A possible settling of scores between the US espionage service and the Bush administration, due to the scandal about the CIA agent whose identity was disclosed by the White House, is now shaking the US media and public opinion. According to the Washington Post November 1st edition, the Bush administration ordered the establishment of a prison network, which was created after the 9/11 attacks in order to interrogate important members of the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda. Such detention centers – known as “black sites” in US official reports – were built in eight countries such as Thailand and Afghanistan and some other democratic countries of Eastern Europe, as tacitly agreed to by the authorities of such states.

The US Naval Base in Guantánamo (Cuba) represents another branch of these prisons controlled by the CIA, with a secret detention center, according to statements from ex-prisoners and representatives, under the US espionage service. For security reasons, only a few top ranking officials in the United States have knowledge of the existence of such facilities, while any information about the countries where they are located has just come to the notice of the heads of state and a limited number of members of the secret services. Most of these detention centers were built and are financed with funds allocated by the US Congress – the Washington Post specifies – and though silent about the issue, the White House allowed the CIA to provide the chairmen and deputy chairmen of the US legislative body’s intelligence commissions with general information on the detention center program developed outside of the US.

The US Woos the Czech Republic

Certain European official personalities seem to confirm the Washington Post’s disclosures. The Czech Minister of the Interior Frantisek Bublan said yesterday in Prague that the Czech Republic recently rejected a US request seeking to set up a detention center on Czech territory designed to transfer the suspects currently detained in Guantánamo. “Negotiations took place about a month ago now. The US tried hard to install something of the kind here but without success”, said the Czech Minister to the e-daily Aktualne.cz. Mediafax went over the above statements “This is about a rather complicated issue and I don’t want to go into details” – added Czech Minister Bublan. The spokesman for the Minister of the Interior has not been able to comment about that information. The US request never referred to prisoners directly connected with Al-Qaeda in order to prevent those to be transferred from being subject to any kind of charge - Aktuane.cz points out. According to “a source close to the Czech intelligence service”, quoted by that electronic daily, the United States made the same request to other Eastern Europe states. And, “according to our information – that source adds – the US partly achieved it”

Completely Isolated and in the Dark

The detention conditions and the methods applied during interrogation in CIA prisons are kept absolutely secret. There are about a hundred terror suspects in the “black sites” – also says the Washington Post. Prisoners are divided into two classes. According to their high importance within Al-Qaeda’s hierarchy, approximately 30 of them are subject to “exceptional treatment” in CIA directly financed and managed centers. That group “enjoys” total isolation and is kept in the dark, sometimes in underground cells, and according to the Washington Post details, interrogators are CIA selected agents who operate in two centers located in Thailand and Guantánamo, allegedly closed in 2003 and 2004. The second class of prisoners, around 70, regarded as less important, is under “the care” of local secret service agents who have been previously “verified” by the CIA. If the CIA officially recognized the existence of these secret prisons, the US government could be accused by other states, which would increase the risk of political condemnation both at home (inside the US) and abroad – says the Washington Post.

The White House Threatened

Created after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the CIA prison network outside the US was developed right from the moment that secret prisons on US territory were declared illegal, according to official statements in the Washington Post. That is why the methods used in the “black sites” are far from what is legal. Investigators apply “advanced interrogation methods” approved by the CIA, some of which are inconsistent with not only the UN conventions but with the US legislation itself in relation to torture and inhuman or abusive treatments. On the other hand, the US Senate recently prohibited, in an explicit manner, the use of inhuman treatment by top US military officers.

According to a Romanian press agency (Rompres), the US Senate amendment prohibits “cruel, inhuman or humiliating treatments” performed on prisoners that are in the custody of US authorities, regardless of their citizenship and the place were they remain arrested. In response to those accusations, the White House even threatened to block the approval of the defense budget using the argument wielded by Scott McClellan’s spokesman that such action restricts the “ability of the President as chief of the armed forces to effectively wage war against terrorism”. What’s more, after the adoption of that amendment, Vice-President Dick Cheney and the CIA Director Porter Goss asked Congress to make an exception in the case of CIA top officials – the Washington Post stressed.

CIA Background

The Washington Post’s revelations took place at a time when Italian authorities asked Washington for explanations about the kidnapping of an Egyptian Imam suspected of terrorism. The abduction was organized in Milan in February, 2003 by CIA agents, according to a BBC source. This Imam, Osama Mustafá Hassan, also know as Abu Omar, was kidnapped on a Milan street, boarded on a military plane, sent to Germany, and there he was transferred to an Egyptian prison where he was probably tortured. After an investigation, Italian authorities issued an arrest warrant against 13 people linked to the CIA who were involved in the abduction. Among the individuals wanted by the Italian authorities is the director of the CIA office in Milan. Due to the scandal, the Italian Minister of Relations with Parliament Carlo Giovanardi declared before the Senate that the authorities in Rome were never kept abreast of the intentions of abducting Imam Osama Mustafá Hassan. “It cannot be confirmed that the Italian authorities had consented to such an operation or got involved in it”. While this denial was being issued, the Washington Post was asserting that before the operation started, the director of the CIA office in Rome had requested the approval of his Italian colleagues. What’s worse, the CIA and the Italian service seem to have agreed to deny any involvement in the development of the operation in the event that something could leak. Likewise, US authorities have been charged with managing secret detention centers on board an operational ship traveling in the Indian Ocean. There are “very serious accusations” in this sense in the annual report of the UN Human Rights Commission on Torture, according to Manfred Nowak, who is quoted by Rompres.

The US flatly refuses to account for anything at the UN

US authorities have refused to provide the UN Human Rights Commission with any kind of information about the people detained in Afghanistan, Iraq and at the Guantánamo Naval Base (Cuba) – Rompres says. The UN Human Rights Commission asked Washington in July, 2004 to give information about the juridical status and the treatment of the prisoners that Washington keeps outside of US boundaries. The “juridical status and the treatment of those people is regulated by war rules” the US answered in October 2004. Simultaneously, US authorities specified that such issues are not within the attributions of the UN Commission, which should limit itself to supervise the application of the International Pact of Political and Civil Rights by the states that signed that document. The 154 signatories have to periodically submit a report to the Commission. So, Washington considers that the pact refers only to the situation in respect of the human rights within the boundaries of each state and not abroad.

The Watch Commission on Anti-Terrorist Measures

The International Jurist Commission recently announced the creation of an entity designed to assess the impact of anti-terrorist measures on human rights in different countries. In a setting where “governments try to redefine and dodge the solidly established principles of human rights and democracy with the aim of stopping terrorism”, the International Jurist Commission intends to determine how political authorities can fight terrorism without transgressing such norms. The Commission is composed of eight experts on international law, including former UN Human rights commissioner Mary Robinson. The entity has an 18-month mandate at its disposal to find out whether the anti-terrorist measures affect human rights, as well as to encourage national debates on the topic and propose suggestions to the governments in order to enhance the respect for the international law principles within the field of the fight against terrorism.

The Commission will meet in 14 states and 4 regions (eastern Africa, northen Africa, the Middle East and Latin America) where measures have been established against terrorism. Apart from public discussions, commission members will gather with authorities of different governments in those regions.


Article originally published in the Romanian daily Ziua on November 2, 2005.