The Washington Post revealed November 2 that the US Central Intelligence
Agency operates a global network of secret prisons that holds individuals captured
or kidnapped in America’s so-called “war on terrorism.” This
illegal prison system, first set up following the September 11 attacks, has
at various points included facilities in eight countries, among them Thailand,
Afghanistan and several countries in Eastern Europe, as well as a center at
Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Conditions in these jails, referred to as “black sites,”
are hellish. Prisoners are, according to the Post, kept in “dark, sometimes
underground cells, they have no recognized rights, and no one outside the CIA
is allowed to talk with or even see them, or to otherwise verify their well-being.”
The existence of these prisons has been known to only a handful of officials
in the US, and generally to only the president and a few top intelligence officers
in each host country.
It is illegal to hold anyone in covert prisons in the US, which is why the
CIA operates these facilities overseas, far from courts, lawyers and any semblance
of basic rights. None of those being held have been charged or convicted of
any crime. They have been imprisoned entirely on the say-so of the CIA, notorious
for its criminality and hostility to democratic practices.
The practice is also illegal in most of the countries concerned. The Post,
in a craven act, agreed not to name the Eastern European nations that are permitting
the CIA prisons to operate on their soil.
The Russian, Bulgarian, Slovak and Hungarian governments quickly denied that
they hosted such facilities. The Czech interior minister, Frantisek Bubian,
told a news outlet that the Czech Republic had recently rejected a request to
set up a detention center on its territory. “The negotiations took place
around a month ago,” he said. The Americans “made an effort to install
something of the sort here, but they did not succeed.”
The Post estimates that 100 terrorist suspects have been sent into the gulag
and 30 “high-level” figures remain under CIA jurisdiction. Since
US officials claim they have arrested more than 3,000 Al Qaeda militants since
September 11, and only several hundred are still housed in Guantánamo,
the estimates given in the Post article beg the question: Where are the others?
Unnamed US officials told the Washington Post that the 70 non-“high-level”
prisoners have been handed over to Egyptian, Jordanian, Moroccan, Afghan and
other intelligence services.
What goes on inside the CIA facilities, closer to medieval dungeons than modern
prisons, can only be guessed at. Sadistic practices at US military facilities
in Guantánamo, Afghanistan and Iraq provide clues. The CIA has organized
its prison system specifically to avoid even the minimal oversight that exists
in the military-run locations.
The Post notes: “Host countries have signed the UN 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 UN convention and by US military law. They
include tactics such as ‘waterboarding,’ in which a prisoner is
made to believe he or she is drowning.”
The Post reported on October 25 that Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Director
Porter Goss met with Senator John McCain earlier that month to urge the modification
of a Senate provision banning the US government from carrying out “cruel,
inhuman, and degrading treatment” of prisoners in its custody. Cheney’s
proposed change, according to the Post article, “states that the measure
barring inhumane treatment shall not apply to counterterrorism operations conducted
abroad or to operations conducted by ‘an element of the United States
government’ other than the Defense Department.” In other words,
Cheney and Goss are seeking legal sanction for torture by the CIA.
According to the Baltimore Sun, a new US army interrogation manual, which specifically
prohibits sleep deprivation, stripping prisoners and the use of dogs, is being
held up by Pentagon officials “who want to make sure the document does
not conflict with practices at the US detention facility at Guantánamo
The existence of the CIA gulag has outraged world public opinion. The European
Commission has announced that it will investigate the reports of Eastern European
cooperation. The governments of the European Union’s 25 members will be
formally questioned, EU spokesman Friso Abbing commented Thursday. Abbing stated
that such prisons might violate the European Convention on Human Rights as well
as the International Convention Against Torture.
Baroness Sarah Ludford, British member of the European Parliament, announced
November 2 she would call on EU Commission Vice President Franco Fratinni to
launch an urgent inquiry into whether member states of the European Union might
be involved in “the most barbaric practices of the misguided US war on
In the wake of the Washington Post story, the International Committee of the
Red Cross called for access to all foreign terrorism suspects held by the US.
Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman
or degrading treatment or punishment, indicated that he would pursue access
to all US detention facilities outside its territories.
A spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch in New York suggested that Poland and
Romania were two Eastern European regimes hosting CIA prisons. She said Human
Rights Watch based its conclusion on flight logs, such as a Boeing 737 that
made trips to Eastern Europe from Afghanistan and countries in the Middle East.
The Polish and Romanian governments issued denials.
As these comments indicate, the US, self-styled leader of the ‘free world,’
is increasingly viewed as a pariah. The secret international prison system,
where torture and abuse are everyday occurrences, is a creation worthy of the
Confronted by the Post allegations, Bush administration officials displayed
their usual combination of arrogance and mendacity. White House Press Secretary
Scott McClellan told the press: “I am not going into discussing any specific
intelligence activities. I would say that the president’s most important
responsibility is to protect the American people. It’s a responsibility
he takes very seriously.”
The principal deputy to Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte,
Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, brushed aside questions about the revelations.
“I’m not here to talk about that,” he told a news conference
in San Antonio.
US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, on record as an advocate of preemptive
war and torture during his tenure as White House counsel, evaded questions about
the CIA prisons during an interview on CNN. “I’m not going to confirm
or deny on this show the existence of this program. We normally do not talk
about intelligence activities.”
The award for sheer sophistry and cynicism must go to National Security Adviser
Stephen Hadley, recently implicated by the Italian press in the attempt to pass
off the forged documents that alleged Iraq was seeking to purchase uranium “yellowcake”
In response to a question at a White House briefing Wednesday, Hadley refused
to confirm or deny the existence of the network of illegal prisons. He insisted
that the “war on terror” would be conducted “in a way that
is consistent with our values.” The president has “been very clear
that the United States will not torture. The United States will conduct its
activities in compliance with law and international obligations.”
The fact that the prisons “are secret, assuming there are such sites,
does not mean” torture would be tolerated, he argued. “Some people
say that the test of your principles [is] what you do when no one’s looking.
And the president has insisted that whether it is in the public or it is in
the private, the same principles will apply and the same principles will be
No one with a modicum of independent thought will fall for this. Hadley, speaking
for a government that has made Abu Ghraib a synonym for sadistic torture, would
have his audience believe that a hidden, illegal jail network, established to
remove its victims from access to the most elementary democratic rights, does
not imply the use of abuse and torture. As for its “international obligations,”
over the past four years the US government has turned breaching those into a
matter of principle.
Should anyone have doubts, the everyday activities of the Bush administration
make clear its attitude toward torture. After the resignation last week of the
indicted Lewis Libby as his chief of staff, Cheney replaced Libby with David
Addington, one of the group of extreme right-wing lawyers which was involved
in the crafting of pseudo-legal arguments justifying torture in 2002.
On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld rejected a request by UN human
rights investigators to meet with detainees at the Guantánamo Bay internment
camp, where a hunger strike continues against the horrendous conditions.
Democrats in Congress responded in their usual mealy-mouthed fashion. Summing
up the Democrats’ response, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said he was “troubled”
by the Washington Post story. “It’s another element of this administration’s
policy and the treatment of detainees and prisoners which I’m afraid will
come back to haunt us at a future time.”
Former President Jimmy Carter, more sensitive to international public opinion
and the longer-term interests of American imperialism, charged that the administration
is changing “many values... dramatically and profoundly compared to all
previous presidents who’ve ever served... I never even considered the
fact that our country would be debating whether or not we could continue to
torture prisoners around the world in secret prisons.”
Despite its revelations about the criminality of the Bush administration, the
Post continues to support the war in Iraq. On October 29, only days before running
the piece on the torture prisons, the newspaper’s editors, commenting
on the Libby case, argued that “nothing in this indictment suggests a
broad-based conspiracy that requires endless further investigation by Congress
or others. Nor does this case prove (or refute) charges that President Bush
misled the country about the grounds for war.”
The following day, the Post editorialized that Bush “invaded Iraq in
the hope of spreading democracy through the region, among other reasons.”
How the spread of democracy can be squared with the barbaric practices regularly
exposed on their own news pages, the editors fail to explain.
Giving voice to the most predatory—and dominant—elements of the
American ruling elite, Investor’s Business Daily headlined its editorial
on the subject of the secret prisons, “The Good Gulag.” The editors
wrote: “We expect our government to go all-out to prevent another 9-11.
So the news we’re holding dozens of al-Qaida terrorists in secret overseas
compounds where they can be interrogated effectively is good indeed...
“Within the CIA, there seems to be some serious hand-wringing over the
idea of interrogators practicing their craft in places where they’re not
constrained by the US Constitution. But the first reaction to this news should
What’s next? “The Good Concentration Camp”? “The Good
Führer”? The editorial could hardly be clearer: The ruling elite
in America intends to preserve its vast wealth and power by any means necessary.
The abominations revealed by the Washington Post are being carried out by the
CIA and the Bush administration in the name of the American people. This is
not only shameful and morally repugnant, it is a direct attack on the democratic
rights of the American people themselves.
Repudiation of the Bush administration and its war in Iraq, as well as Bush’s
Democratic Party accomplices, will involve a profound political reorientation
in the US and the emergence of a mass socialist movement directed against the
foundations of the present rotten social order.