- The Washington Times - Friday, April 10, 2009

CIA Director Leon E. Panetta said Thursday that agency officers who conducted harsh interrogations under the previous administration should not be investigated or punished.

Mr. Panetta, in a statement to employees, said he had sent a letter to Congress explaining the CIA’s current policy prohibiting so-called enhanced interrogation of terrorist suspects. He confirmed that the agency was abiding by President Obama’s order to shut down “black sites” — facilities abroad where suspects were detained and, according to some accounts tortured, under the Bush administration.

Mr. Panetta said no new terrorist suspects have been captured since he became director in February.

“CIA no longer operates detention facilities or black sites and has proposed a plan to decommission the remaining sites,” Mr. Panetta said in the letter.

Mr. Panetta’s statement echoed Mr. Obama’s stated desire to look forward, not back, in dealing with controversial practices toward terrorist suspects under his predecessor. It told CIA employees that officers who participated in harsh interrogation techniques under the former rules of the Justice Department “should not be investigated, let alone punished.”

He said that under a new executive order, the CIA “does not employ any of the enhanced interrogation techniques that were authorized by the Department of Justice from 2002 to 2009.” He added that “no CIA contractors will conduct interrogations.”

According to human rights organizations and media reports, most black site secret prisons were located in Central and Eastern Europe. There are at least eight such prisons, according to published reports. The Bush administration never revealed the number or location of the facilities.

In January, The Washington Times first reported that executive orders were to be issued by the president to close “all permanent detention facilities” overseas. The first order called for the closure of the black sites and required all interrogations of detainees across the U.S. intelligence community to adhere to the U.S. Army Field Manual. The manual specifies a range of interrogation techniques that are not considered torture.

The orders also called for the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within 12 months, in accordance with an Obama campaign pledge.

“I have directed our agency personnel to take charge of the decommissioning process and have further directed that the contracts for site security be promptly terminated,” he said.

Mr. Panetta also terminated contracts with private companies that provided security at secret CIA prisons overseas.

He told employees that “it is estimated that our taking over site security will result in savings of up to $4 million.”

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