The US will no longer hold terror suspects in secret prisons and plans to shut down any facilities still in operation, CIA Director Leon Panetta has said, marking the latest reversal of terrorism policy by the new administration.
President Barack Obama has already ordered the eventual closure of the controversial prison camp in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and repealed some of the harsh interrogation tactics used under president George W Bush.
The Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) secret prisons in foreign countries came under sharp condemnation from human-rights groups for treatment of Al-Qaeda terrorist suspects. A report leaked last month from the International Committee of the Red Cross said the CIA's interrogations amounted to torture.
"CIA no longer operates detention facilities or black sites and has proposed a plan to decommission the remaining sites," Panetta said on Thursday in a letter to staff that was released on the CIA's website.
Panetta said the CIA still reserved the right to hold suspects for a brief period before handing them over to military authorities.
Bush in 2006 first acknowledged the existence of the secret prisons, which were used to hold high-profile suspects including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the attacks on Sep 11, 2001.
The prisons' existence caused problems for some governments in Europe and Asia who allegedly were aware of the facilities. A European Union report in 2007 singled out Poland and Romania for allowing CIA prisons on their soil from 2002-05, but both denied any knowledge.
Panetta said that the CIA had already stopped all of the so-called 'enhanced interrogation' practices in place during the Bush administration.
"CIA will continue to honour the law as we defend the United States, as we have done since the beginning of this programme," Panetta said.
In the first week of his presidency in January, Obama issued executive orders to close Guantanamo within a year and to ensure that the US 'does not torture'.