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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Bush: CIA terrorism detention program 'invaluable'

WASHINGTON, Sept 9 (Reuters) - As he prepared to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, President George W. Bush said on Saturday a CIA detention program to interrogate terrorism suspects had been "invaluable" in efforts to prevent another attack on the United States.

Bush this week publicly acknowledged the CIA had held high-level terrorism suspects, including suspected Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in secret overseas locations.

He said Mohammed and 13 others were transferred recently to the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center run by the Pentagon to be prosecuted in the future.

The CIA program disclosed by The Washington Post last year prompted an international outcry and criticism from human rights groups.

Bush was unbowed by the criticism and steadfastly supported the program that since the Sept. 11 attacks has held fewer than 100 terrorism suspects. While there was none in CIA custody after the 14 were transferred recently, the program will continue, administration officials said.

"This program has been invaluable to the security of America and its allies, and helped us identify and capture men who our intelligence community believes were key architects of the September the 11th attacks," Bush said in his weekly radio address.

Information from the suspects held by the CIA had helped uncover al Qaeda plots and capture senior members of the militant network, he said.

"Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland," Bush said. "We have largely completed our questioning of these men, and now it is time that they are tried for their crimes."

U.S. forces continue to hunt for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, who since the Sept. 11 attacks have sporadically issued video and audiotapes to show they have not been captured or killed.

"America still faces determined enemies," Bush said. "And in the long run, defeating these enemies requires more than improved security at home and military action abroad. We must also offer a hopeful alternative to the terrorists' hateful ideology," he said.

Bush plans to commemorate the Sept. 11 anniversary with visits on Sunday and Monday to all three sites struck by the hijacked planes -- Ground Zero where the World Trade Center's twin towers collapsed in New York, the Pentagon outside Washington and a field in Pennsylvania.
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