The End of the 'Black' Prisons
In the three years since Post reporter Dana Priest revealed the existence of an international system of "black" prisons set up by the CIA after the 9/11 attacks, the roiling worldwide debate over how to treat suspected terrorists has grown to overshadow most other aspects of U.S. counterterrorism.
President Barack Obama today took a major step toward closing that chapter of history by prohibiting the CIA from holding detainees in such prisons. He also addressed the question of torture, ordering that interrogation standards in U.S. facilities worldwide be limited to those outlined in the Army Field manual.
Priest's articles in November 2005 (which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting) disclosed that at various times the CIA operated "black sites" in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe.
Her articles produced an international outcry, but the Bush administration remained committed to the program, as well as to other controversial anti-terrorist policies such as widened electronic eavesdropping and maintaining a fleet of aircraft to move detainees around the globe. Bush, Vice President Cheney and their advisers believe the policies were necessary and said that they had averted other terrorist attacks.
In taking on the task of counterterrorism, the Obama administration faces a raft of leftover, sticky problems. For example: how to deal with Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, an al Qaeda operative accused of being the architect of the Yemen bombing of the U.S.S. Cole who was captured and taken to one of the black prisons. CIA Director Michael Hayden has confirmed that Nashiri was one of three "high-value detainees" who was subjected to waterboarding. As Newsweek reports, Nashiri's defense lawyers argue that because he was tortured, the U.S. government cannot bring a credible case against him.
Today's Obama orders reiterate the rules of the Geneva Conventions on treatment of prisoners and, the White House said, prohibit reliance on any Justice Department or other legal advice on interrogation that was issued between Sept. 11, 2001, and Jan. 20, 2009.
"We believe that the Army Field Manual reflects the best judgment of our military, that we can abide by a rule that says we don't torture, but that we can still effectively attain the intelligence that we need," Obama said. The order not only follows through on a campaign commitment, he said, but reflects "an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct, not just when it's easy, but also when it's hard."
Former detainees, human-rights advocates and government officials around the world have welcomed Obama's decision to close the black prisons and the facility at Guantanamo Bay, saying it helps restore their faith in the United States.
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