A senior U.S. military official is confirming for the first time that a number of terrorist suspects are being held at secret locations outside the United States. These secret locations are in addition to the known terrorist detention centers at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and an air base in Afghanistan.
The senior military official says these secret detention sites are where top al-Qaida operatives are being held for interrogation.
The official would not say where the detention facilities are located or who runs them.
But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has previously indicated the most important terrorist suspects would receive special handling, separate from rank-and-file al-Qaida members being held in Afghanistan or sent to Guantanamo. "In some cases, they're al-Qaida, senior al-Qaida, in which case they're treated in a totally different way, in a very careful way," he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld declined to elaborate, citing sensitive intelligence and security reasons. "When one's gathering information and then piecing things together, it is helpful to be able to do that in an environment that not everyone in the world knows precisely what kind of information you may have," he said.
The senior military official who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity has made clear the secretly held terrorist suspects - and the secret sites where they are detained - are not under Pentagon control.
The notion of secret foreign detention was first raised last December in The Washington Post newspaper, which said some captives had been turned over to Egypt, Jordan and Morocco. The Post article expressed concerns the practice could lead to human rights violations or torture.
The Defense Department's chief legal officer confirmed in a letter last month that some terrorist suspects might be transferred "to other countries for continued detention on our behalf."
About 680 detainees are known to be held at the Guantanamo facility in Cuba and another 30 or so are at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Thirty-six other detainees once held by the military have been released.
However, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet told Congress earlier this year, that so far more than 3,000 al-Qaida detainees have been rounded up by the United States and its coalition partners in the war on terrorism.
The Central Intelligence Agency declined comment when asked whether U.S. officials had turned terrorist suspects over to other countries.
VOA learned of the secret detentions while inquiring about an alleged al-Qaida operative named Suleiman Abdalla seized by Kenyan authorities in March. Kenyan officials subsequently said the suspect had been turned over to U.S. authorities and transported to the United States.
But the FBI has denied knowledge of any transfer and a Justice Department spokesman tells VOA the suspect is still in Africa. Other government sources say the man is in custody, but not in U.S. custody.