NEW YORK, Feb 23 (IPS) - The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) briefed members of Congress from both political parties numerous times about the agency's interrogation and detention programmes, several prominent human rights groups said Monday.
The groups - Amnesty International USA, the Centre for Constitutional Rights and the Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law - filed a lawsuit in 2007 based on their requests for information about the programme under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The FOIA requests, dating back to 2004, sought records about rendition, secret detention, and "enhanced" interrogation.
The rights groups announced receipt of several new documents in response to their FOIA litigation.
Among other new information, the documents show that while Vice President Dick Cheney's role in authorising waterboarding and other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques has been public, a newly obtained Feb. 4, 2003, CIA memo documents the role of Counsel for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) in analysing and approving the CIA techniques.
David Addington was counsel to the vice president until he succeeded Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was convicted of perjury in the "outing" of CIA agent Valerie Plame. Libby's prison sentence was commuted by then President George W. Bush.
The rights groups said that, according to CIA meeting records and the Feb. 4, 2003 memo, it seems that in one of his first acts as chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas "discontinued efforts by previous chair," Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida, to implement greater oversight of these programmes, "thus abdicating the role of Congress in overseeing the CIA rendition, secret detention, and torture programmes."
They said there are "significant questions about how clear the CIA was with Congress" - including in then-CIA Director Michael Hayden's previously classified briefing on Apr. 12, 2007 to the Senate Intelligence Committee - about the timing, nature and results of the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, particularly prior to the Aug. 1, 2002 memo prepared by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC).
It is known that Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding 83 times in 2002. OLC lawyers at the time, John Yoo and Jay Bybee, were the principal drafters of that memo, which has come to be known as "the torture memo".
Chip Pitts, president of the Bill of Rights Defence Committee and former chair of Amnesty International USA, told IPS, "In order to finally achieve the transparency and accountability that is so indispensable to learning lessons and avoiding calamitous policy failures like the prior administration's recourse to torture, the need is clearer than ever for a broad and impartial criminal investigation of all the facts surrounding the torture programme."
He added, "No lawyer or other official, high or low, should be immune from the investigation and prosecution required by our national interest, domestic law, and the international treaty obligations the country has undertaken under the Convention Against Torture."
Gitanjali Gutierrez, an attorney at the Centre for Constitutional Rights, said, "Members of Congress must come clean about whether they encouraged or objected to torture during these many secret meetings with CIA officials and we need a complete accounting of Cheney's counsel, David Addington's, role in the creation of the torture programme."
"These new documents show that the CIA may have lied to Congress about the role of interrogation techniques in detainee deaths and key members of Congress abdicated their oversight role. This new information points even more strongly to the need for a full criminal investigation of the torture programme, up the entire chain of command," Gutierrez said.
In a related development, after years of stonewalling, an official Polish government agency has admitted that airspace and landing facilities in that country were used by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to detain, house and transport terrorism suspects.
It was the first time Polish authorities have admitted that their country houses one of the CIA's so-called "black sites" - part of the agency's network of secret prisons.
The CIA kidnapped suspected al Qaeda members and transported them to the black site prisons, where they were subjected to so-called "enhanced interrogation" techniques as part of the C.I.A.'s programme of "extraordinary rendition."
Prosecutors in Poland are now investigating the country's participation in the programme.
The admission from the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency (PANSA) came in response to charges by two rights groups, the Open Society Justice Initiative and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.
PANSA confirmed that it provided the flight logs showing six flights in 2003 by two aircraft. Five of the flights reportedly originated in Kabul and one in Rabat, Morocco. They landed about 100 miles north of Warsaw, at a small airport in a town called Szymany.
It is widely known that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-styled mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was interrogated there in 2003, but neither PANSA nor the CIA would confirm this.
Approximately 100 prisoners were detained in the black site prisons between the program's inception in 2002 and the transfer of the remaining 14 prisoners to Guantánamo Bay in Cuba in 2006.
Maciej Rodak, vice president of PANSA confirmed to The New York Times that the agency had sent the records to the human-rights groups. He said the agency confirmed information on flight origins, planned destinations and call signs but could not provide passenger lists, which the groups also requested.
"The thing that is quite shocking is that the European investigations requested these specific flight records some four years ago," said Darian Pavli, an attorney with the Open Society Justice Initiative, a nonprofit human-rights group in New York. "The Poles all these years said they could not locate them, the flights didn't exist."