Panel is critical of secret CIA jails

Times Staff Writer

A Senate committee that has passed a bill to set funding levels for U.S. spy agencies suggests that the CIA’s secret overseas prisons should be shut down unless the Bush administration can demonstrate that they are “necessary, lawful and in the best interests of the United States.”

The committee’s nonbinding report amounts to a fresh attack by Congress on the 5-year-old detention program, which has been credited with providing valuable intelligence on terrorism but has also been condemned by other countries.

The report accompanies a bill that the Senate Intelligence Committee passed last week and posted online Thursday. (The bill is at and the report is at


The bill would boost spy agencies’ budgets to about $45 billion even as the committee calls for new scrutiny of controversial espionage programs. The bill is the first spending measure passed by the committee since Democrats won control of Congress in November’s election.

Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) has previously pushed for greater scrutiny of the CIA detention program, which has been used to hold high-value terrorism suspects including alleged Sept. 11 attack mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

In the report, the committee acknowledges that detainees have “provided valuable information,” but questions interrogation methods and their costs.

“The demonstrated value of the program should be weighed against both the complications it causes to any ultimate prosecution of these terrorists, and the damage the program does to the image of the United States abroad,” the report reads.

Critics have complained that the prison network skirts international law and that the interrogation methods used by the CIA amount to torture, such as “water-boarding,” which produces sensations intended to simulate drowning.

The committee questioned whether the program was “the best means to obtain a full and reliable intelligence debriefing of a detainee.”

The CIA suspended the use of such interrogation methods after the Department of Justice backed away from earlier positions endorsing their legality. The CIA now is awaiting an executive order from President Bush establishing new interrogation guidelines -- rules that are expected to prohibit the most severe techniques but still allow “enhanced” methods harsher than those permitted by the U.S. military.

Bush said the secret U.S. prisons were emptied when Mohammed and other detainees were transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, last year. The network was subsequently used for at least one other captive, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, whom the Pentagon has described as a senior Al Qaeda operative. He was transferred to Guantanamo Bay in April.

The report’s language on the secret CIA sites was in an amendment that passed on a voice vote, meaning a tally of those voting for and against was not recorded. A senior committee aide said the language was opposed by some Republicans on the panel.

The committee’s position on the CIA prisons is likely to be opposed by the White House.

Likewise, Republicans have warned that Bush will probably veto the bill because of such provisions as an amendment that would require him to give the committee access to all presidential briefings between 1997 and 2003 that mention Iraq -- an apparent effort to examine what Bush knew before ordering the U.S. invasion in 2003.