Tony Snow Hints Secret Prisons Could Return -- But Avoids Being 'Snarky'
NEW YORK In today’s edition of the daily press briefing at the White House, Press Secretary Tony Snow appeared to suggest that the CIA’s “secret prisons” could be back in business – and closed a lengthy discussion of interrogation techniques by threatening to get “snarky” before deciding “that’s not worthy of me.”
The White House had acknowledged that the CIA secret prisons were emptied, under orders, when high-profile prisoners were transferred to Guantanomo, and presumably remained closed. But with the new terror interrogation law signed by the president today, Snow was asked if those prisons were still empty. He refused to answer, and hinted that perhaps the administration felt it was now free to change course, saying, “I am not at liberty to divulge any further details about what may have happened in the last two hours since the law was signed -- or hour and a half.”
The second line of questioning that produced the “snarky” reference concerned how Americans could know that “torture” guidelines were being followed. Snow bristled at questions, suggesting that reporters were “impugning” CIA officers and military personnel instead of trusting them to act responsibly. When a reporter continued to state that their was no indepndent oversight, Snow replied: “Let me -- well, never mind. Go ahead.”
“No, what were you going to say?” the reporter asked.
“No, it's -- it would be snarky, and that's not worthy of me,” Snow responded.
“Oh, come on,” the reporter begged.
The two relevant portions of the transcript follow.
Q Tony, when the high-profile prisoners were transferred to Guantanamo, we were told that the CIA prisons were empty.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Are they still empty?
MR. SNOW: That I will not answer.
Q We were told that they were empty. So you're --
MR. SNOW: They were empty. Well, that's what --
Q You told us something about them, so they weren't entirely secret.
MR. SNOW: That is correct, but I'm not at liberty
Q Initially, you told us that they didn't exist, and then the President told us all about them.
MR. SNOW: No, what the President said is that there were --these were people who were detained. I don't believe anybody has ever talked about secret prisons. That is a -- they've talked about detention facilities. Whether they qualify as secret prisons, or not, I don't know.
Q So then it's just language --
MR. SNOW: No, no, it's not just language. Well, in any event, I'm not at liberty to go any further into what may or may not be happening, and I will leave that to the CIA Director.
Q Why is it not possible to know if -- not necessarily who, but just to know if there's anybody there?
MR. SNOW: Because that's just the way it is.
Q You said "dormant" yesterday. Do you stick by that comment?
MR. SNOW: I said it was -- no, I said it was dormant during the period -- what happened was, when there was no law it was described as being dormant. This was a program that could no longer go forward. And I am not at liberty to divulge any further details about what may have happened in the last two hours since the law was signed -- or hour and a half.
Q Tony, it seems like we can't ask a question about this without impugning the integrity of the people conducting the --
MR. SNOW: Well, that would be correct, because what you're -- now what you're --
Q But that's not fair.
MR. SNOW: Sure it is. I mean, what you're saying is -- what you're -- the insinuation is -- perhaps I'm wrong, Jim, but you're asking, what happens if they break the law or commit torture, correct?
Q Which has, what, never happened before in the history of the government?
MR. SNOW: Well, I'll tell you what, I think what you do have are people -- there's a record within -- not only within this administration, but also within military circles, where when people misbehave, they take it very seriously. They see it as a blemish upon their honor and their responsibility. So there are, written into this law, real punishments for people who get involved -- who break the law. And so what you're saying is, even if we can't see them, how can we trust them? Isn't that your question?
Q The question is, how do you allow people -- how do you impart any degree of transparency, which I think has been a sort of underpinning of all parts of our legal system?
MR. SNOW: Well, but on the other hand, you're dealing with an unusual situation here. Transparency has never been part of the bargain when you are dealing with --
Q How about accountability, then?
MR. SNOW: Accountability is there. It is written into the law. And the only way accountability doesn't exist is if you believe that the military is not committed to it, and that the people involved in the program are not committed to it.
Q Is Congress impugning the military by writing this law in the first place?
MR. SNOW: No --
Q -- to write laws regulating this behavior. Isn't that also impugning the --
MR. SNOW: No, as a matter of fact, we got to this point because of a Supreme Court decision....
Q I'm sorry. The logic of what you're saying is that the military should not be subject to laws --
MR. SNOW: No, no, that's not what I'm saying.
Q To do so is to presuppose that they may do --
MR. SNOW: No, no, no.
Q -- and we can't do that, is what you're saying.
MR. SNOW: No, it's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that they are subject to laws. What you're saying is, if we can't look over their shoulders, how do we know the law applies.
Q Exactly. How do you -- how can you enforce the law if you --
MR. SNOW: Well, again, because you do have accountability. You have outside actors looking in on every juncture. It is built in. And therefore, there are measures that are taken within this.
Q Who are the outside actors?
MR. SNOW: They are independent of the questioning that's going on. But they've also been trained in taking a look at what the proper guidelines are for interrogation under the law, trying to make sure that people do not go beyond the boundaries of a proper interrogation.
Q You won't say who they are --
MR. SNOW: These are people who work for the federal government who are charged with doing it.
Q They're not independent if they're working for the federal government.
MR. SNOW: They're independent of the questioning. Let me -- well, never mind. Go ahead.
Q No, what were you going to say?
MR. SNOW: No, it's -- it would be snarky, and that's not worthy of me.
Q Oh, come on.
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