LONDON Renewed charges that Poland and Romania hosted CIA secret prisons are not supported by hard proof and the European Union has little appetite to probe deeper, diplomats and parliamentarians say.
Nineteen months after the allegations first surfaced, European investigator Dick Marty said last week it was now "proven" that both countries housed senior terrorist suspects at secret sites where the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency subjected them to aggressive interrogation amounting to torture.
For Marty, the "proof" lay in interviews with more than 30 U.S. and European intelligence sources, some of whom he quoted verbatim in his 72-page report for the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog.
But the price of getting them to talk -- a promise of anonymity -- was high: it allowed the Polish and Romanian governments to repeat their denials and attack his credibility.
"It's not enough for me. We have to see proofs ... Without the names, it's a problem for us," said Wolfgang Kreissl-Doerfler, a member of a European Parliament committee which has also investigated secret prisons.
"He doesn't really present any proof in the report itself, he merely claims he has it. I can't say how reliable or unreliable his sources may have been," said a senior European diplomat who specializes in security issues.
The stakes for both countries are potentially high. EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini said in November 2005 that if reports of secret CIA prisons in Europe were true, states would face serious consequences including the possible suspension of their EU voting rights.
But despite comments from a Commission spokesman last week that Poland and Romania should hold urgent, independent investigations, there is no enthusiasm among member states for "digging up dirt" on the pair, the European diplomat said.
"You don't go around asking unpleasant questions to partners like that," he said.
Such probing could rebound awkwardly against countries such as Italy and Germany, which were themselves criticized by Marty for hiding behind state secrecy to obstruct investigations of CIA operations involving their own nationals or territory.
Suspension of a member's voting rights is in any case hardly conceivable because it could paralyze the workings of the EU.
"Any state that gets its voting rights blocked would probably find a dozen ways of so undermining the Council that it's not fun for anybody else," the diplomat said. Attempts to isolate Austria after a far-rightist party joined the government in 2000 "failed miserably after six months", the diplomat noted.
Kreissl-Doerfler, a Social Democrat politician from Germany, said Marty's report could prompt the European Parliament to reopen its own investigation.
But he criticized Marty for keeping his findings to himself and failing to share his alleged proof with the parliament committee before it finalized its own report in February.
"The problem is, Marty never worked very well together with the European Parliament," Kreissl-Doerfler told Reuters. "If he had this proof, why didn't he give it to us? We have more force than the Council (of Europe)."
What Marty and many commentators agree on is that the allegations are not going away. Marty wrote that some of his sources might be willing to testify publicly in future if circumstances changed.
German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung said the best chance of getting at the truth may lie in efforts by the Democrat-led U.S. Congress to probe aspects of the way the war on terrorism has been waged. President George W. Bush has acknowledged secret CIA prisons existed, but has not disclosed where.
"If those responsible in the CIA are really held accountable, Poland and Romania may be still be threatened with compromising revelations," the paper said in a commentary.
"The same applies to Germany or Italy. Then Marty's suppositions could yet be followed by genuine proofs."