow the leaking of a confidential February 2007 International
Committee of the Red Cross report, made public this week by The New
York Review of Books, that concluded that descriptions of the
interrogation methods provided in interviews by 14 detainees who
underwent them "amounted to torture and/or cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment" under international law.

In his e-mail, a copy of
which was released by the CIA, Panetta told his work force that he'd
written letters to the Senate and House of Representatives intelligence
committees outlining the agency's "current policy regarding
interrogation of captured terrorists."

He said he wrote the
letters because of ongoing "media and congressional interest" in the
detention and interrogation procedures the CIA used from 2002 until
Obama's executive order, as well as questions about the agency's use of
contract interrogators.

"No CIA contractors will conduct interrogations," Panetta wrote.

said his agency's pursuit of al Qaida and allied groups has continued
"undiminished" in "strict accord" with Obama's order.

officers do not tolerate, and will continue to promptly report, any
inappropriate behavior or allegations of abuse. That holds true whether
a suspect is in the custody of an American partner or foreign liaison
service," he continued, adding that the agency hasn't detained any
suspects since he became director in February.


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The decision to
terminate contract interrogators followed expressions of concern by
lawmakers about the CIA's use of such personnel, one of whom, David
Passaro, was convicted in 2006 of abusing an Afghan detainee in 2003 at
a U.S. base in Afghanistan. The detainee later died.

Panetta said
the CIA "no longer operates" detention facilities and has developed a
plan to "decommission" them that includes terminating the contracts
with the private security firms that guard them.

"I have directed
our Agency personnel to take charge of the decommissioning process," he
wrote. "It is estimated that our taking over site security will result
in savings of up to $4 million."

Critics of the Bush administration's detainee policies welcomed Panetta's e-mail.

have long fought to ban the use of contractors in interrogations and
detention operations," Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairman of
the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. "So, I am very
pleased that Mr. Panetta has announced that contractors will no longer
conduct interrogations."

The CIA has refused to disclose the
locations of its detention facilities. They reportedly are in
Afghanistan, Jordan, Poland, Romania and Thailand, and CIA officials
have said that they held fewer than 100 suspected terrorists.

said that the CIA is still allowed to hold terror suspects "on a
short-term transitory basis," but that, "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

The "enhanced" interrogation methods authorized by
the Bush administration starting in 2002 included waterboarding, a
procedure that simulates drowning. At least three detainees were
subjected to the procedure, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the
alleged chief architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

his confirmation hearing, Holder departed from Bush administration
policies by declaring that "waterboarding is torture" and that "no one
is above the law."


Read the ICRC report here

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