Secret Prisons

by Miguel de Icaza

The Washington Post yesterday ran an article that claims that the CIA has a network of secret prisons where they have been incarcerating suspects. The CIA denies such prisons exist:

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.

The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.


Mid-level and senior CIA officers began arguing two years ago that the system was unsustainable and diverted the agency from its unique espionage mission.

"We never sat down, as far as I know, and came up with a grand strategy," said one former senior intelligence officer who is familiar with the program but not the location of the prisons. "Everything was very reactive. That's how you get to a situation where you pick people up, send them into a netherworld and don't say, 'What are we going to do with them afterwards?' "

Billmon weights in:

The plot line should be familiar to students of the Abu Ghraib atrocities. Interrogation tactics originally developed and/or authorized for use against "high value targets" at Guantanamo were exported first to the broader Gitmo population, and then to Iraq, where they were put into mass production by a group of half-trained or entirely untrained intelligence officers and MPs. The result was an entirely predictable moral and political disaster -- one which may have cost the United States whatever slim chance it had of establishing a popular, pro-Western government in Baghdad.

Likewise, the CIA's mini-archipelago seems to have grown like a poisonous weed in the absence of any coherent strategy for fighting Islamic terrorism, other than the initial impulse to hunt down the "evildoers." But now, like a dog who chases cars and actually catches one, the war cabinet faces the awkward question of what do with its secret prisoners and their secret prisons, even as the media finally starts to peel back the layers of secrecy. This story is going to cause something close to panic in more than one Eastern European capital, I suspect, and a relatively quick exit from that Soviet-era "compound." Where will the CIA take its human contraband now?

It seems to me that the Cheney administration has been trapped -- both by its ostentatious rejection of the "law enforcement" model of counterterrorism, and by its complete, willful failure to understand the limits of hard power and the steadily rising importance of soft power in a struggle that will last years, if not decades. Policies based on the adrenaline rush of war fever (circa 2002) were never likely to be sustainable. They also haven't brought us any closer to capturing Osama or prevented the transformation of Al Qaeda from an organization to a movement, one that is much more difficult to fight with dirty war tactics.

In other news, Mexico joined the International Criminal Court which upset a few people in the US:

Washington had warned Mexico that if it ratified the ICC and refused to sign an accord exempting U.S. nationals from the court's jurisdiction, it would cut 11.5 million dollars in funding from aid programs for fighting drug trafficking, according to human rights groups. The amount is equal to almost 40 percent of the economic aid Mexico receives from the United States.

Posted on 03 Nov 2005