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November 02, 2005

It's Old: Secret Prisons Warehouse Al Qaeda Terrorists

We've known this was going on since, well, forever. I suppose this story advances the ball a bit, but the liberal media is going to try to pretend this is a big new story deserving of the sort of attention when you first learn of something.

Some points:

Obviously, a shitload of "unauthorized disclosures of HIGHLY classified information" informed this story. I take it the press will call for all of the CIA and Justice Department leakers to be thoroughly investigated and questioned, upon pain of perjury, before a grand jury? No?

The answer, I suppose, will be that this is something we need to know about... and yet the left piously instructs us that someone like Lewis Libby can't just disclose supposedly classified information because he feels we need to know. We have to respect the classification system, right?

This is a much bigger story than the alleged "outing" of Valerie Plame, Soccer Mom CIA Agent With a Licence To Knit Mittens. Like the NYT article on the CIA's secret air fleet, this exposes an entire network of operatives and locations, not just one agent (who'd already been outed multiple times before).

So why should a bigger breach of security get its leakers a bigger pass for divulging more critical, and potentially embarassing if not dangerous, classified information?

Again: Maybe we should know about this, so maybe that makes the leaks "good." But I think we had a right to know that Joe Wilson's wife sent him to Niger to do a put-up job on uranium from Niger; why doesn't the same "right to know" rule hold?

That aside, here are the interesting bits from the article.


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.

The hidden global internment network is a central element in the CIA's unconventional war on terrorism. It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA's covert actions.

The existence and locations of the facilities -- referred to as "black sites" in classified White House, CIA, Justice Department and congressional documents -- are known to only a handful of officials in the United States and, usually, only to the president and a few top intelligence officers in each host country.

There's the background. The intelligence services need a new euphemism for secret or covert; "black" is too sexy and too sinister, and reporters can't help reporting "black this" and "black that."

I suggest the sites no longer be referred to as "black sites" and henceforth be referred to as "HappyFunSexChocolate Sites."

...

While the Defense Department has produced volumes of public reports and testimony about its detention practices and rules after the abuse scandals at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and at Guantanamo Bay, the CIA has not even acknowledged the existence of its black sites. To do so, say officials familiar with the program, could open the U.S. government to legal challenges, particularly in foreign courts, and increase the risk of political condemnation at home and abroad.

Hence, all of this is seriously classified, and I'm wondering where Joe Wilson's outrage is about violating our country's national security laws. Perhaps we could get a little traction on this angle if we dressed up the prisons in a scarf and sunglasses and put the prison behind the wheel of a Jaguar.

...

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.

Thank God for small favors. But of course there will now be investigations in all Eastern European countries, and each government will be asked to confirm or deny there are CIA prisons operating inside of them, and the prisons will be shut down within the next two months.

So, thanks Washington Post.

...

Since then, the arrangement has been increasingly debated within the CIA, where considerable concern lingers about the legality, morality and practicality of holding even unrepentant terrorists in such isolation and secrecy, perhaps for the duration of their lives. 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?' "

A fair point, but this is war, and in war, you improvise. I get so tired of liberals talking, Stalin-like, about the need for "plans." As Benicio Del Torro said in The Way of the Gun, "A plan is just a list of things that ain't gonna happen."

...

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.

Andrew Sullivan is predictably all aflutter about this. A few months ago Brit Hume was an f'n' man on the Chris Wallace show and defended waterboarding. Are the terrorists actually in danger of drowning, or are they simply induced to believe they are?, he wanted to know from Juan Williams, who, like many liberals, claims to be very "tough on terrorists" in the abstract but finds every single instance of tough interrogations to be outrageous.

I've asked before, but the left won't answer. What tough methods of coercion, specifically, do you approve of? Give us the list and we'll see if we can use those techniques.

But they never do. Every tough interrogation method that's ever mentioned is called "torture" and shrieked about.

These people find even arm-twisting and wrist-bending to be "torture," and of course "degrading" and "humiliating." Well, no doubt, these things hurt. That's the point, you know.

Stuff I used to do to my little brother (before he got big enough to kick my ass) is now "torture" that we can't employ against terrorist mass-murderers.

Now this next bit is shocking-- because you've probably been imagining there are thousands of terrorists in this "worldwide secret prison system." Not so. I'm not sure whether to be heartened or heartbroken that so few terrorist scumbags have been reposed into the tender care of this system:

More than 100 suspected terrorists have been sent by the CIA into the covert system, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials and foreign sources. This figure, a rough estimate based on information from sources who said their knowledge of the numbers was incomplete, does not include prisoners picked up in Iraq.

"More than a hundred." Not exactly an out-of-control rogue torture operation. Of all the tens of thousands of terrorists we've captured or detained, "more than a hundred" are in this system.

The detainees break down roughly into two classes, the sources said.

About 30 are considered major terrorism suspects and have been held under the highest level of secrecy at black sites financed by the CIA and managed by agency personnel, including those in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, according to current and former intelligence officers and two other U.S. government officials. Two locations in this category -- in Thailand and on the grounds of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay -- were closed in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

A second tier -- which these sources believe includes more than 70 detainees -- is a group considered less important, with less direct involvement in terrorism and having limited intelligence value. These prisoners, some of whom were originally taken to black sites, are delivered to intelligence services in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Afghanistan and other countries, a process sometimes known as "rendition." While the first-tier black sites are run by CIA officers, the jails in these countries are operated by the host nations, with CIA financial assistance and, sometimes, direction.

Let's say this first: That first group, the thirty? Outright torture and summary execution are too good for them. I could give a shit.

The other group is more problematic, because there is always the probability that a dragnet approach will grab up innocent (or almost innocent) bystandards and condemn them to a hell on earth. But note that these 70 don't seem to be innocent as lambs -- they have "less direct involvement" with terrorism.

Any involvement with terrorism puts you out of the class of human beings whose rights I care about. If you're "merely" driving a truck to ferry weapons to terrorists, or acting as a lookout at a bomb-making plant, fuck you, and welcome to a little human-made hell before you get to the one run by Satan.

...

The Eastern European countries that the CIA has persuaded to hide al Qaeda captives are democracies that have embraced the rule of law and individual rights after decades of Soviet domination. Each has been trying to cleanse its intelligence services of operatives who have worked on behalf of others -- mainly Russia and organized crime.

A fair point-- these countries are trying to clean themselves up, get away from these nasty tactics, and we're corrupting them in their efforts to come clean.

Oh, well. They'll get over it.

And, in case the WaPo and Andrew Sullivan aren't clear, there's a great difference between torturing and imprisoning political dissidents and doing the same to avowed killers and self-made monsters in human form.

Cool idea:

...

Among the first steps was to figure out where the CIA could secretly hold the captives. One early idea was to keep them on ships in international waters, but that was discarded for security and logistics reasons.

I kinda like the idea of a CIA Ghost Ship warehousing these bastards. I have a feeling that, security and logistics concerns aside, that's what will ultimately be done. Thanks to the Washington Post, we're going to lose our Eastern European sites.

...

By mid-2002, the CIA had worked out secret black-site deals with two countries, including Thailand and one Eastern European nation, current and former officials said. An estimated $100 million was tucked inside the classified annex of the first supplemental Afghanistan appropriation.

Then the CIA captured its first big detainee, in March 28, 2002. Pakistani forces took Abu Zubaida, al Qaeda's operations chief, into custody and the CIA whisked him to the new black site in Thailand, which included underground interrogation cells, said several former and current intelligence officials. Six months later, Sept. 11 planner Ramzi Binalshibh was also captured in Pakistan and flown to Thailand.

But after published reports revealed the existence of the site in June 2003, Thai officials insisted the CIA shut it down, and the two terrorists were moved elsewhere, according to former government officials involved in the matter. Work between the two countries on counterterrorism has been lukewarm ever since.

I see... so revealing the existence of this Thailand site harmed our countries' cooperation in the war on terror? Seems, once again, to be a bigger deal than "outing" Valerie Plame.

But once again-- that was a "good" leak. We have to accept the consequences of "good" leaks, even when those consequences involve a poisoning of relations with a country whose support is crucial in fighting Southeast Asian terrorism.

All in all, an interesting article. But it's always interesting to read highly-classified national security information in a newspaper, isn't it? I know our enemies find such stories very interesting indeed.

I Wish This Were Merely Self-Deprecating Irony, But I'm Pretty Sure It's Not Update: I forgot to quote this gem:

The CTC's chief of operations argued for creating hit teams of case officers and CIA paramilitaries that would covertly infiltrate countries in the Middle East, Africa and even Europe to assassinate people on the list, one by one.

But many CIA officers believed that the al Qaeda leaders would be worth keeping alive to interrogate about their network and other plots. Some officers worried that the CIA would not be very adept at assassination.

"We'd probably shoot ourselves," another former senior CIA official said.

Uh-huh. I don't doubt that there are competent covert CIA operatives, but I've lost all faith in this institution. If you want to hit someone, send in SEALs or Delta Force. The CIA can't even manage to warn Bob Novak off of "exposing" one of its most important "undercover operatives," Valerie Plame, who passes secret messages to her network of spies through codes written on the tops of cupcakes she sells at her daughters' school bake-sales.


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