If you had long suspected that under the Bush administration the CIA was running secret prisons around the world, now you know. It wasn’t just the one in Thailand, which was closed in 2003, and the annex at the tip of Cuba, closed last year.
The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.
Which Eastern European countries, you may ask?
The Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior U.S. officials. They argued that the disclosure might disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation.
As well it might. But it might just be terribly embarrassing to the Bush administration.
Imagine that a large country in Central Europe with a long history of fighting for freedom had been lending space to American intelligence services. Imagine that only the state’s president and a handful of close advisers knew about this deal. Imagine that the cabinet and possibly the prime minister did not know. That’d be a lot of embarrassment.
Or consider another large-ish country in Eastern Europe, one that was a foreign policy maverick during the Communist period. Consider that the president may have known, though his office steadfastly refuses to comment about it. Imagine that even the foreign minister may not have known. That’d be a lot of embarrassment.
There may be plenty of embarrassment to go around because the Post article speaks of sites in eight countries, but names only three.
Political problems are nearly certain to follow any revelations:
It is illegal for the [U.S.] government to hold prisoners in such isolation in secret prisons in the United States, which is why the CIA placed them overseas, according to several former and current intelligence officials and other U.S. government officials. Legal experts and intelligence officials said that the CIA’s internment practices also would be considered illegal under the laws of several host countries, where detainees have rights to have a lawyer or to mount a defense against allegations of wrongdoing.
Host countries have signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as has the United States. Yet CIA interrogators in the overseas sites are permitted to use the CIA’s approved “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques,” some of which are prohibited by the U.N. convention and by U.S. military law. They include tactics such as “waterboarding,” in which a prisoner is made to believe he or she is drowning.
How many gulag memoirs do people need to read to realize that this sort of stuff does not work?
It is a very slippery slope that the Bush administration and Republican leaders put themselves on:
In hindsight, say some former and current intelligence officials, the CIA’s problems were exacerbated by another decision made within the Counterterrorist Center at Langley.
The CIA program’s original scope was to hide and interrogate the two dozen or so al Qaeda leaders believed to be directly responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, or who posed an imminent threat, or had knowledge of the larger al Qaeda network. But as the volume of leads pouring into the CTC from abroad increased, and the capacity of its paramilitary group to seize suspects grew, the CIA began apprehending more people whose intelligence value and links to terrorism were less certain, according to four current and former officials.
The original standard for consigning suspects to the invisible universe was lowered or ignored, they said. “They’ve got many, many more who don’t reach any threshold,” one intelligence official said.
This, too, is completely familiar from any history of secret detention. Do these people not know anything? Anything at all?
Finally, this is too big a story for the names of the Eastern European countries not to make it into the media. Reporters in Washington are being leaned on quite heavily not to name them; their colleagues in the field are telling officials in European countries they can get ahead of the story or they can get caught up in it. A rumor, though nothing more, says that the Financial Times Deutschland may be the ones to break this story. I’m off to pick up a copy…