A gulag for the CIA?

The Washington Post says that the agency is running a secret prison network. The New York Times says Cheney's new man is fighting anti-torture standards.

Published November 2, 2005 2:51PM (EST)

When Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said in June that the abuse handed out to some detainees at Guantánamo Bay might sound like the sort of things done by "Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings," Republicans all but ran him out of town on charges of being un-American.

We were reminded of the flap as we read this morning's Washington Post. According to the Post, the United States is currently hiding and interrogating some of its most important al-Qaida captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe. The compound -- the location of which the Post is withholding at the request of U.S. government officials -- is part of a "covert prison system set up by the CIA" in the wake of 9/11, current and former intelligence officials and diplomats tell the Post. The paper says that specific information about these so-called "black sites" is known by only a "handful" of officials in the United States and in the host countries. The CIA has dissuaded Congress from asking questions, the Post says. As a result, the Post says, "Virtually nothing is known about who is kept in the facilities, what interrogation methods are employed with them, or how decisions are made about whether they should be detained or for how long."

In a related story, the New York Times reports today that factions within the Bush administration remain sharply divided over whether a new set of Defense Department standards for the treatment of terror suspects should include language from the Geneva Conventions prohibiting "cruel," "humiliating" and "degrading" treatment.

Some administration officials believe that including such language would bring U.S. policy in line with international law and help win support from allies. Others -- most notably, those in the vice president's office -- see things differently. The Times says that David Addington, the man Dick Cheney has chosen to replace Scooter Libby as his chief of staff, has argued strenuously that the government shouldn't tie the hands of its interrogators with language from the Geneva Conventions' Article 3.

The Times say Addington "verbally assailed a Pentagon aide who was called to brief him and Mr. Libby on the draft" of the Pentagon standards. The aide was left "bruised and bloody" after his confrontation with Addington, one Defense Department official said. We assume he was speaking metaphorically about the aide's condition. The detainees at the CIA's "black sites" should be so lucky.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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