The Washington Post’s Dana Priest is doing Congressional oversight work this morning. On the heels of yesterday’s closed session in the US Senate, this article stings. And it should.

The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

The hidden global internment network is a central element in the CIA’s unconventional war on terrorism. It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA’s covert actions.

So, let me get this straight. The existence of these facilities has been kept from the very people who are supposed to be providing oversight of the conduct of our personnel running them?

And why would that be, pray tell? Perhaps because our personnel are conducting themselves in a manner that is beyond what the laws and our moral code allow — just like, erm, say a pattern of behavior shown at such lovely vaction spots as Guantanimo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and Bagram? Lovely.

And, who knows about what might be going on and is providing any sort of oversight?

The existence and locations of the facilities — referred to as “black sites” in classified White House, CIA, Justice Department and congressional documents — are known to only a handful of officials in the United States and, usually, only to the president and a few top intelligence officers in each host country.

Oh, great. That makes me feel better. The Preznit knows all about it and is making sure everything is on the up and up. (You can literally see my eyes rolling, can’t you? Look of disgust? Check.)

But we put a lot of thought into this before setting up the system and implementing these actions right? I mean, gee, there was a whole lot of consideration on this by Gonzales (got promoted to Attorney General), Addington (now the VP’s Chief of Staff), and lots of others, right? Making sure we were not fully in violation of the Geneva Conventions and all, to protect our own soldiers down the road as much as anything else, right?

Erm….not so much.

Mid-level and senior CIA officers began arguing two years ago that the system was unsustainable and diverted the agency from its unique espionage mission.

“We never sat down, as far as I know, and came up with a grand strategy,” said one former senior intelligence officer who is familiar with the program but not the location of the prisons. “Everything was very reactive. That’s how you get to a situation where you pick people up, send them into a netherworld and don’t say, ‘What are we going to do with them afterwards?’

Like everything else about this Administration that has pissed me off, again the long-term consequences and the moral implications of this over the long haul were pushed aside for expediency’s sake. Lovely. How was this initially set up?

Six days after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush signed a sweeping finding that gave the CIA broad authorization to disrupt terrorist activity, including permission to kill, capture and detain members of al Qaeda anywhere in the world.

It could not be determined whether Bush approved a separate finding for the black-sites program, but the consensus among current and former intelligence and other government officials interviewed for this article is that he did not have to.

Rather, they believe that the CIA general counsel’s office acted within the parameters of the Sept. 17 finding. The black-site program was approved by a small circle of White House and Justice Department lawyers and officials, according to several former and current U.S. government and intelligence officials.

Great, so the parameters were not narrowly drawn to serve a specific purpose but, rather, were writ in broadly sweeping terms by a President who could have given a rats ass about the long term moral, ethical and legal implications by comparison to his need for immediate revenge and the satisfaction of his need to “bring it on.” Just great.

Look, I am not so naive to think that there are not instances where crossing the line — or several lines — isn’t necessary to prevent loss of life or massive catastrophe. To be the person who has to make that on the spot decision as to what conduct is or is not appropriate for the matter at hand is a blessing — those people have to live with those demons for the rest of their lives, and they are often demons acquired protecting the rest of us.

But this…this conduct goes well beyond that occasional, instantaneous sort of behavior in response to a crisis situation. This is approved, systemic torture and circumvention of our laws of due process, and deliberate snubbing of the laws of those countries housing these black sites.

It is wrong. It is shameful. And it only serves to manufacture more and more terrorists to rise up against us, by making this nation look as though we all support this behavior.

And further review? That’s happening, right, as our needs and perspectives shift over time?

Several former and current intelligence officials, as well as several other U.S. government officials with knowledge of the program, express frustration that the White House and the leaders of the intelligence community have not made it a priority to decide whether the secret internment program should continue in its current form, or be replaced by some other approach.

Erm…not so much. Great.

There is at least some hope now for some transparency, some Congressional oversight, and some reform, right?

But the revelations of widespread prisoner abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq by the U.S. military — which operates under published rules and transparent oversight of Congress — have increased concern among lawmakers, foreign governments and human rights groups about the opaque CIA system. Those concerns escalated last month, when Vice President Cheney and CIA Director Porter J. Goss asked Congress to exempt CIA employees from legislation already endorsed by 90 senators that would bar cruel and degrading treatment of any prisoner in U.S. custody.

Ahhhh, well Cheney’s involvement in trying to exempt CIA personnel from the McCain-sponsored legislation and Porter Goss’ appointment to be Director of CIA are so much clearer now, aren’t they?

Here’s a clue for all those “patriots” who are frothing at the mouth saying you can’t coddle terrorists and that “liburals” want to give them therapy and lawyers: John McCain knows a hell of a lot more about torture than most people. And he’s as disgusted by this crap as I am.

Wake the hell up — we either stand for our principles, even in the days when it is dark and difficult — especially then — or we might as well just give up because the terrorists will have won. Governmentally implemented programs of systemic torture. It’s no wonder we are keeping some of these prisoners in former Soviet facilities. Stalin would have been envious of what we’ve achieved here.

UPDATE: CNN and the AP have this story, too.

UPDATE #2: The New York Times has a related story on the proposed McCain anti-torture regs and the debate within the Pentagon and among Administration personnel/CIA/DoD on this. Looks like the pro-Cheney and anti-Cheney camps are working this into a pitched battle.

A central player in the fight over the directive is David S. Addington, who was the vice president’s counsel until he was named on Monday to succeed I. Lewis Libby Jr. as Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff. According to several officials, Mr. Addington verbally assailed a Pentagon aide who was called to brief him and Mr. Libby on the draft, objecting to its use of language drawn from Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

“He left bruised and bloody,” one Defense Department official said of the Pentagon aide, Matthew C. Waxman, Mr. Rumsfeld’s chief adviser on detainee issues. “He tried to champion Article 3, and Addington just ate him for lunch.”

Despite his vehemence, Mr. Addington did not necessarily win the argument, officials said. They predicted that it would be settled by Mr. Rumsfeld after consultation with other agencies.

You remember Mr. Addington, the VP’s new Chief of Staff, appointed to replace the indicted old one?

Seems to me that some of the long-timers at the State Department, the CIA, the DoD and elsewhere in the government have had enough. And this information coming out now, when Cheney is at a weak point, is calculated to twist that knife deeper into his back.

UPDATE #3: Got a couple of questions from people who think I’m trying to say that torture is an a-okay choice. Wanted to clarify where I stand on this — well, not so much clarify, because there are some things that are just muddy in this and that’s all there is to it for me — but perhaps at least make it a little more clear.

Personally, I think torture yields bad results in intel, regardless of the reasons used, and for that reason alone shouldn’t be used — not even getting into the numerous ethical and other arguments against it that are valid and long-argued worldwide, including in Israel and other areas where domestic threats are constant and ongoing.

That said, I’ve been around the block with drug enforcement cases and other undercover domestic criminal matters (in cases I’ve prosecuted) to know that sometimes a spur of the moment decision has to be made when lives are endangered that might not otherwise be made with additional time and thought on the subject matter. What I think needs to happen is more public discussion of this — the cleansing public light of scrutiny — along with some actual Congressional oversight, not just the lip service crap we’ve been getting. All we know now on the policies is the selective leaking we’ve seen in the papers — and, frighteningly, that also seems to be all a whole lot of Senators and Congresspeople know.

Torture, under any circumstances, is morally reprehensible, and against everything I think is appropriate in terms of behavior. But there is a whole lot of gray out there in the world — some of which I’ve seen up close and personal in some of the cases I’ve prosecuted and in some of the people I represented as a criminal defense attorney — and for that reason, I’m not willing to say that I should be the ultimate arbiter of all things on this, just based on my own understanding that individual cases sometimes require individual solutions. But should there be some bright line rules on what is and is not gray — and how far over any individual line anyone is allowed to even consider going — or not going at all? Absolutely. That is the job of Congress and the Administration and, I think everyone can agree, they’ve been failing miserably at that.