(RFE/RL) -- The director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) says that the agency is no longer using secret overseas prisons to hold terrorist suspects.
Leon Panetta also said that the CIA is making plans to shut the remaining overseas detention facilities down.
The announcement that the CIA no longer uses secret prisons came in a letter from the agency's director to its employees. The letter, distributed on April 9, did not give any details as to where such detention facilities have been or are still located.
But Panetta wrote that he has directed agency personnel to decommission remaining sites. He also said he had ordered that the "contracts for site security be promptly terminated."
And Panetta informed CIA employees that in line with an order from U.S. President Barack Obama -- signed the day after Obama took office on January 21-- "the CIA does not employ any of the enhanced interrogation techniques that were authorized by the Justice Department from 2002 to 2009."
The letter confirms Obama's policy of reversing Washington's previous policy of taking some of the highest-value terrorist suspects arrested by U.S. forces to so-called black sites, or hidden facilities, outside the United States.
At these sites, as in Guantanamo, suspects could be subjected to forcible interrogation techniques such as simulated drowning, or water-boarding.
But unlike Guantanamo, a U.S. military facility, the CIA sites were completely shielded from public knowledge and any efforts to monitor or legally challenge them.
During his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Congress in February, Panetta said, "The situation where we took a prisoner and sent him to another country for questioning -- oftentimes that kind of questioning took place under circumstances that did not meet our test for human values."
End Of 'Black Sites'
The hidden sites were the focus of repeated efforts by human rights groups, the media, and European Parliament inquiries to bring them to light.
Reports of their existence created scandals in European capitals as governments were accused of permitting the United States to fly detainees through their countries' airspace en route to suspected black sites.
But the CIA's use of the secret facilities was not confirmed until then-U.S. President George W. Bush acknowledged them for the first time in a speech in September 2006.
Defending them as an important part of the war on terror, Bush said: "A small number of suspected terrorist leaders and operatives have been held and questioned outside the United States in a separate program operated by the Central Intelligence Agency. This group includes individuals believed to be the key architects of the September 11 attacks, and attacks on the 'U.S.S. Cole,' an operative involved in the bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and individuals involved in other attacks that have taken the lives of civilians across the world."
Bush also said that information obtained from suspects held in secret sites and in Guantanamo had prevented additional terrorist attacks on American targets.
Some nine months later, in June 2007, the Council of Europe reported that the CIA operated illegal prisons for terrorism suspects in multiple locations in Poland and Romania from 2003 to 2005.
Press investigations at that time and earlier suggested that black sites also existed in Afghanistan, Thailand, and Jordan, among other countries.
The CIA's message to its staff on April 9 now marks the formal end of the secret sites and to the use of interrogation techniques not in line with those of the U.S. military.
Panetta wrote that CIA officers "will continue to conduct debriefings using a dialogue style of questioning that is fully consistent with the interrogation approaches authorized and listed in the Army Field Manual."
He also wrote that "no CIA contractors will conduct interrogations" and CIA officers must promptly report any "inappropriate behavior or allegations of abuse," whether "a suspect is in the custody of an American partner or a foreign liaison service."
Panetta added that CIA officers who worked in the secret prisons program "should not be investigated, let alone punished" because the Justice Department under the Bush administration had declared their actions legal.
with agency reporting