Officials Deflect Prison Questions

Government officials will neither confirm nor deny the existence of a secret, Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe that was described in a Washington Post account as part of a covert, worldwide, CIA prison system for terror suspects.

However, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said that the government's banning the torture of terror suspects applies to all prisoners — even if held in a secret prison reportedly set up by the CIA for its most important al Qaeda captives.

Earlier, the Post reported that the facility was part of a covert prison system set up nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

The hidden global internment network is a central element in the CIA's unconventional war on terrorism, the Post said. It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA's covert actions.

The existence and locations of the facilities — referred to as "black sites" in classified White House, CIA, Justice Department and congressional documents — are known to only a handful of officials in the United States and, usually, only to the president and a few top intelligence officers in each host country, it said.

CBS News Radio correspondent Mark Knoller reports when White House spokesman Scott McClellan was asked if this is what Mr. Bush meant when he said al Qaeda leaders were being brought to justice, he said the U.S. is engaged in a global war and defended the practice of interrogating al Qaeda leaders responsible for the deaths of thousands.

On The Early Show, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would not address the report when speaking with Julie Chen, but said that "this
administration is doing what we need to do to protect America, to protect America from another domestic attack here in this country and against attacks
against our allies. We do so in a way that's consistent with our legal obligations both domestically and internationally."

Hadley said: "while we have to do what is necessary to defend the country against terrorist attacks and to win the war on terror, the president has been very clear that we're going to do that in a way that is consistent with our values."

"And that is why he's been very clear that the United States will not torture," Hadley said, responding to questions at a White House briefing. "The United States will conduct its activities in compliance with law and international obligations."

Asked about secret prisons, Hadley said, "The fact that they are secret, assuming there are such sites, does not mean" torture would be tolerated. "Some people say that the test of your principles (is) what you do when no one's looking. And the president has insisted that whether it is in the public or it is in the private, the same principles will apply and the same principles will be respected. And to the extent people do not meet up, measure up to those principles, there will be accountability and responsibility."

Led by Vice President Dick Cheney, the Bush administration is floating a proposal that would allow the president to exempt covert agents outside the Defense Department from a Senate-approved ban on torturing detainees in U.S. custody or weakening the prohibition.

The CIA and the White House, citing national security concerns and the value of the program, have dissuaded Congress from demanding that the agency answer questions in open testimony about the conditions under which captives are held. Virtually nothing is known about who is kept in the facilities, what interrogation methods are employed with them, or how decisions are made about whether they should be detained or for how long.