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EU: Controversy Heats Up Over Alleged CIA Prisons, Flights

  • Jeffrey Donovan --> A photo taken on 12 March 2004 of a plane suspected of being used by the CIA departing from Spain's Palma de Mallorca airport. (AFP) The European Union today began looking into launching a formal EU probe into allegations that the CIA transported terrorist suspects and held them in secret prisons across Eastern Europe. Fresh media reports, however, suggest that alleged CIA flights carrying terrorist suspects landed mostly in Western Europe. Meanwhile, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch today published a list of 26 "ghost detainees" who are allegedly in secret U.S. custody.

Prague, 1 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The controversy over allegations the CIA ran secret prisons in the EU is heating up.

The European Parliament's civil-liberties committee met today in Brussels to look into whether the 25-nation bloc should launch its own formal investigation into the allegations. Committee members later harshly criticized EU governments for not doing enough to address the allegations. The committee also said the full parliament will decide in mid-December whether to launch a formal probe.

The Council of Europe, the EU's top human-rights body, has already launched its own investigation. And EU president Britain this week sent a letter to Washington expressing concern over the matter. The U.S. administration has so far not confirmed whether the allegations are true.

This week, Franco Frattini, the EU's top justice official, threatened any EU member found to have housed secret CIA prisons with sanctions -- including the unprecedented penalty of losing EU voting rights.
The EU's top justice official has threatened any EU member found to have housed secret CIA prisons with sanctions -- including the unprecedented penalty of losing EU voting rights.
Frattini, speaking yesterday in Brussels, said EU officials will bring up the issue next week when they meet with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Brussels.

"On one hand, we will reaffirm our strategic alliance with the United States. [The] Euro-Atlantic alliance is and will remain a pillar in our European policy towards criminality, terrorism, for security," Frattini said."On the other hand, we have, I repeat, an institutional and moral duty to promote and defend fundamental rights of people."

But is the EU doing enough?

Tom Malinowski of the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) is not so sure.

Today, HRW published a list of 26 "ghost detainees" allegedly in secret U.S. custody -- possibly in the alleged secret facilities in Europe. HRW said the list was compiled from media and government statements as well as information HRW obtained on its own.

Many of the names on the list have been in the public domain for a few years, such as Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the Kuwaiti alleged mastermind of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. His 2003 arrest in Pakistan was headline news, but his whereabouts remain a mystery.

Malinowski said that while all the people on the list are suspected of serious crimes, none has been given legal rights afforded under international treaties that the United States has signed. He also said they may have been tortured.

"If these individuals are to be treated in accordance with the laws of war, then at the very least, they should be granted access to the International Committee for the Red Cross, the places of their detention should be disclosed," Malinowski said. "If we are going to treat them under criminal laws, then they should be prosecuted. One way or another, their basic rights are being violated."

However, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush argues that international treaties, such as the Geneva Conventions, do not apply to some terrorist suspects. The U.S. government has termed such suspects "enemy combatants."

Washington has also repeatedly denied using torture as an interrogation method.

The CIA prison allegations were first made last month in a report by "The Washington Post." The U.S. daily, citing anonymous CIA sources, said the intelligence agency had run secret prisons for terrorist suspects in at least eight Eastern European members of the EU.

The paper did not name specific countries. But a subsequent report by Human Rights Watch claimed to have strong evidence that Poland and Romania housed secret detention facilities.

Both Bucharest and Warsaw have strongly denied the allegations.

Former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, speaking to reporters yesterday in the Polish city of Hel, reiterated that denial.

"There are no such [CIA sponsored] prisons on Poland's territory, there are no such prisoners on Poland's territory," Kwasniewski said. "If there had been any planes landing, the proper authorities have to comment on this. No president is informed about every airplane that lands. I can assure you that there are no such prisons or prisoners held in Poland. And there were none in the past."
"No president is informed about every airplane that lands. I can assure you that there are no such prisons or prisoners held in Poland. And there were none in the past." -- former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski

However, Malinowski told RFE/RL that HRW stands by its report.

"We have specific evidence which is circumstantial; we've never said that we have proof that there are facilities in these countries or that there are facilities," Malinowski said."It's the flight logs of the aircraft that were known to be carrying Al-Qaeda prisoners; in particular, flights that began in Kabul, ended in Guantanamo, and made several stopovers in Poland and Romania -- which really can't be explained by the need to refuel or anything else."

Today, however, a report published by the British daily "The Guardian" suggested that the alleged CIA flights carrying terror suspects landed more frequently in Western Europe than in former Soviet-bloc members of the EU.

The prime ministers of Italy and Spain, speaking to reporters in Rome later the same day, said they have seen no evidence their countries had any involvement in the alleged CIA activities.

"The Guardian" said it had seen flight logs documenting flights by 26 planes operated by the CIA.

While the logs showed regular trips to Eastern Europe, including 15 stops in Prague, only one landing was recorded at an airbase in northeast Poland. That base is an alleged site of a secret CIA jail.

However, the daily said Germany and Britain had the most landings by alleged CIA flights, with 96 visits to Germany and 80 to Britain.

As Europe steps up its efforts to probe the matter, the EU needn't look far to get to the bottom of the matter, according to HRW's Malinowski.

"European intelligence agencies surely know a great deal of what went on," Malinowski said."I think it's important for the EU and EU members to be asking their intelligence agencies to provide that information."

"The Guardian" said it obtained the flight log data from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration data and other sources in the aviation industry. The paper stressed that it is impossible to determine from the logs which, if any, of the flights took part in alleged prisoner transfers.