President Moves 14 Held in Secret to Guantánamo

Published: September 7, 2006

WASHINGTON, Sept. 6 — President Bush said Wednesday that 14 high-profile terror suspects held secretly until now by the Central Intelligence Agency — including the man accused of masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks — had been transferred to the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to face military tribunals if Congress approves.

The suspects include Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, thought to be the Sept. 11 mastermind, and other close associates of Osama bin Laden. Mr. Bush said he had decided to “bring them into the open” after years in which the C.I.A. held them without charges in undisclosed sites abroad, in a program the White House had not previously acknowledged.

The announcement, in the East Room of the White House, was the first time the president had discussed the secret C.I.A. program, and he made clear that he had fully authorized it. Mr. Bush defended the treatment the suspects had received but would not say where the so-called “high-value terrorist detainees” had been held or what techniques had been used to extract information from them.

The transfer of the high-level suspects to Guantánamo Bay effectively suspended the extraordinary program, in which the intelligence agency became the jailer and interrogator of suspects counterterrorism officials considered the world’s most wanted Islamic extremists.

The government says the 14 terror suspects include some of the most senior members of Al Qaeda captured by the United States since 2001, including those responsible for the bombing of the destroyer Cole in 2000 in Yemen and the 1998 attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Most of the detainees have been interviewed extensively and are believed to have little remaining intelligence value.

With the transfer of the suspects to Guantánamo, which is run by the Defense Department, the International Committee of the Red Cross will monitor their treatment, Mr. Bush said. He used the East Room appearance to urge Congress to authorize new military commissions to put terror suspects on trial, replacing rules established by the administration but struck down in June by the Supreme Court.

“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 Sept. 11, 2001, can face justice,” Mr. Bush said, to an audience that included family members of the victims. He added, “To start the process for bringing them to trial, we must bring them out into the open.”

To that end, the president sent Congress legislation proposing new rules for the commissions and detailing specific standards for the humane treatment of detainees. Yet the proposal hews closely to the old commission model, and it retains several provisions the court found troublesome, including language that permits defendants to be excluded from their own trials.

At the same time, the Pentagon released a new Army Field Manual that lays out permissible interrogation techniques and specifically bans eight methods that have come up in abuse cases. Among the techniques banned is water-boarding, in which a wet rag is forced down a bound prisoner’s throat to cause gagging; intelligence officials have said Mr. Mohammed was subjected to that treatment while in C.I.A. custody.

Although the C.I.A. has faced criticism over the use of harsh techniques, one senior intelligence official said detainees had not been mistreated. They were given dental and vision care as well as the Koran, prayer rugs and clocks to schedule prayers, the official said. They were also given reading material, DVD’s and access to exercise equipment.

Administration officials said the timing of Mr. Bush’s decision to bring the terror suspects to trial was driven not by politics but by the need to respond to the Supreme Court’s decision and the fact that the suspects were no longer regarded as sources of valuable intelligence.

On Capitol Hill, some Republicans reacted warily. But even those who criticized the proposal said it was imperative for Congress to pass legislation setting up tribunals soon.

“I do not believe it is necessary to have a trial where the accused cannot see the evidence against them,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, a former military prosecutor who has played a central role in the debate. But Mr. Graham said he believed his differences with the White House “can be overcome.”

Mr. Bush’s speech was the third in a series he is delivering on the war on terror in the days before the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, and it carried potential political benefits for a White House that is intent on maintaining Republican control of Congress this November.