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Europeans: ‘Many hints’ of CIA prison flights

A report obtained by the Associated Press Tuesday shows that the head of a European probe into alleged secret CIA prisons in eastern Europe is investigating 31 suspected flights that landed in Europe.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The head of a European probe into alleged secret CIA prisons in eastern Europe is investigating 31 suspected flights that landed in Europe and is trying to acquire past satellite images of sites in Romania and Poland, according to a report obtained by The Associated Press Tuesday.

Dick Marty, a Swiss senator leading the investigation for the Council of Europe, presented a first report on his work at a closed meeting of the human rights watchdog’s legal affairs committee in Paris.

Marty said he had asked the Brussels-based Eurocontrol air safety organization to provide details of the 31 suspected flights, a list of which was given to him by the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“I received from Human Rights Watch a list of 31 aircraft alleged to belong to entities with direct or indirect links to the CIA,” Marty said in the report, which is to be made public next week. “It is claimed these were used by the CIA to transport prisoners.”

Only ‘hints’ so far
In an interview with the AP, Marty said there was still no direct proof that secret prisons existed anywhere in Europe, but that there were “many hints, such as suspicious moving patterns of aircraft, that have to be investigated.”

Marty said he had asked the European Union’s Satellite Center in Spain to look up and hand over satellite images of locations in Romania and Poland that were cited by Human Rights Watch as sites of possible CIA secret prisons.

“When we talk about ’prisons,’ they don’t necessarily have to be for many people, they could be cells for a very small group of people,” he said.

Human Rights Watch identified the Kogalniceanu military airfield in Romania and Poland’s Szczytno-Szymany airport as likely sites for secret detention centers. The group says it based its conclusion on flight logs of CIA aircraft from 2001 to 2004 that it had obtained.

Other airports that might have been used by CIA aircraft in some capacity are Palma de Majorca in Spain’s Balearic Islands, Larnaca in Cyprus and Shannon in Ireland, Marty’s report said.

Allegations that the CIA hid and interrogated key al-Qaida suspects at Soviet-era compounds in Eastern Europe were first reported in The Washington Post on Nov. 2. The paper did not identify the countries involved. A day after the report appeared, Human Rights Watch said it had evidence indicating the CIA transported suspected terrorists captured in Afghanistan to Poland and Romania.

‘Not a crusade against America’
The parliamentary assembly of the Council appointed Marty two weeks ago to investigate the paper’s claims. Marty said the Council had a “moral obligation” to investigate, but that the inquiry was not meant to spark anti-American feelings or question the U.S. fight against terrorism.

“This is absolutely not a crusade against America. I think all Europeans agree with Americans that we must fight terrorism, all Europeans lived through 9/11 with Americans,” he told the AP. “We do not want to weaken the fight against terrorism ... but this fight has to be fought by legal means. Wrongdoing only gives ammunition to both the terrorists and their sympathizers.”

Marty cited the extradition of a radical Muslim cleric to Egypt in 2003 as an example of illegal practices that need to be investigated.

The Egyptian cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was allegedly abducted in Milan in February 2003 and flown to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, then to Egypt, where he reportedly was tortured. Nasr is believed to belong to an Islamic terrorist group.

The operation was said to be part of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program, in which terror suspects are transferred to third countries without court approval, subjecting them to possible ill-treatment.

“He was taken on a tour of Europe. It was handled in an absolutely illegal way,” Marty said.