Captured Qaeda Suspect At Center of CIA Controversies

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More on the caputre of Abdul al-Hadi al-Iraqi:

The announced transfer of a high-level al Qaeda operative to the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay from CIA custody was hailed as a significant victory for the United States. But the announcement about Abdul al-Hadi al-Iraqi's capture was also a tacit admission that the CIA has continued to operate its controversial interrogations and secret prisons program. Al-Hadi was arrested late last year, but was only transferred to Pentagon custody in the past week. In the meantime, he had been held--and apparently interrogated--in CIA custody.

Last September, following a Supreme Court ruling that struck down the CIA program, President Bush acknowledged the covert program and transferred the remaining 14 top terrorist suspects to Guantanamo Bay. (See note). But he continued to defend the program as a key tool in America's arsenal against al Qaeda. And the CIA clearly now feels it has the legal cover it needs to resume operating its interrogation and detention program.

In an E-mail message to CIA employees hailing the arrest as a "triumph," CIA director Michael Hayden said the agency's interrogation program was vital and legal. "The information it has produced has prevented terrorist attacks and saved innocent lives," he wrote.

U.S. officials had been hunting al-Hadi for several years, offering a $1 million reward for information leading to his capture. A top al Qaeda official with close ties to the group's deputy chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Hadi was suspected of plotting to assassinate Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, as well as attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He was apparently trying to return to his native country of Iraq to link up with al Qaeda affiliates battling U.S. forces there when he was captured.

Note: The Supreme Court ruling in June did not directly rule on the CIA's program, but struck down broad elements of the Pentagon's detainee and interrogation policy, which put the CIA's program in legal jeopardy.

--Kevin Whitelaw