The CIA is "no longer" operating secret prisons used by the intelligence agency to interrogate terror suspects, and plans to shut all remaining "black sites," the spy agency’s director said Thursday.
The statement by the Central Intelligence Agency provided confirmation the spy service was carrying out an order from President Barack Obama to shut down the secret prisons that have been condemned at home and abroad as a flagrant violation of human rights.
"CIA no longer operates detention facilities or black sites and has proposed a plan to decommission the remaining sites," CIA director Leon Panetta said in a letter sent to agency employees.
"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.
Revelations about the "black sites," located overseas sometimes in countries such as Iraq where there is a risk of torture, caused international outrage during former president George W. Bush’s tenure.
In one of his first decisions after taking office in January, Obama ordered the closure of the secret prisons as well as the controversial "war on terror" detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Rights groups and media reports have alleged the secret prisons were located in Central and Eastern Europe, including Poland, Romania and in former Yugoslavia, as well as in the Horn of Africa and on US Navy ships.
The CIA director said the agency retained the authority to detain suspects "on a short-term transitory basis."
"We anticipate that we would quickly turn over any person in our custody to US military authorities or to their country of jurisdiction, depending on the situation," Panetta said.
He also reiterated that the CIA was no longer carrying out "enhanced interrogation techniques" that were employed under the Bush administration. The harsh methods, including simulated drowning or "waterboarding" of detainees, were widely condemned as torture and abuse.
"CIA officers do not tolerate, and will continue to promptly report, any inappropriate behavior or allegations of abuse" related to interrogations," he said.
The agency’s "aggressive pursuit" of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates "continues undiminished," he added.
Panetta’s statement came after a leaked report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) last month said CIA interrogators tortured terror suspects at the secret prisons.
The internal report concluded that the treatment of inmates at black sites run by the CIA amounted to "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," prohibited by the Geneva Conventions.
The conclusions by ICRC officials came after they were granted exclusive access to the CIA’s "high-value" detainees after they had been transferred in 2006 to the prison in Guantanamo Bay.