Senate Is Set to Require White House to Account for Secret Prisons

New York Times

The Senate is poised to approve a measure that would require the Bush administration to provide Congress with its most specific and extensive accounting about the secret prison system established by the Central Intelligence Agency to house terrorism suspects.

    The measure includes amendments that would require the director of national intelligence to provide regular, detailed updates about secret detention facilities maintained by the United States overseas, and to account for the treatment and condition of each prisoner. The facilities, established after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, are thought to hold two dozen to three dozen terrorism suspects, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is said to be the mastermind of the attacks.

    An agreement reached Wednesday between Democrats and Republicans called for the measure to be approved by unanimous consent, but it was unclear on Wednesday night when a final vote might occur.

    While the C.I.A. has provided limited briefings to members of Congress about the detention facilities, the information has generally been shared with only a handful of Congressional leaders, who are prohibited from discussing the information with their colleagues. The Senate measure would widen that circle considerably, by requiring the director of national intelligence to provide reports each 90 days to the House and Senate intelligence committees. Among other things, the reports would be required to address the size, location and cost of each detention facility; “the health and welfare” of each prisoner there, and whether the treatment of those prisoners had been humane.

    The new Senate measure, part of a bill authorizing intelligence spending, is separate from an amendment by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, that is still being debated as part of a military spending bill. Both reflect a widening sense of unease in Congress about the treatment of prisoners captured and held by the United States as part of what the administration calls its war on terrorism. The McCain amendment would prohibit the cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners in American custody anywhere in the world, including at secret facilities run by the C.I.A.

    The Bush administration has never officially acknowledged that secret detention facilities exist, but the basic facts surrounding them have been described by current and former government officials. The location of the prisons in particular remains a carefully guarded secret, though the European Union is seeking information to confirm a report by The Washington Post last month that said that at least two were in Eastern Europe.

    In a bow to that nuance, the Senate bill uses the phrase “if any” to describe the secret prisons and specifies that the reports about them remain classified, to minimize the prospect of public disclosure.

    Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, the top Republican on the Senate intelligence panel, agreed to include the amendments in a measure that was to be presented to the Senate for unanimous approval, Congressional officials said.

    The new reporting requirement is not in a version of the intelligence bill that has been approved by the House, so the amendments to the Senate measure would have to be endorsed by a House-Senate conference committee, and then win final passage from the House and Senate before they could become law.

    Representative Jane Harman of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said she would seek to persuade the conference committee to approve the new requirement. “There is more information that should legitimately come to the full intelligence committee,” Ms. Harman said in an interview.

    No senator has publicly objected to the amendments, which were introduced by the two Senate Democrats from Massachusetts, Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry. Another measure included in the bill, also introduced by Mr. Kennedy, would require the White House to provide classified intelligence documents on Iraq that have until now been withheld from Congress.

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