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EU to probe reports of secret CIA prisons

The European Commission said Thursday it will investigate reports that the CIA set up secret jails in eastern Europe.
/ Source: The Associated Press

European Union officials said Thursday they would investigate a report that the CIA set up secret jails in Eastern Europe to interrogate top al-Qaida suspects. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch in New York said it has evidence indicating the CIA transported suspected terrorists captured in Afghanistan to Poland and Romania.

That conclusion is based on an analysis of flight logs of CIA aircraft from 2001 to 2004 obtained by the group, said Mark Garlasco, a senior military analyst with the organization.

Poland and Romania were among about a dozen nations that denied having CIA facilities in their territory.

In Poland, an aide to President Aleksander Kwasniewski said authorities there had "no information" of such facilities existing there.

"I repeat: We do not have CIA bases in Romania," the country's prime minister, Calin Popescu Tariceanu, said.

Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Georgia and Armenia also issued denials.

Logs match prisoner testimony
Human Rights Watch said it matched the flight patterns of the CIA aircraft with testimony from some of the hundreds of detainees in the war on terrorism who have been released by the United States.

"The indications are that prisoners in Afghanistan are being rendered (taken) to facilities in Europe and other countries in the world," Garlasco told The Associated Press.

"We have been using flight logs of CIA rendition aircraft combined with some witness testimony of people who have been released from Guantanamo and Afghanistan to paint a picture of how the CIA is moving prisoners from Afghanistan to secret detention facilities worldwide," said Garlasco, a former civilian intelligence officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Two destinations of the flights in particular stood out as likely sites of any secret CIA detention centers: Szymany Airport in Poland, which is near the headquarters of Poland's intelligence service; and Mihail Kogalniceanu military airfield in Romania, Garlasco said.

Garlasco would not specify where Human Rights Watch obtained the flight logs, saying the group does not want to get those who furnished the information in trouble and that releasing the information might endanger access to such information in the future.

Human rights violations?
The governments of the EU's 25 members nations will be questioned informally about the allegations, EU spokesman Friso Roscam Abbing said. Poland is a full member of the EU and Romania is a candidate for future membership.

Roscam Abbing said officials from the European Commission's justice and interior affairs departments would contact their counterparts across the EU to assess the truth of the report in Wednesday's editions of The Washington Post.

"We have to find out what is exactly happening," Roscam Abbing said. "We have all heard about this."

He said such prisons could violate EU human rights laws and other European human rights conventions. The commission is responsible for ensuring that EU rules are followed.

"As far as the treatment of prisoners is concerned ... it is clear that all 25 member states having signed up to European Convention on Human Rights, and to the International Convention Against Torture, are due to respect and fully implement the obligations deriving from those treaties," Roscam Abbing told reporters.

He cautioned, however, that the EU head office could not take action against member states if they violated human rights codes.

Longtime concerns
The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that it asked the United States about the report, and to let a representative visit any prisoners if the facility exists.

"We have asked the U.S. authorities to inform us about the detention of these persons, and to give access to ICRC delegates to persons held in undisclosed places of detention," said Antonella Notari, the ICRC's chief spokeswoman. "We think this would be a coherent continuation of our current detention work in U.S. places of detention."

The ICRC, which has had exclusive rights to visit terror suspects detained at a U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere, has long been concerned about reports that U.S. officials were hiding some detainees from ICRC delegates.

Separately, Europe's top human rights organization, the Council of Europe, said it too would investigate whether the claims were true.

On Wednesday, U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley would not confirm or deny the existence of a secret, Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe as described by the Post. The story said the facility was part of a covert prison system set up nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, some of them EU member states.

But Hadley said President Bush's directive banning the torture of terror suspects applies to all prisoners _ even if held in a secret prison.

The story quoted current and former intelligence officials and diplomats.

U.N. not yet involved
Matjaz Gruden, spokesman for Council of Europe chairman Terry Davis, said secret detentions are a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. The treaty is binding on the council's 46 members, many of which belong to the EU.

In September, the council sent a representative to the United States to urge the American government to cease the practice.

"If this was indeed happening on our territory, it would be a violation of Europe's human rights treaty," Gruden said.

The U.N. special investigator on torture, Manfred Nowak, said he had "not received any direct allegation or indirect information concerning any CIA place of detention in Eastern Europe _ in other parts of the world, but not in Eastern Europe."

Speaking by telephone from Austria, Nowak said he was "not investigating this now." He added, however, that U.N. investigators still were seeking "access to all places of detention of suspected terrorists held by the U.S. authorities outside its territory."