Bush Admits, Defends Secret CIA Prisons

Suspected Terrorist Leaders Transferred To Guantanamo

09/06/06 "NBC" -- --- -- WASHINGTON -- President George W. Bush on Wednesday said for the first time that some suspected terrorist leaders have been held by the CIA outside the United States in secret locations.

His comments marked the first time the administration has acknowledged the existence of CIA prisons, which have been a source of friction between Washington and some allies in Europe. The administration has come under criticism for its treatment of terrorism detainees. European Union lawmakers said the CIA was conducting clandestine flights in Europe to take terror suspects to countries where they could face torture.

"It has been necessary to move these individuals to an environment where they can be held secretly, questioned by experts and, when appropriate, prosecuted for terrorist acts," Bush said in a White House speech.

The news comes as Bush ordered the transfer of 14 suspected key terrorist leaders from secret CIA custody to the U.S. military-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to be prepared for eventual trials, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

Those transfered include Khalid Sheik Mohammed, believed to be the No. 3 al-Qaida leader before he was captured in Pakistan in 2003; Ramzi Binalshibh, an alleged would-be Sept. 11, 2001, hijacker; and Abu Zubaydah, who was believed to be a link between Osama bin Laden and many al-Qaida cells before he was also captured in Pakistan, in March 2002.

The United States began using the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in eastern Cuba in January 2002 to hold people suspected of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban. About 445 detainees remain there, including 115 considered eligible for transfer or release.

Guantanamo has been a flashpoint for both U.S. and international debate over the treatment of detainees without trial and the source of allegations of torture, denied by U.S. officials. Even U.S. allies have criticized the facility and process.

The camp came under worldwide condemnation after it opened more than four years ago, when pictures showed prisoners kneeling, shackled and being herded into wire cages. It intensified with reports of heavy-handed interrogations, hunger strikes and suicides.

The Supreme Court this year said the president's plan to try Guantanamo inmates in military tribunals violates U.S. and international law.

The president has said he eventually wants to close Guantanamo, but Bush spokesman Tony Snow said there will be no Guantanamo closing announcement Wednesday. Instead, he said the president wants "to bring justice to those who are detained there."

Aides said the president will call on Congress to approve new rules for Pentagon tribunals for prisoners classified as "unlawful combatants."

"One of the most important tasks is for Congress to recognize that we need the tools necessary to win this war on terror," Bush said to members of his Cabinet in prepared remarks Wednesday. "We'll continue to discuss with Congress ways to make sure that this nation is capable of defending herself."

Some lawmakers, including top Republicans, have insisted that the tribunals include more protections for detainees.

Military lawyers have urged a system patterned on the existing system of military courts martial. But Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has objected to rules that would give terrorism suspects the right to remain silent -- or challenge hearsay evidence.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner said he has drafted a proposal for trying the terrorism suspects, although it is likely to take less of a hard line than the administration's.

Snow said those differences will be "worked out."

In both military and civilian courts, a defendant's right to see evidence is viewed as indispensable to mounting an adequate defense. Senate leaders were briefed on Bush's legislative plan Tuesday night. It already has met resistance from lawmakers who say it would set a dangerous precedent.

In related news, the Pentagon is about to ban some notorious prisoner interrogation techniques, officials said Wednesday ahead of the realease of a new Army Field Manual.

Other tactics deemed necessary for the war on terrorism have been added to the manual, which will be released Wednesday.

One official said the new regulations specifically forbid intimidating prisoners with dogs, putting hoods over inmates' heads and simulating drowning with a procedure called "water boarding."

The manual's publication was delayed more than a year as critics assailed the Defense Department's treatment of prisoners.

The new rules spell out appropriate conduct and procedures throughout all the armed services. A Pentagon spokesman said they reflect a "continued commitment to humane, professional and effective detention operations."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.

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