The US has announced that it is to transfer 14 suspects held in secret by the CIA to the military-run prison at Guantanamo Bay to face prosecution, and outlined an overhaul of the rules for the treatment of prisoners.
Among the 14 are Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was thought to be al-Qa'ida's third ranking figure until his capture in Pakistan in 2003; Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, allegedly intended to be an September 11, 2001 hijacker; and Abu Zubaydah, said to be another key al-Qa'ida organiser, who was seized in Pakistan in 2002.
The move was announced yesterday by President George Bush, in one of several speeches ahead of Monday's fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. At Guantanamo they would be treated like other prisoners "and treated with the humanity they denied others". The 14 had already been moved to the prison in Cuba, and the Red Cross had been informed, Mr Bush said.
He also set out a new policy for the trial of detainees, after the Supreme Court threw out the previous system of military tribunals, deeming these to be in violation of both US and international law.
In doing so, the President in effect acknowledged the existence of secret CIA camps abroad for terror suspects, a topic on which the White House had been silent. Allegations about the camps, two of them said to be in eastern Europe, caused global uproar when they originally surfaced in late 2005.
But he vigorously defended Guantanamo Bay, where 445 people are currently held. They were not common criminals or bystanders swept up in the confusion of war. The detainees were terrorists, "in custody so they cannot murder our people". Many countries had refused to take back their nationals, Mr Bush said. The President was totally unapologetic over the methods used by the CIA, accused by critics of operating beyond the law. The agency was doing a "vital" job, Mr Bush argued, and the revelations of Abu Zubaydah had led to information that foiled terrorist plots in the US, Britain and Asia.
Abu Zubaydah knew how to resist conventional interrogation techniques. So "an alternate set of arrangements" was employed. But these were carefully vetted and deemed lawful by the Justice Department. "The United States does not torture," the President said.
The new military interrogation rules were unveiled by the Pentagon, in a revised Army Field Manual that bars many controversial techniques.
The Pentagon also released a separate directive on detention policy, stating that the treatment of prisoners must, at a minimum, abide by the standards of the Geneva Conventions. The document sets out the responsibilities of both civilian and military officials in charge of detention operations.
Though they extend to all branches of the military, the new regulations do not formally cover the CIA. Nor of themselves do they signify an end to the secret prisons. But the common implication of the separate announcements by the Pentagon and Mr Bush is that they will apply to CIA-held prisoners as well.
* A serious blow has been dealt to George Bush's foreign policy as a poll showed that Americans and Europeans reject the US President's pursuit of the "war on terror". For the first time in its five-year existence, the Transatlantic Trends opinion poll found that more Americans opposed President Bush's handling of international affairs 58 per cent than approved 40 per cent. On both sides of the Atlantic those polled increasingly prefer "soft power" measures to promote democracy.Reuse content