Europe shocked by CIA prison camp claims

By GARETH HARDING, Chief European Correspondent  |  Nov. 3, 2005 at 11:31 AM
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BRUSSELS, Nov. 3 (UPI) -- Allegations that the Central Intelligence Agency is running prison camps for suspected al-Qaida terrorists in Eastern Europe have sparked howls of protest from EU legislators and human rights groups, but strenuous denials from politicians in Poland -- one of the countries said to host the secret jails.

Human Rights Watch Thursday released fresh information they say indicates Poland, an EU member state, and Romania -- which is expected to join the bloc in 2007 -- both have, or had, CIA prisons on their territories. Vanessa Saenen, a spokeswoman for the advocacy group in Brussels, said flight records showed a CIA-commissioned Boeing 737 made frequent stops between Afghanistan, Iraq and the two former communist countries after 2002.

On Sept. 22, 2003, flight records obtained by Human Rights Watch showed that a plane from the Afghan capital Kabul touched down in Szymany, a military airport in northeast Poland. The following day, the same plane -- with the registration number N313P -- landed in Mihail Kojalniceanu military airport in Romania. Both airports are closed to the public and press, although U.S. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld made a courtesy call to the latter base in Oct. 2004, according to the lobby group.

The claims have been corroborated by a Washington Post story Wednesday that revealed details of eight "black sites" -- as the covert prisons are referred to in classified White House, CIA and Justice Department documents -- in South Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. They have also been given credence by Czech Interior Minister Frantiszek Bublan, who told the news agency that the U.S. administration approached Prague to build a camp, but the request was turned down by the Czechs.

"What is happening in these camps is illegal," said Saenen. "You cannot just arrest people without trail, transport them halfway across the globe and not give them access to a lawyer. Even terrorist suspects are guaranteed basic rights -- such as the right not to be tortured."

Members of the European Parliament, who have been highly critical of incidents of abuse of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay by U.S. troops, are also up in arms about the charges. "It is deeply disturbing that European countries are involved in acts that are illegal under international law and the European Convention on Human Rights," said Claude Moraes, a British legislator from Prime Minister Tony Blair's governing Labor Party. Calling on the U.K. presidency of the European Union to look into the claims, Moraes said: "No EU member state should be let off the hook when the club's moral code is breached and when there is prima facie of malpractice occurring."

The United States government has refused to confirm or deny the allegations. Officials in Poland -- one of Washington's staunchest allies in Europe -- are adamant there are no U.S. 'gulags' on their territory.

"It is extremely unlikely," Janusz Onyszkiewicz, an EU legislator and former defense minister, told United Press International. "I don't think our cooperation with the United States goes that far. Besides, these kind of goings-on would have been spotted and leaked to the press by now."

The European Commission waded into the rapidly escalating transatlantic row Thursday, pledging to investigate the allegations. "I don't think we have such things as secret prisons in the European Union, fortunately," spokesman Friso Roscam Abbing told reporters.

Pressed on whether the existence of such camps would contravene EU law, Roscam Abbing added: "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."

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