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U.S. preparing for lifetime jailing of terror suspects without trial
WASHINGTON — Administration officials are preparing long-range plans for indefinitely imprisoning suspected terrorists whom they do not want to set free or turn over to courts in the United States or other countries, according to intelligence, defense and diplomatic officials.
The Pentagon and the CIA have asked the White House to decide on a more permanent approach for potentially lifetime detentions, including for hundreds of people now in military and CIA custody whom the government does not have enough evidence to charge in courts. The outcome of the review, which also involves the State Department, also would affect those expected to be captured in the course of future counterterrorism operations.
"We've been operating in the moment because that's what has been required," said a senior administration official who said the current detention system has strained relations between the United States and other countries. "Now we can take a breath. We have the ability and need to look at long-term solutions."
One proposal is the transfer of large numbers of Afghan, Saudi and Yemeni detainees from the military's Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention center into new U.S.-built prisons in their home countries. The prisons would be operated by those countries, but the State Department, where this idea originated, would ask them to abide by recognized human-rights standards and would monitor compliance, the senior administration official said.
As part of a solution, the Defense Department, which holds 500 prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, plans to ask Congress for $25 million to build a 200-bed prison to hold detainees who are unlikely to ever go through a military tribunal for lack of evidence, defense officials said.
The new prison, dubbed Camp 6, would allow inmates more comfort and freedom than they have now, and would be designed for prisoners whom the government believes have no more intelligence to share, the officials said. It would be modeled on a U.S. prison and would allow socializing among inmates.
"Since global war on terror is a long-term effort, it makes sense for us to be looking at solutions for long-term problems," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. "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?' "
The administration considers its toughest detention problem to involve prisoners held by the CIA. The agency has been scurrying since Sept. 11, 2001, to find secure locations abroad where it could detain and interrogate captives without risk of discovery, and without having to give them access to legal proceedings.
Little is known about the CIA's captives, the conditions under which they are kept — or the procedures used to decide how long they are held or when they may be freed. That has prompted criticism from human-rights groups, and from some in Congress and the administration.
Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., vice chairman of the House intelligence committee who has received classified briefings on CIA detainees and interrogation methods, said "I think there should be a public debate about whether the entire system should be secret.
"The details about the system may need to remain secret," Harman said. At the least, she said, each detainee should be registered so that their treatment can be tracked and monitored. "This is complicated. We don't want to set up a bureaucracy that ends up making it impossible to protect sources and informants who operate within the groups we want to penetrate."
The CIA is believed to be holding fewer than three dozen al-Qaida leaders in prison. The agency holds most, if not all, of the top captured al-Qaida leaders, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ramzi Binalshibh, Abu Zubaida and the lead Southeast Asia terrorist, Riduan Isamuddin, known as Hambali.
CIA detention facilities have been located on an off-limits corner of the Bagram air base in Afghanistan, on ships at sea, and on Britain's Diego Garcia island in the Indian Ocean. The Washington Post reported last month that the CIA also has maintained a facility within the Guantánamo Bay complex, although it is unclear whether it still is in use.
In contrast to the CIA, the military produced and declassified hundreds of pages of documents about its detention and interrogation procedures after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. And military detainees are guaranteed access to the International Committee of the Red Cross and, as a result of a Supreme Court ruling, have the right to challenge their imprisonment in federal court.
But no public hearings in Congress have been held on CIA detention practices.
The CIA had floated a proposal to build a prison with the intent of keeping it secret, one intelligence official said. That was dismissed as impractical.
One approach used by the CIA has been to transfer captives to third countries willing to hold them indefinitely and without public proceedings, with access for interrogation by CIA and foreign liaison officers.
The practice, called "renditions,"
has been criticized by civil-liberties groups and others, who note that
some of the countries have human-rights records that are criticized by the