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Bush: CIA kept terror suspects in secret prisons

Story Highlights

NEW: Top terror suspects to be transferred from CIA to military custody
NEW: No torture permitted at secret CIA prisons, Bush said
• President Bush proposed new legislation authorizing detainee tribunals
• Congress must approve new guidelines following Supreme Court ruling
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Wednesday for the first time acknowledged the use of secret CIA prisons outside U.S. borders to hold top suspects captured in the war on terrorism.

In a speech at the White House, Bush said captured terror suspects have been the best intelligence source in efforts to stop new attacks and listed attacks blocked because of this intelligence.

The CIA program has "saved innocent lives," the president said.

Bush said torture was not part of the program and he had not authorized any form of torture, saying American law forbids it.

Bush said locations of the prisons will remain secret.

"They are in our custody so they cannot murder our people," Bush said of the detainees.

The program "helped take potential mass murderers off the streets," Bush said.

Bush said that alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is among 14 high-level detainees to be transferred from CIA to Pentagon custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where, with congressional approval of new military tribunals, they would face trial.

Besides Mohammed, those who would face tribunals include Ramzi Binalshibh and Abu Zubaydah and other suspects held in connection with the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen and the bombing attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Bush announced that the transferred detainees will get rights under the Geneva Convention once transferred to Pentagon custody.

Bush said Wednesday he would ask Congress for explicit rules so U.S. personnel are protected from abuse charges as they fight the war on terror.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Virginia, began circulating draft legislation on the tribunals two weeks ago. Key players met with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, on Tuesday night to discuss the matter.

While specifics are sketchy on what form the bill will take, a Warner spokesman said lawmakers have been working "cooperatively" with the administration on the version, "even though they have somewhat different views."

New Pentagon rules

The president's proposal comes on the same day the Pentagon issued a new directive on detainee treatment. (Full story)

"All detainees shall be treated humanely and in accordance with U.S. law, the law of war, and applicable U.S. policy," the directive says.

"All persons subject to his directive shall observe ... at a minimum the standards articulated in Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949," it says.

In a 5-3 decision in June, the Supreme Court ruled that existing law barred military commissions. The decision effectively means officials will have to come up with new procedures to prosecute at least 10 "enemy combatants" awaiting trial or release them from military custody.

In the concurring opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer said, "Congress has not issued the executive a blank check."

"Indeed, Congress has denied the president the legislative authority to create military commissions of the kind at issue here," he wrote. However, he noted, "Nothing prevents the president from returning to Congress to seek the authority he believes necessary."

The case was brought on behalf of Yemeni suspect Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and who officials say has admitted being Osama bin Laden's bodyguard and driver.

The United States has claimed that the Guantanamo detainees are not on U.S. soil and therefore are not covered by the U.S. Constitution.

The government has argued that enemy combatant or "unlawful combatant" status means detainees can be denied legal protections usually afforded prisoners of war, as outlined in the Geneva Conventions.

On Tuesday, Bush once again defended the war in Iraq as central to the war on terrorism, saying that a U.S. withdrawal would only propel bin Laden and other terrorists into more powerful positions. (Watch Bush argue why Iraq is central to the war on terror -- 1:51)

Bush has aggressively asserted the power of the government to capture, detain and prosecute suspected terrorists in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

CNN's Ed Henry and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.


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Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is among 14 detainess to be transferred, according to news reports.

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