Thursday, January 29, 2009

Obama Order to Close Secret CIA Prisons Overseas Has a Big Loophole In It

Little-Noticed Exception in Executive Order Allows CIA to Keep Terror Suspects in 'Temporary' Detention Sites Abroad, Pending Future Prosecution in the U.S. or in Other Countries; Loophole Shows Obama Not Completely Reversing Bush Policy

President Obama has ordered the closure of the controversial detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (pictured above) within a year and other centers overseas operated by the Central Intelligence Agency. But a little-noticed provision in the president's executive order carves out an exception: It allows the agency to maintain "temporary" detention facilities overseas in the event of new terror suspects being captured and ultimately tried either in the United States or sent to other countries where they are wanted on terrorism charges. (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Defense)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Thursday, January 29, 2009)


The Washington Times

President Obama's executive order closing so-called "black sites" operated by the Central Intelligence Agency contains a little-noticed exception that allows the spy agency to continue to operate temporary detention facilities abroad.

The provision illustrates that the president's order to shutter foreign-based prisons, known as black sites, is not airtight and that the CIA still has options if it wants to hold terrorism suspects for several days at a time.

Current and former U.S. officials, who spoke to The Washington Times on the condition that they not be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject, said such temporary facilities around the world will remain open, giving the Obama administration the opportunity to seize and hold suspected terrorists.

The detentions would be temporary. Suspects either would be brought later to the United States for trial or sent to other countries where they are wanted and can face trial.

The exception is evidence that the new administration, while announcing an end to many elements of the Bush "war on terror," is leaving itself wiggle room to continue some of its predecessor's practices regarding terrorist suspects.


According to the executive order, "The terms 'detention facilities' and 'detention facility' in section 4(a) of this order do not refer to facilities used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis."

Analysts inside and outside government say this refers to so-called "safe houses," which are buildings where operatives can go to protect themselves from pursuers or can hide people they have taken into custody.

"This executive order does not close down all operations. There are still facilities on a temporary basis, often called safe houses, for holding someone for a matter of days," an administration official said.

Ken Gude, the associate director of international rights and responsibilities at the Center for American Progress, said the temporary facilities operated by the CIA should not be confused with the Bush administration's black sites.

"My understanding is that these types of temporary facilities can be in no way described as a prison," Mr. Gude said. "They are temporary holding facilities that the CIA has used in the past for decades, ... often parts of exchange agreements with other foreign intelligence agencies."

"For example, we may have an agreement with the Pakistanis, where we agree to pick someone up and we need a place to hold them temporarily while we decide what is the next appropriate course of action," he said. "This is not like the so-called black site prisons that we heard about as part of the extraordinary rendition program."


Michael Kraft, a former senior adviser at the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the State Department, said the temporary facilities could be used for any number of reasons.

"A scenario might be, someone is picked up in Country X, and maybe for logistics reasons, we hold him somewhere else, while a plane with larger fuel tanks is prepared to take him to his final destination," said Kraft, who retired in 2004.

Duane Clarridge, who founded the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, said the temporary facilities may be used for interrogations.

"It seems to me that they will take down terrorist suspects, bring them to a safe house, which is acquired on a temporary basis and controlled by the CIA or the military, where they interrogate the suspect over a period of days before making a decision on future disposition," Clarridge said.

"We don't know what that is," he continued. "It could be a variety of things. It could be turn him over to the country of origin, or for standing trial in a third country, or release.


The practice of moving terrorist suspects abroad, called rendition, began during the Reagan administration and escalated under President Bill Clinton. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the Bush administration began classifying terrorist suspects as "enemy combatants" and holding them indefinitely without formal charges or the protections afforded prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

The closure of black-site prisons by Obama was part of a series of orders issued last week that included closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other measures to undo the previous administration's war on terrorism.

The president revoked all executive directives issued by the CIA between September 11, 2001 and the day of his inauguration on January 20 that have been used to justify harsh interrogation techniques, which critics have called torture.

Obama also revoked Executive Order 13440, which declares al-Qaida and Taliban fighters to be "enemy combatants" and therefore not protected by the Geneva Conventions.


The CIA practiced rendition long before the 9/11 attacks and in some cases sent suspected terrorists to countries where human rights groups have claimed they were tortured.

The most notorious of those cases is that of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian. In September 2002, Arar was on a stopover at New York's Kennedy Airport en route back to Canada from a vacation in Tunisia when U.S. officials detained him, claiming he had links to al-Qaida, and deported him to his native Syria, even though he was carrying a Canadian passport.

When Arar returned to Canada more than a year later, he said he had been tortured during his incarceration in Syria and accused American officials of sending him to his native country knowing that Syrian officials practice torture.

Arar and his family, who live in Kamloops, British Columbia, are seeking compensation from the Canadian government for his abrupt deportation and imprisonment in Syria. A lawsuit by Arar against the U.S. government was dismissed on the grounds of U.S. government immunity.

The issue of rendition will be one of the policies studied by a Cabinet-level special task force on interrogation and transfer policies.


While the CIA operated special prisons overseas for high-value al-Qaida and Taliban detainees, the agency holds no such detainees in custody today, two U.S. officials said.

The last person in the CIA detention program was Muhammad Rahim, purported to be a driver for Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of the Taliban that governed Afghanistan from 1995 until it was overthrown in a U.S.-led invasion in December 2001, two months after the 9/11 attacks.

Rahim was transferred to the Guantanamo Bay prison on March 14 of last year and remains there today.

One of the two officials, when asked about the executive order Tuesday, said: "The wording seems to preserve the ability to capture terrorists. But long-term detention by the CIA is out."


The loophole for safe houses worries the American Civil Liberties Union, which has pressed for the closing of Guantanamo Bay and the black sites.

"This is a place where what we all understood to be the CIA's secret prison system with prisons in places like Poland and Thailand is shut down here, and there is no future detention authority to operate those facilities," said Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel for the ACLU.

"But there is a provision on some kind of short-term detention authority, and our position is that the CIA should have no detention authority," Anders said. "If President Obama has taken the CIA out of the prison business, he should also take the CIA out of the short-term jailer business as well."

(The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation contributed to this report.)

# # #

Volume IV, Number 8
Special Report Copyright 2009, The Washintron Times, LLC.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


Sphere: Related Content


janome 6500 said...

Obama has told the true.

all inclusives said...

Great read. Do you mind if I reference this in our next newsletter?

Post a Comment