Whatever happened to the so-called “black sites,” where suspected terrorists were held overseas by the CIA and submitted to harsh interrogations that included torture? On April 9, CIA chief Leon Panetta issued a statement notifying CIA employees that the agency “no longer operates detention facilities or black sites”—which were effectively shut down in the fall of 2006—”and has proposed a plan to decommission the remaining sites.” In the months since then, lawyers for several terrorism suspects have been trying to determine the status of these sites, as they seek evidence for their cases. But the US government has refused to disclose anything about what it has done with these facilities.
In his statement, Panetta noted, “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 added that the suspension of these private security contracts would save the agency up to $4 million.) Though Panetta’s order might have seemed like good news to civil libertarians and critics of the Bush-Cheney administration’s detention policies, lawyers for several detainees who had been held in such sites immediately worried about one thing: “We thought they would be destroying further evidence,” says George Brent Mickum IV, a lawyer for Abu Zubaydah, a captured terrorism suspect whom President George W. Bush described (probably errantly) as “one of the top three leaders” of al Qaeda. (In 2007, the CIA disclosed that it had destroyed videotapes of interrogations of Zubaydah, who was waterboarded 83 times.) [continued…]