Uproar over secret prisons

European and U.S. human rights groups seek answers on alleged CIA camps for terror suspects in Poland and Romania.

Published November 4, 2005 4:39PM (EST)

Pressure was growing on the United States and its new allies in eastern Europe Thursday night amid allegations that the CIA has been interrogating al-Qaida suspects at former Soviet camps in Poland and Romania. The Red Cross and the European Commission intervened after Human Rights Watch claimed a covert system of jails was set up in eastern Europe after Sept. 11, 2001.

The commission announced that it would ask questions in Washington, Poland and Romania. The Red Cross demanded access to the camps, its chief spokeswoman, Antonella Notari, saying: "We have asked the U.S. authorities to inform us about the detention of these persons, and to give access to ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] delegates to persons held in undisclosed places of detention." Her remarks came after the Washington Post reported on Wednesday that secret detention facilities, known as "black sites," have been set up by the United States. Known to only a handful of U.S. officials, the sites are reported to hold the top 30 al-Qaida suspects.

Poland and Romania were identified as the main sites after Human Rights Watch studied the logs of a Boeing 757 jet -- with a tail-plane registration N313P -- which is widely alleged to fly terror suspects outside the United States. The group found that in September 2003 the plane flew from Kabul, Afghanistan, to Szymany Airport near the Polish town of Szczytno, north of Warsaw, where a training camp for the Polish intelligence service is based. From there the plane flew to the Mihail Kogalniceanu military air base near the Romanian city of Constanta on the Black Sea -- which the Pentagon has been upgrading -- before heading to Morocco and then on to Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, the notorious prison for al-Qaida suspects.

Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch said: "It is highly probable that the flight was transporting prisoners because Guantánamo was the final destination ... We do not believe the stops were for refueling -- if you're flying from Kabul to Guantánamo Bay you do not stop off at a small rural airfield in Poland, [and] head south to Romania before flying to Cuba via Morocco."

Romania and Poland denied the claims. Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu said: "I repeat: We do not have CIA bases in Romania." An aide to Aleksander Kwasniewski, outgoing Polish president, told the Associated Press that the government had "no information" on any CIA facilities.

But the European Commission said it would be asking the United States, Romania and Poland whether the reports were true, on the grounds that the facilities could fall afoul of the European Convention on Human Rights and the international Convention Against Torture. Friso Roscam Abbing, the commission's justice spokesman, said: "We have to find out what is exactly happening. We have all heard about this, then we have to see if it is confirmed."

If confirmed, Poland and Romania could be rebuked by the European Union. Poland, a U.S. ally that joined the E.U. last year, could be in breach of Article 6 of the Treaty of Nice, which calls on all member states to uphold basic human rights.

This article has been provided by the Guardian through a special arrangement with Salon. ) Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005. Visit the Guardian's Web site at http://www.guardian.co.uk.

By Nicholas Watt

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