Out from the Shadows; the President Announced He's Emptying the CIA's Secret Prisons. Now What Will Become of Its Former Inmates?

By Hosenball, Mark | Newsweek, September 18, 2006 | Go to article overview

Out from the Shadows; the President Announced He's Emptying the CIA's Secret Prisons. Now What Will Become of Its Former Inmates?


Hosenball, Mark, Newsweek


Byline: Mark Hosenball And Michael Isikoff (With Richard Wolffe)

Here is a fact about spies you won't find in your average thriller: they worry about getting sued. Veteran CIA officers know from sorry experience that secrets, especially big ones, rarely stay secret forever. When the unseemly details do come to light, it's the agency that often takes the fall. So when President George W. Bush at last acknowledged the existence of an international network of secret CIA prisons where "high value" terror suspects were housed and interrogated, some officials at the agency began worrying about their futures. Would ugly details be revealed about the methods used to extract information from prisoners? And if so, could Clandestine Service officers be taken to court by detainees claiming they were tortured?

To protect themselves, many CIA officers take out insurance policies, according to current and former intelligence officials who, like all agency employees, would not be named. For a $300 yearly premium, Wright & Co. (known around the agency as Wright Brothers) will cover legal fees for CIA employees sued in the line of duty. Last week, at CIA headquarters, agency employees darkly joked among themselves about the possible fallout to come. "A lot of people are checking their Wright Brothers insurance," says a former senior Clandestine Service official.

If the president gets his way, those policies will never have to pay out. Now that the prisons are effectively closed and 14 of the remaining detainees--including suspected 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed--have been moved to GuantAnamo Bay, administration officials are working out the many complex details of bringing them to trial. The White House insists on military trials that would allow secret evidence--and permit the use of confessions extracted under extreme physical duress. This might keep some embarrassing details from spilling out that could put the interrogators in legal jeopardy and do political harm to the president, who has denied the use of torture. One administration fear has been the spectacle of the suspects' lawyers running to the cameras with claims of mistreatment.

But Congress must approve the trial rules, and that may not be as easy as the president once thought. Many on Capitol Hill insist on tribunals that will convince Americans, and the world, that justice has been done. Some of Bush's strongest opposition may come from within his own party. In the narrowly divided Senate, a small but influential group of Republicans, all military vets, is challenging the president's proposal. They have indicated they may hold up Bush's plan unless he agrees to soften his insistence on the use of secret evidence--where the defendant cannot see classified details of the case against him--and revisit the question of using confessions obtained under extreme physical duress. Democrats quickly aligned themselves with the renegade Republicans.

A just-released Senate report on prewar intelligence highlighted the unreliability of forced confession. Ibn Al-Shaykh al-Libi, a high-ranking Qaeda suspect captured by the United States soon after 9/11 and "rendered" to Egypt, told interrogators that Osama bin Laden had sent operatives to Iraq for chemical- and biological-weapons training. It became a key administration claim for the supposed link between Iraq and Al Qaeda. But the report revealed that after the ground war, al-Libi admitted he'd made it all up so his Egyptian interrogators would stop beating him.

Bush has long known that a confrontation over tribunals was coming. Two years ago, the administration began a sweeping review of the program aimed at finding a way to hold military trials for the captured suspects. …

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