April 8, 2009
The Bush administration may have abused or tortured many more detainees at secret CIA prisons than the 14 "high-value" terror suspects already known, the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a confidential report.
The 43-page ICRC report, dated Feb. 14, 2007, and published in full this week at the Web site for the New York Review of Books, cited a Sept. 6, 2006, speech by President George W. Bush saying "many" suspected terrorists held at secret CIA prisons "have been returned to their home countries for prosecution or detention by their governments" after it was determined they lacked intelligence value.
But the ICRC said the U.S. government had not disclosed where the detainees were sent, so the organization, which monitors international compliance with the Geneva Conventions and other human rights laws, could not determine the detainees' fate or investigate their treatment in CIA custody.
Due to the "inhuman" treatment of the 14 known detainees, the ICRC said it "remains gravely concerned by the fact that a significant number of other persons have passed through this detention program and may have been subjected to similar, if not the same, conditions and treatment."
Because the ICRC's report is more than two years old--and because the ICRC still considers its contents confidential--it is not clear if the CIA has since provided more information on the whereabouts of those transferred detainees. The ICRC report noted that the organization--as of February 2007--"has been able to begin discussions with the CIA on this question."
However, documents that were released in other investigations reveal that the Bush administration conducted a kind of shell game with ICRC representatives to conceal the treatment and even the existence of some detainees.
Last year, the Senate Armed Services Committee released dozens of pages of internal government documents related to the treatment of detainees and the conversations that preceded the implementation of "enhanced interrogation techniques" at the Guantanamo Bay prison, which was under the control of the Department of Defense.
One document was a copy of the minutes of an Oct. 2, 2002, meeting at which Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, then the chief military lawyer at Guantanamo whose responsibilities included working with the ICRC, discussed concealing abusive interrogation tactics when ICRC officials visited.
"We may need to curb the harsher operations while ICRC is around," Beaver said, according to the minutes. "It is better not to expose them to any controversial techniques."
"We have had many reports from Bagram [detention center in Afghanistan] about sleep deprivation being used," responded Dave Becker of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
"True, but officially it is not happening,"- Beaver said. "It is not being reported officially. The ICRC is a serious concern. They will be in and out, scrutinizing our operations, unless they are displeased and decide to protest and leave. This would draw a lot of negative attention."
Jonathan Fredman, who was the chief counsel for the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, noted that the "the CIA is not held to the same rules as the military" when it comes to using aggressive techniques to interrogate detainees.
"In the past when the ICRC has made a big deal about certain detainees, the DOD has "moved" them away from the attention of the ICRC," Fredman said. "The Torture Convention prohibits torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. The US did not sign up on the second part, because of the 8th amendment (cruel and unusual punishment), but we did sign the part about torture. This gives us more license to use more controversial techniques."