<!-- IMAGE -->

The head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency said the United States is no longer using secret prisons overseas to detain and interrogate terror suspects.

CIA Director Leon Panetta said in a letter to employees Thursday that the spy agency plans to permanently shut down the facilities.

The administration of former President George W. Bush was criticized for using the secret prisons in the war on terrorism, with critics saying that detainees could be tortured outside the reach of U.S. judicial system.

The Bush administration had said the United States does not condone or conduct torture.

President Barack Obama has stipulated that all U.S. interrogations will be guided by the U.S. Army Field Manual - which forbids harsh techniques like waterboarding that were used during the Bush administration. 

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.