Indefinite and secretive

Under scrutiny for its harsh interrogation methods at Guantanamo, the U.S. plans to move some terror suspects to "permanent" prisons in other countries.

Published January 3, 2005 2:16PM (EST)

The United States is preparing to hold terrorism suspects indefinitely without trial, replacing the Guantánamo Bay prison camp with permanent prisons in the Cuban enclave and elsewhere, it was reported Sunday. The new prisons are intended for captives the Pentagon and the CIA suspect of terrorist links but do not wish to set free or put on trial for lack of hard evidence.

The plans have emerged at a time when the U.S. is under increasing scrutiny for the interrogation methods used on the roughly 550 "enemy combatants" at the Guantánamo Bay base, who do not have the same rights as traditional prisoners of war. A leaked Red Cross report described the techniques used as "tantamount to torture."

Over the weekend the New York Times quoted a former interrogator as saying one in six detainees was subject to harsh techniques including sleep deprivation, exposure to constant loud music or advertising jingles and being shackled for long periods to a low chair.

The State Department is proposing the transfer of Afghan, Saudi and Yemeni detainees to their home countries for incarceration in purpose-built jails to be financed and constructed by the U.S., according to a report in the Washington Post.

The Pentagon has built a new 100-cell prison on Guantánamo Bay, known as Camp 5, and plans to ask Congress this year for $25 million to build Camp 6, a 200-bed version. The two jails are intended for suspected members of al-Qaida, the Taliban or other extremist groups who are unlikely to go before a military tribunal because military prosecutors lack proof. "Since global war on terror is a long-term effort, it makes sense for us to be looking at solutions for long-term problems," Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, told the Washington Post. "This has been evolutionary, but we are at a point in time where we have to say, 'How do you deal with them in the long term?'"

Only four Guantánamo Bay detainees had been charged by the time military tribunals were suspended in November, when a Washington judge ruled them unconstitutional.

Detainees would be sent to the new prisons when military and CIA interrogators decided they were of no further intelligence value. The facilities are modeled on medium-security civilian prisons in the U.S., and are made of steel and concrete in place of the welded shipping containers used as cells in Camp Delta. The Pentagon is also planning to form a permanent 324-strong military police battalion to replace the mostly reservist force guarding the Guantánamo Bay camp.

Last June the Supreme Court ruled that prisoners in Guantánamo Bay were within the jurisdiction of U.S. courts and therefore had the right to challenge their detention. In response the Pentagon set up "combatant status review panels," but after hearing more than 525 cases the panels have recommended release for only two detainees.

The CIA is also reported to be holding about 30 senior al-Qaida officials in secret detention centers at Bagram Air Force Base near Kabul, Afghanistan; on Britain's Indian Ocean island, Diego Garcia; and on U.S. ships at sea. British officials have denied knowledge of such centers at Diego Garcia.

Some CIA detainees have been subjected to "rendition" -- being handed over to U.S. allies, such as Egypt, Jordan and Afghanistan, that agree to hold them secretly to extract information. The practice has been criticized by human rights groups as an endorsement and indirect use of torture. The CIA reportedly proposed building its own permanent prison, but the plan was rejected as impractical.

More than six dozen current and former inmates, including former British Guantánamo Bay prisoners, have taken the U.S. government to court over their treatment.

By Julian Borger

Julian Borger is a correspondent for the Guardian.

MORE FROM Julian Borger

Related Topics ------------------------------------------