June 8, 2007 / 6:54 AM / 12 years ago

Secret CIA jails hosted by Poland, Romania: watchdog

PARIS (Reuters) - A European investigator said on Friday he had proof Poland and Romania hosted secret prisons for the Central Intelligence Agency in which it interrogated top al Qaeda suspects using methods akin to torture.

Romanian soldiers close the gate of a hangar at an airbase east of Bucharest, indicated by Human Rights Watch as a possible location for a covert prison allegedly used by the CIA, in a 2005 file photo. A European investigator says he has proof Poland and Romania hosted secret CIA prisons under a post-9/11 pact to hunt down and interrogate "high value" terrorist suspects wanted by the United States. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel

Swiss senator Dick Marty said Poland housed some of the CIA’s most sensitive prisoners, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who says he masterminded the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States that killed almost 3,000 people.

“There is now enough evidence to state that secret detention facilities run by the CIA did exist in Europe from 2003-2005, in particular in Poland and Romania,” Marty said in a report for the Council of Europe human rights watchdog.

He said U.S. intelligence and other sources told him the two European Union members hosted the secret jails under a special CIA program, created by President George W. Bush’s administration after 9/11 “to ‘kill, capture and detain’ terrorist suspects deemed of ‘high value’”.

Marty said the former president of Poland and the current and former presidents of Romania knew and approved of their countries’ roles in a “global spider’s web” of secret CIA detentions and transfers, known as extraordinary renditions.

He said the proof of his charges was confirmed in interviews with over 30 serving, retired or contract workers for U.S. or European intelligence services, but he had not seen the text of any U.S. agreement with Poland or Romania on secret prisons.

Germany and Italy had used “state secrecy” to obstruct investigations, said Marty. His report, after a 19-month probe, could embarrass European governments, which have criticized the detention without trial of suspects at Guantanamo Bay.

POLITICAL APPROVAL

Marty’s report was issued as 26 Americans, mostly suspected CIA agents, went on trial in absentia in Italy for kidnapping a Muslim there in 2003 and flying him to Egypt as part of Washington’s rendition policy.

The Council of Europe’s evidence could be valid in some courts if rules allowed judges to accept it while guaranteeing the confidentiality of the source.

The report found Poland’s then-president Aleksander Kwasniewski and three other named officials were aware of and could be held accountable for the CIA secret prisons in Poland.

Suspects were flown from Kabul and elsewhere to Szymany airport in northern Poland, with dummy flight logs submitted to disguise the destination, Marty said. They were met at the runway by teams of Americans in vans and driven through a pine forest to the alleged detention centre at nearby Stare Kiejkuty.

Marty said CIA sources confirmed to him that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and another top al Qaeda captive, Abu Zubaydah, were held in Poland and subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques”, which he called a euphemism for torture.

The Polish Foreign Ministry said there were no such secret centers and former Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski, one of those named, told Reuters:

“Marty’s work is pure political fiction...It is a waste of time and a waste of money.”

Romanian President Traian Basescu, former president Ion Iliescu and former defense minister Ioan Mircea Pascu were among those who “knew about, authorized and stand accountable” for Romania’s role in the CIA program, Marty said.

The Romanian Foreign Ministry said the report contained “no evidence to confirm these allegations, except for unnamed sources, whose credibility cannot be estimated.”

The European Commission said it was “very concerned indeed” and urged Romania and Poland to hold independent investigations.

Marty said the facilities were run directly and exclusively by the CIA, which exploited NATO’s granting of blanket overflight clearance and access to airfields to carry out clandestine operations in a broad range of countries.

Bush confirmed in September the CIA had run secret interrogation centers abroad but named no country.

A CIA spokesman said Europe had been the source of “grossly inaccurate allegations about the CIA”.

Marty told reporters: “Hundreds and hundreds of people were kidnapped, tortured, detained illegally, some of them for year after year, then released without a word of apology, with no compensation.”

“I find that indecent, I find that intolerable in a free and democratic society.”

Additional reporting by Mark Trevelyan in London, Dave Graham in Berlin, Natalia Reiter in Warsaw, Luiza Ilie in Bucharest

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