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U.S.: Washington Declines To Comment On Reports Of Secret Global Prison System

U.S. officials are declining to comment on a report that Washington has set up a secret global prison system for terrorist suspects. The report, in the U.S. daily "The Washington Post" on 2 November said the system includes facilities in Eastern Europe and elsewhere around the world. It comes amid criticism at home and abroad of U.S. policy towards prisoners taken in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Prague, 3 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Since the report came out Wednesday reporters have asked various U.S. officials for comment.

But so far no one has confirmed or denied its key claim -- that the U.S. has a network of secret terror prisons around the world.

"As you can appreciate, they [reports] raise some issues about possible intelligence operations," U.S. national security adviser Stephen Hadley said on 2 November. "And as you know, we don't talk about intelligence operations from this podium."

"While we have to do what we -- do what is necessary to defend the country against terrorists attacks and to win the war on terror, the president [George W. Bush] has been very clear that we're going to do that in a way that is consistent with our values," Hadley continued." And that is why he's been very clear that the United States will not torture. The United States will conduct its activities in compliance with law and international obligations."

The "Washington Post" said the prison system was set up some four years ago, in the months after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Without U.S. Legal Restrictions

The idea was to allow the CIA to secretly hold Al-Qaeda captives and other high-profile terrorist suspects for as long as deemed necessary and without U.S. legal restrictions.

It said that at various times these secret prisons -- called "black sites" -- have been in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan, and in Eastern Europe.

It didn't say where exactly in Eastern Europe -- the names of the countries were withheld because U.S. officials feared it could make them potential terrorist targets.

If the report's claims are true, it should come as no surprise, says Human Rights Watch military analyst Marc Garlasco.

"The CIA has these aircraft that they use to move people around, they're called renditions, bringing prisoners from Afghanistan through any part of the world that they would like," Garlasco said. "And by following the flight logs of the aircraft, we're able to then see the planes actually leaving from Langley, Virginia, for example, where CIA is, or in some military facilities, and then fly over to Europe to be refueled, go to Afghanistan to pick up prisoners and then go to various parts of the world, whether they are in the Middle East, or in Eastern Europe or wherever else it is that prisoners need to be brought."

The "Post" said some 100 suspects have been sent into the covert system. But it says virtually nothing is known about who is held, the interrogation methods used, or how decisions are made about how long they are detained.

The report comes amid criticism of the U.S. treatment of prisoners taken abroad, in particular the inmate abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghurayb prison.


"Renditions" have also come under greater scrutiny, with opposition politicians in the U.S. pressing for a review of the practice.

Some critics say if it's true the U.S. is holding suspects in secret abroad, this can only play into the hands of America's enemies.

"We are no better than people we are criticizing if we want to use every single tactic possible," said analyst James Bamford, who has written several books on U.S. intelligence services. "We have become our enemy basically. Which is basically what people like Osama Bin Laden would like. Blowing up a building is one thing, changing the entire society so that the entire world hates the United States is a far bigger success."

The "Washington Post" report has already prompted comments from several countries.

Thailand denied it was ever involved in the scheme. And Russia, Romania, and Bulgaria said no facilities were on their territory.

But there was confirmation of a sort from the Czech Interior Minister.

Frantisek Bublan said the Czech government last month turned down a U.S. request to hold terror suspects on its territory.