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Council Of Europe: Investigators To Continue Inquiry Into Secret CIA Prisons

Bush speaking on September 6 (epa) PRAGUE, September 7, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Council of Europe investigators say they will continue to try to learn more details about U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) secret prisons that Washington has now acknowledged existed in other countries.

Washington's acknowledgement came in a speech by U.S. President George W. Bush on September 6 in which he announced that all remaining detainees in the secret prisons had been transferred to Guantanamo.

Rene van der Linden, the president of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), told RFE/RL today that Bush's announcement vindicates investigators who have sought to expose the existence of the secret prisons.

Investigators Feel Justified

"This shows to all the people that still had at that time any doubt about the report of [Dick] Marty, of the Council of Europe [Parliamentary] Assembly, that we were right," he said. "And that [Marty had] done a great job, because the Council of Europe is about human rights, the rule of law and democracy, and this touches the heart of international [law]. And for that reason, we are very [grateful] that now the ultimate proof has been given by President Bush himself."
"This shows to all the people that still had at that time any doubt
about the report...of the Council of Europe
[Parliamentary] Assembly, that we were right." -- Van der Linden

But Van der Linden, speaking while on a visit to Russia, said that Washington's acknowledgement of the facilities will not end efforts by Council of Europe investigators to pinpoint their locations.

He said the investigation will also seek to bring governments of EU member states to account if they aided or abetted the clandestine operations.

"Yes, we have already decided, as you know we had a strong and long debate in last June session and we decided to continue, because we have to be aware that still in the future, it can happen again," Van der Linden said.

Rights Groups Welcome Decision

The reaction from the Council of Europe investigators sums up much of the response from human rights groups to Bush's speech. Thomas Malinowski of Human Rights Watch told RFE/RL that five years of legally questionable custody of suspected terrorists has done considerable damage to the U.S. position in the world community.

He said the decision to now move the suspects from the secret prisons to U.S. military custody will help restore the United States' status as a country whose government respects human rights.

In acknowledging the secret prisons, Bush defended their use, saying they had provided valuable information in the war on terror.

"Information from terrorists in CIA custody has played a role in the capture or questioning of nearly every senior Al-Qaeda member or associate detained by the U.S. and its allies since this program began," Bush said.

Van der Linden said investigators will attempt to bring EU members to account for knowledge of the prisons (courtesy photo)

"By providing everything from initial leads to photo identifications to precise locations of where terrorists were hiding, this program has helped us to take potential mass murderers off the streets before they were able to kill," he continued.

Washington previously had denied the existence of the prisons.

Bush said on September 6 that he would not disclose the prison locations or describe the interrogation techniques used. He also said the techniques were harsh but insisted that the prisoners were treated humanely and lawfully.

Benefits Of Information Obtained

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said today that Australia had benefited directly from the secret prisons program.

He said information from one secret prison detainee had led to the arrest of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, Al-Qaeda's alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks and a link to the Southeast Asian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah.

Jemaah Islamiyah is blamed for a series of attacks in Indonesia, including the Bali nightclub attack in October 2002 that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

Legal Questions Persist

Bush said he was now acknowledging the existence of the secret prisons because questioning of suspects held there had largely been completed. He said it was now time to bring the men to trial.

He also said a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court "has put in question the future of the CIA program." The court decision also ruled out prosecuting terrorist suspects through special military tribunals outside normal judicial procedures.

Bush called on the U.S. Congress on September 6 to speedily approve an administration proposal to allow the CIA the authority in the future to question terrorists under a program separate from that of the military.

The U.S. Defense Department, under pressure of the Supreme Court ruling and Congress, the same day ruled out the military's use of controversial interrogation methods that critics say amount to torture.

Those methods include "water boarding" (simulated drowning) and exposure to extreme temperatures or threatening with dogs.