War on terror detainees....their treatment, their rights, are at the top of the White House agenda for Wednesday.
Takes away attention from the Iraq war...
From the White House.....
Today, The President Announced That Khalid Sheikh Mohammed ("KSM"), Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi Bin Al Shibh, And 11 Other Terrorists In CIA Custody Have Been Transferred To The Custody Of The Department Of Defense, At The U.S. Naval Base At Guantanamo Bay. ........
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release September 6, 2006
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON THE GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR
The East Room
1:45 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thanks for the warm welcome. Welcome to the White House. Mr. Vice President, Secretary Rice, Attorney General Gonzales, Ambassador Negroponte, General Hayden, members of the United States Congress, families who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks on our nation, and my fellow citizens: Thanks for coming.
On the morning of September the 11th, 2001, our nation awoke to a nightmare attack. Nineteen men, armed with box cutters, took control of airplanes and turned them into missiles. They used them to kill nearly 3,000 innocent people. We watched the Twin Towers collapse before our eyes -- and it became instantly clear that we'd entered a new world, and a dangerous new war.
The attacks of September the 11th horrified our nation. And amid the grief came new fears and urgent questions: Who had attacked us? What did they want? And what else were they planning? Americans saw the destruction the terrorists had caused in New York, and Washington, and Pennsylvania, and they wondered if there were other terrorist cells in our midst poised to strike; they wondered if there was a second wave of attacks still to come.
With the Twin Towers and the Pentagon still smoldering, our country on edge, and a stream of intelligence coming in about potential new attacks, my administration faced immediate challenges: We had to respond to the attack on our country. We had to wage an unprecedented war against an enemy unlike any we had fought before. We had to find the terrorists hiding in America and across the world, before they were able to strike our country again. So in the early days and weeks after 9/11, I directed our government's senior national security officials to do everything in their power, within our laws, to prevent another attack.
Nearly five years have passed since these -- those initial days of shock and sadness -- and we are thankful that the terrorists have not succeeded in launching another attack on our soil. This is not for the lack of desire or determination on the part of the enemy. As the recently foiled plot in London shows, the terrorists are still active, and they're still trying to strike America, and they're still trying to kill our people. One reason the terrorists have not succeeded is because of the hard work of thousands of dedicated men and women in our government, who have toiled day and night, along with our allies, to stop the enemy from carrying out their plans. And we are grateful for these hardworking citizens of ours.
Another reason the terrorists have not succeeded is because our government has changed its policies -- and given our military, intelligence, and law enforcement personnel the tools they need to fight this enemy and protect our people and preserve our freedoms.
The terrorists who declared war on America represent no nation, they defend no territory, and they wear no uniform. They do not mass armies on borders, or flotillas of warships on the high seas. They operate in the shadows of society; they send small teams of operatives to infiltrate free nations; they live quietly among their victims; they conspire in secret, and then they strike without warning. In this new war, the most important source of information on where the terrorists are hiding and what they are planning is the terrorists, themselves. Captured terrorists have unique knowledge about how terrorist networks operate. They have knowledge of where their operatives are deployed, and knowledge about what plots are underway. This intelligence -- this is intelligence that cannot be found any other place. And our security depends on getting this kind of information. To win the war on terror, we must be able to detain, question, and, when appropriate, prosecute terrorists captured here in America, and on the battlefields around the world.
After the 9/11 attacks, our coalition launched operations across the world to remove terrorist safe havens, and capture or kill terrorist operatives and leaders. Working with our allies, we've captured and detained thousands of terrorists and enemy fighters in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and other fronts of this war on terror. These enemy -- these are enemy combatants, who were waging war on our nation. We have a right under the laws of war, and we have an obligation to the American people, to detain these enemies and stop them from rejoining the battle.
Most of the enemy combatants we capture are held in Afghanistan or in Iraq, where they're questioned by our military personnel. Many are released after questioning, or turned over to local authorities -- if we determine that they do not pose a continuing threat and no longer have significant intelligence value. Others remain in American custody near the battlefield, to ensure that they don't return to the fight.
In some cases, we determine that individuals we have captured pose a significant threat, or may have intelligence that we and our allies need to have to prevent new attacks. Many are al Qaeda operatives or Taliban fighters trying to conceal their identities, and they withhold information that could save American lives. In these cases, it has been necessary to move these individuals to an environment where they can be held secretly [sic], questioned by experts, and -- when appropriate -- prosecuted for terrorist acts.
Some of these individuals are taken to the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It's important for Americans and others across the world to understand the kind of people held at Guantanamo. These aren't common criminals, or bystanders accidentally swept up on the battlefield -- we have in place a rigorous process to ensure those held at Guantanamo Bay belong at Guantanamo. Those held at Guantanamo include suspected bomb makers, terrorist trainers, recruiters and facilitators, and potential suicide bombers. They are in our custody so they cannot murder our people. One detainee held at Guantanamo told a questioner questioning him -- he said this: "I'll never forget your face. I will kill you, your brothers, your mother, and sisters."
In addition to the terrorists held at Guantanamo, a small number of suspected terrorist leaders and operatives captured during the war 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 the 11th attacks, and attacks on the USS 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 innocent civilians across the world. These are dangerous men with unparalleled knowledge about terrorist networks and their plans for new attacks. The security of our nation and the lives of our citizens depend on our ability to learn what these terrorists know.
Many specifics of this program, including where these detainees have been held and the details of their confinement, cannot be divulged. Doing so would provide our enemies with information they could use to take retribution against our allies and harm our country. I can say that questioning the detainees in this program has given us information that has saved innocent lives by helping us stop new attacks -- here in the United States and across the world. Today, I'm going to share with you some of the examples provided by our intelligence community of how this program has saved lives; why it remains vital to the security of the United States, and our friends and allies; and why it deserves the support of the United States Congress and the American people.
Within months of September the 11th, 2001, we captured a man known as Abu Zubaydah. We believe that Zubaydah was a senior terrorist leader and a trusted associate of Osama bin Laden. Our intelligence community believes he had run a terrorist camp in Afghanistan where some of the 9/11 hijackers trained, and that he helped smuggle al Qaeda leaders out of Afghanistan after coalition forces arrived to liberate that country. Zubaydah was severely wounded during the firefight that brought him into custody -- and he survived only because of the medical care arranged by the CIA.
After he recovered, Zubaydah was defiant and evasive. He declared his hatred of America. During questioning, he at first disclosed what he thought was nominal information -- and then stopped all cooperation. Well, in fact, the "nominal" information he gave us turned out to be quite important. For example, Zubaydah disclosed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- or KSM -- was the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, and used the alias "Muktar." This was a vital piece of the puzzle that helped our intelligence community pursue KSM. Abu Zubaydah also provided information that helped stop a terrorist attack being planned for inside the United States -- an attack about which we had no previous information. Zubaydah told us that al Qaeda operatives were planning to launch an attack in the U.S., and provided physical descriptions of the operatives and information on their general location. Based on the information he provided, the operatives were detained -- one while traveling to the United States.
We knew that Zubaydah had more information that could save innocent lives, but he stopped talking. As his questioning proceeded, it became clear that he had received training on how to resist interrogation. And so the CIA used an alternative set of procedures. These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution, and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful. I cannot describe the specific methods used -- I think you understand why -- if I did, it would help the terrorists learn how to resist questioning, and to keep information from us that we need to prevent new attacks on our country. But I can say the procedures were tough, and they were safe, and lawful, and necessary.
Zubaydah was questioned using these procedures, and soon he began to provide information on key al Qaeda operatives, including information that helped us find and capture more of those responsible for the attacks on September the 11th. For example, Zubaydah identified one of KSM's accomplices in the 9/11 attacks -- a terrorist named Ramzi bin al Shibh. The information Zubaydah provided helped lead to the capture of bin al Shibh. And together these two terrorists provided information that helped in the planning and execution of the operation that captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Once in our custody, KSM was questioned by the CIA using these procedures, and he soon provided information that helped us stop another planned attack on the United States. During questioning, KSM told us about another al Qaeda operative he knew was in CIA custody -- a terrorist named Majid Khan. KSM revealed that Khan had been told to deliver $50,000 to individuals working for a suspected terrorist leader named Hambali, the leader of al Qaeda's Southeast Asian affiliate known as "J-I". CIA officers confronted Khan with this information. Khan confirmed that the money had been delivered to an operative named Zubair, and provided both a physical description and contact number for this operative.
Based on that information, Zubair was captured in June of 2003, and he soon provided information that helped lead to the capture of Hambali. After Hambali's arrest, KSM was questioned again. He identified Hambali's brother as the leader of a "J-I" cell, and Hambali's conduit for communications with al Qaeda. Hambali's brother was soon captured in Pakistan, and, in turn, led us to a cell of 17 Southeast Asian "J-I" operatives. When confronted with the news that his terror cell had been broken up, Hambali admitted that the operatives were being groomed at KSM's request for attacks inside the United States -- probably [sic] using airplanes.
During questioning, KSM also provided many details of other plots to kill innocent Americans. For example, he described the design of planned attacks on buildings inside the United States, and how operatives were directed to carry them out. He told us the operatives had been instructed to ensure that the explosives went off at a point that was high enough to prevent the people trapped above from escaping out the windows.
KSM also provided vital information on al Qaeda's efforts to obtain biological weapons. During questioning, KSM admitted that he had met three individuals involved in al Qaeda's efforts to produce anthrax, a deadly biological agent -- and he identified one of the individuals as a terrorist named Yazid. KSM apparently believed we already had this information, because Yazid had been captured and taken into foreign custody before KSM's arrest. In fact, we did not know about Yazid's role in al Qaeda's anthrax program. Information from Yazid then helped lead to the capture of his two principal assistants in the anthrax program. Without the information provided by KSM and Yazid, we might not have uncovered this al Qaeda biological weapons program, or stopped this al Qaeda cell from developing anthrax for attacks against the United States.
These are some of the plots that have been stopped because of the information of this vital program. Terrorists held in CIA custody have also provided information that helped stop a planned strike on U.S. Marines at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti -- they were going to use an explosive laden water tanker. They helped stop a planned attack on the U.S. consulate in Karachi using car bombs and motorcycle bombs, and they helped stop a plot to hijack passenger planes and fly them into Heathrow or the Canary Wharf in London.
We're getting vital information necessary to do our jobs, and that's to protect the American people and our allies.
Information from the terrorists in this program has helped us to identify individuals that al Qaeda deemed suitable for Western operations, many of whom we had never heard about before. They include terrorists who were set to case targets inside the United States, including financial buildings in major cities on the East Coast. 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. 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.
This program has also played a critical role in helping us understand the enemy we face in this war. Terrorists in this program have painted a picture of al Qaeda's structure and financing, and communications and logistics. They identified al Qaeda's travel routes and safe havens, and explained how al Qaeda's senior leadership communicates with its operatives in places like Iraq. They provided information that allows us -- that has allowed us to make sense of documents and computer records that we have seized in terrorist raids. They've identified voices in recordings of intercepted calls, and helped us understand the meaning of potentially critical terrorist communications.
The information we get from these detainees is corroborated by intelligence, and we've received -- that we've received from other sources -- and together this intelligence has helped us connect the dots and stop attacks before they occur. Information from the terrorists questioned in this program helped unravel plots and terrorist cells in Europe and in other places. It's helped our allies protect their people from deadly enemies. This program has been, and remains, one of the most vital tools in our war against the terrorists. It is invaluable to America and to our allies. Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland. By giving us information about terrorist plans we could not get anywhere else, this program has saved innocent lives.
This program has been subject to multiple legal reviews by the Department of Justice and CIA lawyers; they've determined it complied with our laws. This program has received strict oversight by the CIA's Inspector General. A small number of key leaders from both political parties on Capitol Hill were briefed about this program. All those involved in the questioning of the terrorists are carefully chosen and they're screened from a pool of experienced CIA officers. Those selected to conduct the most sensitive questioning had to complete more than 250 additional hours of specialized training before they are allowed to have contact with a captured terrorist.
I want to be absolutely clear with our people, and the world: The United States does not torture. It's against our laws, and it's against our values. I have not authorized it -- and I will not authorize it. Last year, my administration worked with Senator John McCain, and I signed into law the Detainee Treatment Act, which established the legal standard for treatment of detainees wherever they are held. I support this act. And as we implement this law, our government will continue to use every lawful method to obtain intelligence that can protect innocent people, and stop another attack like the one we experienced on September the 11th, 2001.
The CIA program has detained only a limited number of terrorists at any given time -- and once we've determined that the terrorists held by the CIA have little or no additional intelligence value, many of them have been returned to their home countries for prosecution or detention by their governments. Others have been accused of terrible crimes against the American people, and we have a duty to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice. So we intend to prosecute these men, as appropriate, for their crimes.
Soon after the war on terror began, I authorized a system of military commissions to try foreign terrorists accused of war crimes. Military commissions have been used by Presidents from George Washington to Franklin Roosevelt to prosecute war criminals, because the rules for trying enemy combatants in a time of conflict must be different from those for trying common criminals or members of our own military. One of the first suspected terrorists to be put on trial by military commission was one of Osama bin Laden's bodyguards -- a man named Hamdan. His lawyers challenged the legality of the military commission system. It took more than two years for this case to make its way through the courts. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the military commissions we had designed, but this past June, the Supreme Court overturned that decision. The Supreme Court determined that military commissions are an appropriate venue for trying terrorists, but ruled that military commissions needed to be explicitly authorized by the United States Congress.
So today, I'm sending Congress legislation to specifically authorize the creation of military commissions to try terrorists for war crimes. My administration has been working with members of both parties in the House and Senate on this legislation. We put forward a bill that ensures these commissions are established in a way that protects our national security, and ensures a full and fair trial for those accused. The procedures in the bill I am sending to Congress today reflect the reality that we are a nation at war, and that it's essential for us to use all reliable evidence to bring these people to justice.
We're now approaching the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks -- and the families of those murdered that day have waited patiently for justice. Some of the families are with us today -- they should have to wait no longer. So I'm announcing today that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and 11 other terrorists in CIA custody have been transferred to the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. (Applause.) They are being held in the custody of the Department of Defense. As soon as Congress acts to authorize the military commissions I have proposed, the men our intelligence officials believe orchestrated the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans on September the 11th, 2001, can face justice. (Applause.)
We'll also seek to prosecute those believed to be responsible for the attack on the USS Cole, and an operative believed to be involved in the bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. With these prosecutions, we will send a clear message to those who kill Americans: No longer -- how long it takes, we will find you and we will bring you to justice. (Applause.)
These men will be held in a high-security facility at Guantanamo. The International Committee of the Red Cross is being advised of their detention, and will have the opportunity to meet with them. Those charged with crimes will be given access to attorneys who will help them prepare their defense -- and they will be presumed innocent. While at Guantanamo, they will have access to the same food, clothing, medical care, and opportunities for worship as other detainees. They will be questioned subject to the new U.S. Army Field Manual, which the Department of Defense is issuing today. And they will continue to be treated with the humanity that they denied others.
As we move forward with the prosecutions, we will continue to urge nations across the world to take back their nationals at Guantanamo who will not be prosecuted by our military commissions. America has no interest in being the world's jailer. But one of the reasons we have not been able to close Guantanamo is that many countries have refused to take back their nationals held at the facility. Other countries have not provided adequate assurances that their nationals will not be mistreated -- or they will not return to the battlefield, as more than a dozen people released from Guantanamo already have. We will continue working to transfer individuals held at Guantanamo, and ask other countries to work with us in this process. And we will move toward the day when we can eventually close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
I know Americans have heard conflicting information about Guantanamo. Let me give you some facts. Of the thousands of terrorists captured across the world, only about 770 have ever been sent to Guantanamo. Of these, about 315 have been returned to other countries so far -- and about 455 remain in our custody. They are provided the same quality of medical care as the American service members who guard them. The International Committee of the Red Cross has the opportunity to meet privately with all who are held there. The facility has been visited by government officials from more than 30 countries, and delegations from international organizations, as well. After the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe came to visit, one of its delegation members called Guantanamo "a model prison" where people are treated better than in prisons in his own country. Our troops can take great pride in the work they do at Guantanamo Bay -- and so can the American people.
As we prosecute suspected terrorist leaders and operatives who have now been transferred to Guantanamo, we'll continue searching for those who have stepped forward to take their places. This nation is going to stay on the offense to protect the American people. We will continue to bring the world's most dangerous terrorists to justice -- and we will continue working to collect the vital intelligence we need to protect our country. The current transfers mean that there are now no terrorists in the CIA program. But as more high-ranking terrorists are captured, the need to obtain intelligence from them will remain critical -- and having a CIA program for questioning terrorists will continue to be crucial to getting life-saving information.
Some may ask: Why are you acknowledging this program now? There are two reasons why I'm making these limited disclosures today. First, we have largely completed our questioning of the men -- and to start the process for bringing them to trial, we must bring them into the open. Second, the Supreme Court's recent decision has impaired our ability to prosecute terrorists through military commissions, and has put in question the future of the CIA program. In its ruling on military commissions, the Court determined that a provision of the Geneva Conventions known as "Common Article Three" applies to our war with al Qaeda. This article includes provisions that prohibit "outrages upon personal dignity" and "humiliating and degrading treatment." The problem is that these and other provisions of Common Article Three are vague and undefined, and each could be interpreted in different ways by American or foreign judges. And some believe our military and intelligence personnel involved in capturing and questioning terrorists could now be at risk of prosecution under the War Crimes Act -- simply for doing their jobs in a thorough and professional way.
This is unacceptable. Our military and intelligence personnel go face to face with the world's most dangerous men every day. They have risked their lives to capture some of the most brutal terrorists on Earth. And they have worked day and night to find out what the terrorists know so we can stop new attacks. America owes our brave men and women some things in return. We owe them their thanks for saving lives and keeping America safe. And we owe them clear rules, so they can continue to do their jobs and protect our people.
So today, I'm asking Congress to pass legislation that will clarify the rules for our personnel fighting the war on terror. First, I'm asking Congress to list the specific, recognizable offenses that would be considered crimes under the War Crimes Act -- so our personnel can know clearly what is prohibited in the handling of terrorist enemies. Second, I'm asking that Congress make explicit that by following the standards of the Detainee Treatment Act our personnel are fulfilling America's obligations under Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions. Third, I'm asking that Congress make it clear that captured terrorists cannot use the Geneva Conventions as a basis to sue our personnel in courts -- in U.S. courts. The men and women who protect us should not have to fear lawsuits filed by terrorists because they're doing their jobs.
The need for this legislation is urgent. We need to ensure that those questioning terrorists can continue to do everything within the limits of the law to get information that can save American lives. My administration will continue to work with the Congress to get this legislation enacted -- but time is of the essence. Congress is in session just for a few more weeks, and passing this legislation ought to be the top priority. (Applause.)
As we work with Congress to pass a good bill, we will also consult with congressional leaders on how to ensure that the CIA program goes forward in a way that follows the law, that meets the national security needs of our country, and protects the brave men and women we ask to obtain information that will save innocent lives. For the sake of our security, Congress needs to act, and update our laws to meet the threats of this new era. And I know they will.
We're engaged in a global struggle -- and the entire civilized world has a stake in its outcome. America is a nation of law. And as I work with Congress to strengthen and clarify our laws here at home, I will continue to work with members of the international community who have been our partners in this struggle. I've spoken with leaders of foreign governments, and worked with them to address their concerns about Guantanamo and our detention policies. I'll continue to work with the international community to construct a common foundation to defend our nations and protect our freedoms.
Free nations have faced new enemies and adjusted to new threats before -- and we have prevailed. Like the struggles of the last century, today's war on terror is, above all, a struggle for freedom and liberty. The adversaries are different, but the stakes in this war are the same: We're fighting for our way of life, and our ability to live in freedom. We're fighting for the cause of humanity, against those who seek to impose the darkness of tyranny and terror upon the entire world. And we're fighting for a peaceful future for our children and our grandchildren.
May God bless you all. (Applause.)
END 2:22 P.M. EDT
from the Senate Democrats............
President Bush on Detainee Treatment
Today, President Bush made remarks on his Administration’s treatment of terrorist suspects. Unfortunately, his assertions raise more questions than they answer. Attempts to scare Americans can’t mask the fact that Bush ignored the advice of military commanders, set up a mismanaged detainee system, and failed to prosecute terrorists. It’s time for a new direction.
Bush Claimed His “Procedures��? Resulted in Valuable Information Being Gained from Abu Zubaydah. “Zubaydah was questioned using these procedures, and soon he began to provide information on key Al Qaida operatives, including information that helped us find and capture more of those responsible for the attacks on September the 11th.��? [9/6/06]
Ø But, A CIA Expert Says Zubaydah Was Insane, Not a Terrorist Mastermind? “This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality . . . That’s why they let him fly all over the world doing meet and greet. That’s why people used his name on all sorts of calls and e-mails. He was like a travel agent, the guy would booked your flights. You can see from what he writes how burdened he is with all these logistics – getting families of operatives, wives and kids, in and out of countries. He knew very little about real operations, or strategy. He was expendable, you know, the greeter . . . Joe Louis in the lobby of Caesar’s Palace, shaking hands.��? [Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine, p. 100]
Bush Claimed Using His “Procedures��? Resulted in Valuable Information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. “Once in our custody, KSM was questioned by the CIA using these procedures. And he soon provided information that helped us stop another planned attack on the United States.��? [9/6/06]
Ø But, Suskind Claims Torture and the Threatening of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s Children Backfired, Preventing the U.S. from Gaining Information from Him. “According to several former CIA officials, interrogators told KSM his children would be hurt if he didn’t cooperate. The response, said one CIA manager with knowledge of the incident: ‘He basically said, so, fine, they’ll join Allah in a better place.’ The traditional models of debriefing, used by both FBI and CIA, involved building a relationship, no matter how long and arduous a process. . . This method, which the FBI still recommends, was canceled out by what they did to KSM. That’s the gamble. Once you do something as horrific as threaten someone’s children, and it doesn’t work – there’s nowhere else to go.��? [Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine, p. 230]
Bush Claimed to Support the Detainee Treatment Act. “Last year my administration worked with Senator John McCain and I signed into law the Detainee Treatment Act, which established the legal standards for treatment of detainees wherever they are held. I support this act.��? [9/6/06]
Ø Bush Issued a Signing Statement Asserting the Right to Ignore the Law. “When President Bush last week signed the bill outlawing the torture of detainees, he quietly reserved the right to bypass the law under his powers as commander in chief. After approving the bill last Friday, Bush issued a ''signing statement" -- an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law -- declaring that he will view the interrogation limits in the context of his broader powers to protect national security. This means Bush believes he can waive the restrictions, the White House and legal specialists said.��? [Boston Globe, 1/4/06]
Bush Claimed He Will Continue to Bring Terrorists to Justice. “We will continue to bring the world's most dangerous terrorists to justice, and we will continue working to collect the vital intelligence we need to protect our country.��? [9/6/06]
Ø Prosecution of Terrorists is Down. “The number of terrorism cases brought by the U.S. government has dropped steadily in recent years and an increasing proportion are dropped due to lack of evidence, according to a new study. After bringing 355 terrorism-related cases in 2002, shortly after the September 11, 2001, hijacking attacks, the Justice Department filed only 46 cases in 2005 and 19 cases so far this year, according to an independent Syracuse University study released over the weekend. At the same time, federal prosecutors have declined an increasing percentage of cases forwarded to them by investigators, most often due to lack of evidence. U.S. attorneys rejected 91 percent of all terrorism-related cases forwarded to them so far in 2006, up from 35 percent in 2002, the report found.��? [Reuters, 9/5/06]
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release September 6, 2006
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY A SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
AND A SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL ON THE
TRANSFER OF CIA DETAINEES
TO THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE'S
GUANTANAMO BAY DETENTION FACILITY
The White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:39 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right. Welcome. We're going to have a briefing featuring two senior administration officials. Sorry we're out of breath. We just ran up the stairs.
Ground rules are that the content is strictly embargoed until after completion of the President's speech, which commences at 1:45. And fact sheets and supporting material will be available directly after the speech. I got to get in better shape so I don't pant while I say it.
Without further ado, the senior administration officials.
Q Will you be distributing a transcript of this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, we will.
Q Until completion --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Until completion of the speech, and this is on background. Go ahead. But it's enormous news. It's enormous news, and that's why I'm here -- these gentlemen are here.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're sorry. We're up against a bit of a time crunch, given the starting date -- starting time for the President's speech.
I'm going to try and give you some background, then I'm going to turn to my colleague, the other senior administration official to give you a little bit more detail. And then we'll answer questions, as much as we have time.
The purpose of the briefing is to provide background on the President's speech this afternoon. He will announce that we are taking steps to bring some key terrorists to justice. Specifically, the President will announce that 14 senior members of al Qaeda, who have been held and questioned by the CIA, have been transferred to the Department of Defense custody at Guantanamo Bay where they can be prosecuted by military commissions for their crimes.
These terrorists include, among others, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks; and Abu Zubaydah, a top associate of Osama bin Laden. In doing this, we are publicly acknowledging our custody of these 14 terrorists. Upon transfer to the Department of Defense custody at Guantanamo, the International Committee of the Red Cross was notified and will be afforded access to these individuals.
These individuals will also have access to legal counsel to the same extent as other detainees at Guantanamo.
The transfer will bring, obviously, increased public attention to the CIA program pursuant to which they have been held. In his speech, the President will discuss the CIA's program to detain and question a small number of the most notorious and dangerous terrorists, which has been one of the most important tools we have to prevent future attacks.
It has always been the President's intention to bring these terrorists to justice. He has decided this is the right time to take that step. He's been working for some time for a ruling from our courts on whether military commissions will be available for this purpose.
You have heard him say, in connection and response to questions that you and others have asked, will you close Guantanamo? The President has said many times that that is an objective he has, but in order to achieve that objective, countries will have to take back people that are held at Guantanamo, and, in addition, we will have to have a procedure for prosecuting those who are guilty of crimes. And that procedure was military commissions, and you could not go forward until we had clarity from the Supreme Court about whether military commissions were going to be an acceptable venue for bringing these prosecutions. We did not get that clarity until this summer, and the answer was, yes, it's an appropriate venue, but that it would require a legislative framework.
That was the upshot of the Supreme Court decision in June, and the President at that time announced that he would work with the Congress to address the issues raised in the Supreme Court's decision. The first one was the issue of commissions. We've been working with the Congress informally to develop a way forward on providing additional statutory authorization for military commissions. And that legislation is going to go forward to the Congress today.
In addition, the Hamdan decision also concluded that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applied to the conflict with al Qaeda. That raised an additional question about the standards, the legal standards, applicable to U.S. men and women engaged in the questioning of terrorists held in detention, and those issues needed to be clarified; that there is a way to do that by legislation. That issue is addressed, and is part of the legislation that the President is sending forward today.
We have been working over the last couple months this summer informally with members of Congress on this legislation. We hope for its passage. The legislative calendar is such that there is some urgency because the number of legislative days available between now and January is fairly limited; most of those are in September. And the President will call for prompt action by the Congress.
Another reason we need prompt action is because the questioning of the detainees is an issue that is in some sense now awaiting clarification of the legal standard before we can continue with a program that the President feels is one of the most important tools we have in the war on terror.
As I said, we have been working informally with members of the Congress on this legislation. Now that Congress is back in session, the President is transmitting legislation to the Congress to ensure that the United States has the ability to detain, question, and -- when appropriate -- prosecute terrorists. The legislation with authorize the creation of military commissions and clarify the legal standards that apply to military and intelligence professionals who question captured terrorists.
As the President said, we are engaged in a long war against terror. The President wants to put this questioning program and other tools in the war on terror on a sustainable long-term footing with congressional support and public understanding so that the work of our military intelligence professionals has the support of the Congress and the American people.
The CIA program has saved lives in the United States and overseas, and the President will provide some examples in his comments this afternoon.
Although we are here to try to give you the background you need to understand the President's announcements, there are, of course, many details that are going to remain classified. And you will -- we will have some fact sheets for you which will indicate those things that have been declassified by the Director of National Intelligence that can be discussed.
Let me say that within days of September 11th, 2001, the President authorized the CIA to help find, capture, detain and question key terrorist leaders and operatives in order to help us stop terrorist attacks. The CIA program he authorized at that time has done just that. Without question, intelligence derived from this program has disrupted plots and helped prevent another attack occurring on U.S. soil.
I want to summarize briefly the announcements the President will make today. He will announce the transfer of 14 terrorists from CIA custody to DOD custody at Guantanamo Bay. He will announce the goal of prosecuting these individuals before military commissions for their crimes. He will discuss the existence of a CIA program to hold and question key terrorist leaders and operatives. He will announce the issuance of the Army Field Manual to govern detention and questioning of detainees held by military forces. He will transmit today legislation to Congress to both authorize creation of military commissions and clarify the rules for the treatment of terrorist detainees. And he will indicate his intention to continue consultations with Congress on the legislation and on the CIA program going forward.
Let me just make one last comment and turn it over to my colleague.
The upshot of -- and what you will hear in the President's speech, and the upshot of this legislation, is to make clear that everything we do in this area is going to be done pursuant to law and in accordance with law. The President will reiterate today what he said before: We do not torture; he does not authorize torture. Anything we do is going to be done pursuant to an established legal framework. That's why he joined with Senator McCain in supporting the adoption of the Detainee Treatment Act last year. He continues to support that statute. And the legislation he set up today will further elaborate the legal framework that will apply to any activities, with respect to detention, interrogation of any detainees by any agency of the U.S. government. There are no carve-outs, there are no special exceptions for either DOD or CIA. It is all going to be done under a legislative framework agreed to by the Congress and with the President's expectation that everything done will be done according to law.
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Thanks. Since 9/11, the U.S. government has obtained irreplaceable intelligence from a very small number of high-value detainees. The CIA has held detainees who included the global terrorist who planned, among other things, the attacks on September 11th and the attacks on the USS Cole. These individuals have been questioned in accordance with the U.S. Constitution, U.S. statutes, U.S. treaty obligations, and the interrogations have been subject to executive and congressional oversight.
These carefully controlled, lawful procedures have stopped attacks, saved lives, and helped disrupt the al Qaeda network. Stopping this program would significantly impair the war on terror and extend both the war and the loss of innocent life.
I think you know one of the most difficult issues in this new kind of conflict is what to do with the world's most dangerous captured terrorists. Many of them are captured far from their home countries; they are effectively stateless; they owe allegiance only to their extremist cause. They don't easily fit into the traditional system of battlefield detainees or civil arrests.
They are hardened terrorists. They are dedicated to their cause. They are trained to resist our questioning, and yet they know the most valuable information we need to know to detect and prevent attacks. These are unwilling sources deliberately and actively attempting to withhold or distort information.
Because of who they are and what they know, we -- the Central Intelligence Agency needs to have direct, timely, and thorough access to them. It needs to be us because we've found that the most effective tool we have in these sessions is knowledge: knowledge of terrorism, knowledge of the terrorists, and knowledge of the philosophy that's motivating them.
CIA subject-matter experts with years of experience studying and tracking al Qaeda are the ones who participate in these questionings. Access has to be timely because the information that the terrorists have is often very perishable.
It's also important -- very important -- that the identities of detainees are not immediately known to the al Qaeda network. And access -- our access needs to be direct and thorough so that no intermediary can destroy or degrade the detainee's relationship with his questioner.
Let me emphasize -- this has been a very targeted and selective program. It is applied only to the most dangerous terrorists, those who are believed to have the most valuable information, including information about imminent threats. Speculation that it's involved thousands or hundreds of detainees is flat wrong. In the history of this program, fewer than 100 people have been detained by the Central Intelligence Agency. At the moment there are no individuals in CIA detention.
Let me talk a little bit about our procedures. Some believe it's physical pressure or specially authorized procedures to constitute the whole or even the main part of this process, and there's some kind of direct correlation between harshness and the amount of information we can obtain. That's simply not true.
We use authorized procedures, judged by the Department of Justice to be consistent with our obligations under U.S. and international law. Procedures are not used without the prior approval of CIA headquarters; that means me. And they are not used except as part of an integrated plan for each detainee. There are no deviations from approved procedures that are permitted.
All sessions in which one of these authorized procedures is used must be observed by non-participants to ensure that the procedures are applied appropriately and safely. And each and every observer is authorized to terminate the session. Well over 90 percent of the intelligence that this program has collected has been acquired through routine debriefings after someone has gone through the initial stage of our program, after this game plan we have constructed establishes a condition of cooperation with the detainee.
Let me talk a little bit about results. Information gained from questioning these detainees is a vital, irreplaceable piece of the intelligence puzzle. Don't get me wrong -- the information that is collected through this program must be and is corroborated through other sources. The information is irreplaceable, but it's never used in isolation.
Targeting terrorist networks typically relies on some skill and some daring, but to a degree we don't often appreciate, it relies on the patient assembly and sifting of literally hundreds and thousands of pieces of information.
Counterterrorism intelligence is very often like putting the pieces of a puzzle together. Let me repeat that: This is very often like putting the pieces of a puzzle together. What this program allows us to do is to not only have more puzzle pieces, but it also allows us to learn from someone who has actually seen the picture on the top of the puzzle box. That's invaluable.
This reporting has been a crucial pillar of our efforts. It represents the single largest source of insight into al Qaeda for both ourselves and our partners globally. We estimate at CIA that about 50 percent of our knowledge of al Qaeda has actually come from detainee debriefing.
Detainees have played some role, from identifying photos to providing in-depth targeting information in nearly every capture of significant al Qaeda members since 2002. Detainee reporting has helped us disrupt, at least temporarily, plots aimed at locations in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Middle East, South Asia and Central Asia. They also have informed our knowledge of al Qaeda operational practices and targets.
They've allowed us to confirm reporting from other sources and to help us make sense of fragmentary information. This underscores the value of this uninterrupted relationship, this unilateral detention, where we're able to expose a broad range of collection to detainees from other sources so that we can validate it or flesh it out.
These detainees have also helped us gauge our progress in the war against al Qaeda, adjust our operational strategy by giving us updated information on the structure or the health of the organization. Detainees have provided us insight into al Qaeda safe havens in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Let me tell you a few things we do. Detainees are given an initial medical and psychological exam. Follow-up medical exams are done monthly. Psychological evaluations are done approximately every 90 days. They are afforded oral hygiene care. They are afforded vision care. They are provided with a Koran, a prayer rug, and a clock to schedule prayers. We provide them extensive books and reading materials in their native language, as well as DVDs. Detainees also have access to gym equipment. We provide medication and medical attention to all detainees.
All the CIA personnel in this program are volunteers. They have been carefully screened to ensure they're suitable for operating in what clearly would be a high-stress environment. They're selected based on maturity and judgment. The average age is 43. We provide our questioners with more than 250 hours of additional specialized training -- classroom, laboratory and exercise -- for this program before they come face-to-face with a terrorist. And then a newly arrived questioner has to spend 40 more hours as part of a team before he or she can directly question one of the detainees. During the training, our candidates experience critical aspects of the detention and the exploitation program. No untrained personnel are allowed contact with the detainees.
Now, although there is no one in CIA custody today, it's our intent that the CIA detention program continue. It's simply been too valuable in the war on terrorism to not allow it to move forward.
The legislation already mentioned here as being forwarded today is a necessary first step. We have to remove any ambiguity with regard to the meaning of Common Article 3 and the War Crimes Act, and we need to give field operatives the confidence needed to perform their duties without fear of legal or other consequences.
Now, in parallel, as that legislation moves forward, I will be working with the intelligence committees to work with them to shape a way ahead. In these discussions, I will outline to the entire committees how our program extends beyond the techniques in the Army Field Manual, that it comprises specific lawful procedures, that it's conducted by a very narrow group of specially trained officers, and is conducted against a very small and carefully defined group of core al Qaeda terrorists.
Let me close by emphasizing that this is, for us, a foreign intelligence program. The purpose of this detention is to gain information.
When detainees no longer have intelligence value, they should be turned over to the Department of Defense to be held as unlawful enemy combatants, returned to their country of origin, or entered into a legal process to be held accountable for their crimes. As I already mentioned, in accordance with that, we have turned over to DOD 14 detainees from this program for detention and eventual prosecution by military commissions.
As I said earlier, there is currently no one in CIA detention.
I believe we have some questions.
Q Are you keeping these camps open that we've read about, the camps in Europe and elsewhere?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Clearly, I'm not going to comment on any specific operational details, and I'll probably say that several times before we're done, and I certainly won't comment on any locations. But our intent is that the program continue, and let me just leave it at that.
Q What you were saying about the program of renditions, will those continue?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Let me take the question here. I'm sorry.
Q Yes. Have they already been moved? Are they at Gitmo now?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q Can you tell us how long ago they were moved?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: All I can say is recently.
Q You said 100 had been -- no more than 100 had -
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Fewer than 100, in the life of the program, have been detained by the Central Intelligence Agency.
Q There were 14, what about the others?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Fourteen have been turned over recently to the Department of Defense.
Q And what about the -- where are the others?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: The remainder, as I said in my closing comments -- they can be turned over to DOD as unlawful combatants; they can be moved to countries of origin; they can be moved to other countries that have legal proceedings against them. Any of those options are available to us, all of them used.
Q How do you decide those options? How do you decide which prisoners or detainees fall under which option? Who goes back? Who is held?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Clearly, the 14 that we're talking about today that arrived at Guantanamo -- clearly we have created what's called an RTB, a reason to believe. We have built a body of information of evidence that tells us that we indeed should prosecute these individuals for violation of U.S. law.
How long you retain an individual in the program -- again, back to what I described, this direct, uninterrupted relationship to gain foreign intelligence information. Clearly that diminishes over time, and a judgement then has to be made. Whether they're moved to a third country depends on a calculus we have to make with regard to, will the third country hold them, and under what conditions will the individual be held. And we have to satisfy ourselves on both conditions before we make a decision.
Q Can you -- are you first of all saying that the 14 that you're turning over to the military, that their intelligence value is spent? That seems to be implied in what you're saying. And secondly, are these detainees -- those detainees who were turned over to the military, are they going to have the procedures that you envisioned, the right to bring up evidence of how they were treated by --
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: The detainees who've been transferred to Guantanamo will be registered with the International Committee of the Red Cross. As I already mentioned, they will be visited by the ICRC. They will say to the ICRC what it is they say to the ICRC.
We have to make a broad judgment. Some of these people have been held for a considerable period of time, and their intelligence value has aged off. I would never make the claim that it has gotten to zero. This is a broad war. There are many aspects to fighting that war. Bringing them to justice is one of those aspects. I made the judgment that the residual intelligence value of these individuals did not trump the broader need and requirement to bring them to justice.
Q Can you tell us anything about --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just make one question on this issue of going back to countries, and the President will talk a little bit about it in his speech. We've contacted a number of countries on taking detainees back who meet the criteria that my colleague set out. Some countries are unwilling to take them, for a variety of reasons, maybe because they don't feel they have the facilities necessary to hold them. There are other countries we need to get assurances that when they are turned over to countries, they will be treated properly, will not be tortured, for example. And in other instances, we need to know whether the country will hold them either in custody for crimes under that nation's laws, or otherwise ensure that they do not return to the battlefield.
These are very hardened folks who have made it clear that they want to kill Americans, and regrettably, there are about over a dozen people who have been released from Guantanamo back to home countries that have ended up back on battlefields in the war on terror trying to kill Americans. So it's a difficult calculation.
Q You mentioned Khalid Shaykh Muhammad. Can you tell us anything about any of the others, other than that their average age is 43?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: That average age is for our people.
Q For our people, okay. Can you tell us anything about any of the others -- how long they've been held, where they were captured, their nationalities --
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: There are fact sheets that have been prepared with all the information that we can release, and those will be made available for all the 14.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's a fact sheet on each of these 14. It is unclassified. It will be release-able. If you just take a look at those --
Q Okay. And secondly, were you awaiting the Hamdan decision and the subsequent legislative proposal to make this transfer? Are the two linked?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As the President has been saying for months, there are people that we would like to prosecute and hold accountable for their crimes. But we were not able to do so -- we were not able to go forward with military commissions, even though they'd been authorized years ago, because they'd been involved in the litigation. And the President said very clearly, we need to get a definitive ruling from the judicial system as to whether military commissions are an appropriate venue for bringing these prosecutions.
We got that ruling in June, but we also got a ruling that said they are an appropriate venue, but they need additional congressional authorization, and that's what then put us in the process of developing legislation, discussing it with members of the Congress over the summer, and being in a position to go forward now, now that Congress is back in session. The urgency, of course, is, it's time for these people to be brought to justice, and also, as my colleague said, we need to clarify the legal standards so that men and women in uniform and in the CIA program engaged in questioning know what the legal framework is under which they're acting.
Q Did you --
Q -- Hamdan --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We've been waiting on the Hamdan decision, yes, exactly right.
Q -- to transfer these detainees.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We are now at the point where we can get them in the queue to go forward to military commissions. Over several months, we have been preparing cases against these individuals. But we could not move them forward in the military commission process until we knew that that process was going to be authorized and confirmed by the Supreme Court, and now until we get the legislation.
Q Do you feel this will prod Congress? In other words, are you using this transfer as a way to sort of prod Congress into action, saying, look, now, we've got these guys at Guantanamo; we need to pass this legislation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's not really -- the Supreme Court opinion said that military commissions were an appropriate venue but that before you could go forward, you needed congressional authorization. And Congress began to talk about legislation; we began talking about legislation. We've had those conversations. So Congress and the executive have both responded to the Supreme Court decision. That's what I would say.
Q Well, why not wait until you have the legislation before you move the detainees?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Because there is a fair amount of preparation that needs to be done to bring these people forward. We also hope that we will have this legislation in the next two to three weeks, during this September session.
And I guess the other thing I would say is that once you have the decision of the Supreme Court on Common Article 3, and needing to go to the Congress of the United States to clarify the legal standards applicable to questioning of detainees, we thought it was very important for the Congress and for the American people to let them know the status of this CIA program, to let them know what has been done in the past, to let them know the value of the program, and to have a discussion of what's going forward.
We thought -- let me just finish and answer the question -- we felt that to go forward with legislation directly related to this issue of treatment with detainees, without acknowledging what we were doing both on the military side in terms of the revised Army Field Manual issued today, and in terms of the CIA side -- in terms of the program the CIA was running would be a little unfair. We thought it was time to put it all on the table with respect to the Congress because we were concerned that if we did not, and if the Congress passed the legislation, and then my colleague went up and said, let me tell you about our CIA program, there would be members of Congress who would say, it would have been nice to know this before we adopted the legislation.
Q Follow on that --
Q There were reports -- there were reports about the treatment of --
Q Can I just follow in this for a second? It also extends the length of time you have a conversation in front of the American people about the administration's efforts on the war on terror. So is there any political incentive here?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This has been a conversation on our efforts in the war on terror for the last four years.
Q There were reports related to the treatment of the detainees in the hands of the CIA, that techniques such as water-boarding and those types of things were being used, which some might consider torture. Can you comment on whether those types of techniques were used? And how do you convince Congress that they were not tortured in CIA hands?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: First of all, we don't torture, all right? All the procedures that we use in our questioning are lawful procedures, so held by the Department of Justice.
Q Is water-boarding considered a lawful procedure?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: I'm not talking about any of the procedures we have used, could use, would use, did use --
Q The question -- I'm sorry --
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Yes, this question about the procedures that were used and whether any of them constitute torture. And the answer is no, okay?
Q She mentioned a particular one --
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Water-boarding -- she asked specifically about water-boarding. And I said I would not comment on any of the procedures other than to say that they were lawful procedures.
Follow-on question was about conversations with Congress. I've already begun those today, talking to them about the past, present and future of the CIA detention program. And I look forward to continuing in that dialogue with them.
Q Are you concerned this is going to hurt the effectiveness of the program? Obviously, now that you're publicly revealing it, is it going to hurt the effectiveness of it?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Great care has to be exercised. We have looked over this with a great deal of discipline. This is a public debate, as has already been suggested. Both congressional and public opinion needs some knowledge about this so that we can shape our view and our action as a nation. And we have carefully calibrated this to the very best of our ability to not release aspects of the program that could be used by our enemy. To wit, questions about techniques would be an invitation to construct training manuals against them. So we're not going to talk about techniques.
Q Why couldn't you have released some of that information sooner then? Why did it take this many years? If you're revealing it now and you don't feel like it's going to compromise national security, aren't Democrats on the Hill going to wonder, this is two months before the mid-term elections, the President is talking about the war on terror --
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: No, the trigger for this, for the Central Intelligence Agency was the extension of Common Article 3 to unlawful enemy combatants, which was in the Hamdan decision.
Q May I ask you, are you saying, conceding for the first time publicly that we have secret CIA prisons and that -- denying any coercive interrogation?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: No, what I'm saying is -- as we've said here -- that CIA has detained a number of terrorists, a number smaller than 100, and has questioned them intensely in order to gain very valuable information for protection.
Q Could I follow up on that? Can I just clarify what Helen is asking you, if you've drawn down your inventory of detainees to zero, first of all, let me just ask again how recently it was that that number reached to zero? And secondly, can you clarify what Helen was asking -- if you have put detainees in some other location, another country, some other venue, is that parsing, is that a way for you to split the details of the program so that you can say you have zero? In other words, have you offloaded them to another location --
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: No, no, no. We have been doing this -- obviously, you asked the question -- 14 and how do you get to a number slightly around 100 or less than 100 and what happened to the rest. Clearly there has been movement within this program for the life of the program, so what we're seeing here today, what we're talking about here today is simply an extension of things that have been going on through the life of the program. Not everyone who has entered this program has stayed in this program until just recently.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me answer your question. Tell me if this is right.
What he's saying is there are no detainees in the CIA program, held by the CIA, anywhere -- in this country or overseas today.
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Anywhere.
Q But there were?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's what he's saying.
Q But if you're held in Poland or Romania, is that technically considered CIA detention?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me say it again. He is saying there are no -- there are no detainees in CIA custody anywhere in the world. This is not a parsing trick to say we're at zero because we've got them stashed someplace else.
The difference, as he said, between the almost a hundred and the 14 that have now gone to Gitmo are people that have gone either to Gitmo before, or are in the custody of their home country or some other country that has charges against them. There's no funny accounting here.
Q And just to go back to my other question, did you get to zero today, Wednesday, because the last three were moved yesterday or at midnight?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: No. (Laughter.)
Q The whole reason for this is the Supreme Court ruling indicating maybe what you're doing is illegal, right? I mean this business about it's time to bring them to trial, you're bringing them to trial at a time when there's no mechanism to bring them to trial?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There is a mechanism. We have a Supreme Court decision that says definitively, military commissions are an appropriate venue. Secondly, we have worked out legislation, we are working out legislation that authorizes and provides the details of those commissions. We've been working at it for the next several months, and the President will say today that he calls on Congress promptly, before they go out in September, that is to say in the next couple weeks, to bring this legislation forward. There is an urgency to move forward to bring people to justice. There is an urgency to clarify the legal standards, post-Hamdan decisions that apply to the detention and interrogation and questioning of detainees.
Q And this is by --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right, and what's done in this program.
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: One more additional thought on what you just said, though, all right? The approximate trigger for us, certainly, is the extension of Common Article 3 to this population by the Hamdan decision. Common Article 3 does not require registration of these individuals with the ICRC. Common Article 3 does not require the detention of these individuals by the United States government be announced in any way. So the Hamdan decision did not force us to empty these facilities.
Q On interrogation techniques, can you just --
Q Could you -- prisons --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Can we get some people who haven't had a chance? Sir.
Q Your statements to the effect that the U.S. and the CIA has not practiced torture or inhumane treatment of these detainees, is that predicated on the idea that before the Supreme Court decision, Common Article 3 did not apply?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Not exactly -- hear me out, this is very important, all right? The issue with Common Article 3 is its vagueness. What we are asking for is precision from the language. The other aspects of Geneva -- I'm quickly getting in over my head as a non-lawyer here, but we've studied this very carefully -- the other aspects of Geneva have been articulated in U.S. domestic law so we understand their meaning. Common Article 3, because its language applies to conflicts not of an international character, we did not rush to articulate it in U.S. domestic law. We need the clarity that U.S. domestic law will provide so that we understand our obligations under Common Article 3.
A solution would simply be for the Congress to state very clearly that U.S. responsibilities under Common Article 3 are detailed by the provisions of the Detainee Treatment Act.
Q Retroactively? And that would have a retroactive effect, in terms of interpretations is what you're suggesting?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Well, clearly, you have to operate with the best legal guidance and counsel you have at the moment.
Q At the time before the Supreme Court decision, you're suggesting there wasn't a clear understanding of what Common Article 3 --
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: We did not have clear meaning of Common Article -- and we still don't.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And we didn't worry about it before, because the prevailing interpretation for many, many, many, many years was that Common Article 3 did not apply to issues of detention. And what happened is that, if you will, the Supreme Court in June changed the law and said, oh, yes, it does. We had, with the McCain amendment, what we thought was a clear legal standard. We now then said, oh, you have this standard that now applies beginning in June. We looked at that standard. It's very unclear, and so, not surprisingly, people said, "We need to then go to the Congress and get clarity of the standard from the Congress," and that's what we're doing.
Q In crafting the legislation on military commissions, did the administration consult with any JAGs? And if so, what specific recommendations of theirs were incorporated into the bill?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We had extensive consultations with members and staff on the Congress. We had extensive consultations within the government, and we had extensive consultations with JAGs. It was a long process, lots of details. I'm not -- I can't get into it.
What we've tried to do is to develop legislation that would have broad support and allow us to provide a legal framework that would govern the program going forward.
Q Can you describe the nature of the plots disrupted? You've told us nothing about what was disrupted.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President is going to go into some detail about that in his speech. There will be some supporting material that will come out in support of the speech that will give you a fair amount of detail on that.
Q Could you just go into a little bit of Cheryl's question on when you got it down to zero? It wasn't the last three, but is this -- in the last couple of weeks you got it down to zero with these 14? And in the same question, the others that you both talked about that are sent back to other countries -- are the ones that weren't sent back to other countries -- everybody at Gitmo?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: It would be fair to say that we got down to zero within the last couple of weeks. It was a process, obviously. It's not like throwing a switch. It takes time.
Q Were they the 14 in the last couple of weeks.
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: We moved --
Q Or more?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me help you.
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Sure, go ahead.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We've been having a process within the government to try and prepare for the clarification from Hamdan over a long period of time -- months and months -- and one of the things very early we did was we asked the Department of Defense to do an analysis of the population they had at Guantanamo.
And we asked my colleague and his people to do an analysis of the population that they still had in their program. And we said to them, "What is your disposition plan? We don't want to be the world's jailer of terrorists. What is your disposition plan for these individuals? What ones are going to be able to go back to home country? What ones are going to be able to go back to another country that has charges against them? What are going to be appropriate when we get them authorized to go to military commissions?
And we, over a period of months, with the State Department in the lead for the DOD detainees, and with the CIA in the lead for theirs have been working to get countries to take them back under the exception -- under the conditions that I've described. We also began preparing cases against those that we were going to go against in terms of military commissions, so these numbers have been coming down. And the President will give you some numbers on Gitmo that had gone from over 700 now to over 400. These numbers have been coming down over a long period of time.
Obviously, at some point, there is a -- in terms of his program, there is a last tranche that gets transferred, and the Hamdan decision was the trigger to transfer those who are on the block to go to military commissions. That's the best I can do, Martha.
Q Some people are saying you're playing the legality card over common sense on this vagueness; Common Article 3, outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment -- that's just common sense some of your critics are saying.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I guess what I would say is the men and women who are in these programs are professionals, and we owe it to them to give them clear guidance so that they are able to stay within our laws. That's what the President has said he wants them to do. We need to enable them to do it. And look, the issue of fuzzy and vague language in laws is a problem, particularly in criminal statutes. And the Hamdan decision made it a potential criminal violation, and that language simply is not specific enough for a criminal statute. And that's what we need the Congress to clarify.
Q What needs to be placed in the definition for specifics so you are not breaking Geneva Conventions or breaching it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The suggestion that we have in the legislations going forward is to say, we've already worked out with the Congress the legal standard. It is the Detainee Treatment Act. And that, in turn, draws on language that was adopted by the Congress when we adhered to the Convention Against Torture. We've said that is the legal standard that is accepted by the Congress of the United States, which is well understood here. That is the legal standard that ought to apply to clarify the ambiguities in Common Article 3. That's what we're proposing to the Congress. We've talked about it with the Congress. We think that is a good out come. That's part of the process that will be going on with the Congress going forward.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Last question.
Q Can I try again on the practice of rendition, is that a subject of your consultation with Congress? Do you want Congress to authorize that practice?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We don't have anything new to say on rendition. We've made clear our position before that this is something that has been a practice by other administrations, and that in appropriate circumstances, it is an appropriate tactic. This is what we've said in the past. There's nothing new on that, in terms of either what the President is going to say today or what the -- in the legislation we sent to the Congress.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, thank you.
END 1:15 P.M. EDT