Daily archives: November 8, 2005

EU eyes alleged CIA jails

By ALAN FREEMAN in Globe and Mail.com

WASHINGTON – European officials have vowed to investigate reports that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency set up a network of “ghost prisons” in Poland, Romania and elsewhere in Eastern Europe to interrogate al-Qaeda suspects, far away from the peering eyes of human-rights activists, the press and the courts.

“We have to find out exactly what is happening,” said Friso Roscam Abbing, a spokesman for the European Union in Brussels, who said the 25 EU governments would be questioned about the reports. He pointed out that the existence of these prisons could violate EU human-rights rules and the International Convention Against Torture.

Officials in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and other former Soviet-bloc nations have all denied that their territory had been used to host the secret jails.

“There have been official statements from ex-ministers and they are all officially denying that any such operations took place on the territory of Poland,” a spokesman for the Polish embassy in Washington said, adding that Warsaw’s newly appointed defence and interior ministers also have denied the allegations.

“I repeat. We do not have CIA bases in Romania,” Romanian Prime Minister Popescu Tariceanu said. But in the Czech Republic, Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan is reported to have said that his government recently turned down a U.S. request to build a prison for al-Qaeda captives.

The governments were reacting to a report on Wednesday in The Washington Post that the CIA has been imprisoning and interrogating some of its top al-Qaeda suspects at the network of prisons, which were set up after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

The newspaper declined to publish the names of the Eastern European countries involved at the request of U.S. officials, who argued that the disclosure could disrupt efforts to combat terrorism. But Human Rights Watch corroborated the story and named Poland and Romania as sites for the clandestine prisons.

“They did it so they could abuse these people without anybody knowing,” said Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch, who is concerned that the CIA is using unconventional interrogation methods at these facilities at a time when there is increasing oversight of the main prisons for terrorist suspects near Kabul, Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Mr. Garlasco said that researchers at Human Rights Watch had been tracking the movements of aircraft chartered by the CIA for “extraordinary renditions,” the practice of extraditing suspects across international boundaries without following normal court procedures.

A prime example of such a rendition was the arrest of Canadian Maher Arar in 2002 at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, his transfer to Jordan and eventually to his birthplace of Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured for a year.

Mr. Garlasco cited the movement of a Boeing 737 aircraft that departed from Washington on Sept. 20, 2003, and stopped at the Ruzyne airport outside Prague, Czech Republic, on Sept. 21 before flying on the same day to a U.S. base outside of Tashkent in Uzbekistan.

On Sept. 22, the same plane flew to Kabul, and then to Szymany airport near Szczytno in Poland, Mikhail Kogalniceanu airport in Constanta, Romania and Sal’ airport in Rabat, Morocco.

On Sept. 23, the plane flew from Morocco to its ultimate destination in Guantanamo Bay. “It’s the torture shuttle,” said Mr. Garlasco, who added quickly that he had no proof torture had taken place.

Mr. Garlasco believes the CIA was using a Soviet-era prison outside Szymany, in northern Poland, to hold and interrogate prisoners. But he added that the flight logs he has inspected only go through 2004, and it is possible some of the prisons may have been shut down. One such prison, located in Thailand, was closed in 2003, according to the Post.

Stephen Hadley, U.S. President George W. Bush’s national security adviser, told reporters on Wednesday that he would not discuss intelligence operations, but he added that even though the government would do “what is necessary” to defend the United States against terrorism, “we’re going to do that in a way that is consistent with our values.”

Despite the assurances, CIA interrogators are allowed to use what are known as “enhanced interrogation techniques” in these overseas locations, even though the methods are banned by U.S. military law. Among the techniques that can be used is “waterboarding,” where prisoners are strapped to boards and their heads held underwater until they believe they will drown.

Legislation recently approved by a large majority in the U.S. Senate would ban the use of cruel and degrading treatment of anyone in U.S. custody but Vice-President Dick Cheney has pleaded with the senators to allow the CIA to be exempted from the proposed law.

Covert prisons

The United States is believed to have been using a network of covert prison camps called ‘black sites’ in foreign countries to detain suspected terrorists since 2001. Run by the CIA, and known as ‘extraordinary rendition’ captives are flown to countries where torture is suspected of being used in interrogation.

Main prisons: Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,

Black site locations: Poland, Czech Republic, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Thailand, Indian Ocean: Diego Garcia, U.S. ships USS Bataam, USS Peleliu

Transfer of suspects to foreign country: Jordan, Morocco, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Oman, Qatar, Yemen, Thailand

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Polish officials admit mystery plane landed at remote airport but deny CIA link

From CNews

SZCZYTNO, Poland (AP) – At midnight on an autumn night two years ago, a Boeing passenger plane with seven people carrying U.S. passports touched down at a little-used airport deep in the pine forests of northeastern Poland, officials said.

Confirmation of the mysterious arrival came after a human rights group said evidence pointed to Szczytno-Szymany airport as a CIA transfer site for al-Qaida prisoners.

Airport officials and border guards said the plane landed at the former military base Sept. 22, 2003 – the date Human Rights Watch said a Boeing 737 that was part of the prisoner-transfer scheme was at the airport. But authorities – including the airport’s former director – denied any knowledge of prisoner transfers.

New York City-based Human Rights Watch said the U.S. government may have used Sczytno-Szymany airport for secret transfers of terror suspects captured in Afghanistan, citing flight logs and unnamed sources. Polish government officials dismiss the report and U.S. officials have refused to confirm or deny the claims.

Polish border guards spokesman Maj. Roman Krzeminski said records show on Sept. 22, 2003 a plane landed at the airport carrying seven people with U.S. passports and took on board five other people with U.S. passports who were waiting at the airport and whose documents said they came to Poland on business. He said the plane spent about an hour at the airport before taking off.

Former airport director Mariola Przewloczka described the plane as a Boeing and said border guards drove out to meet the plane on the runway, instead of having the occupants enter the airport terminal.

“After the plane landed two vans drove out to meet it with border control officials,” said Przewloczka.

“The whole thing lasted a little over a half an hour.” But she and other officials said they did not know where the plane came from or where it went.

Several local residents said they had not noticed any unusual flights. “I didn’t see anything, nothing,” said Marek Wyrzykowski, a farm labourer who lives in a village next to the airport. “Taliban? There’s no Taliban here.”

Human Rights Watch said Thursday it has evidence indicating the CIA transported suspected terrorists captured in Afghanistan to Poland and Romania. The conclusion is based on an analysis of flight logs of CIA aircraft from 2001 to 2004 obtained by the group, said Mark Garlasco, a senior military analyst with the organization.

The U.S. government has been criticized by human rights groups for practising “extraordinary rendition” – sending suspected terrorists to foreign countries, where they are detained, interrogated and allegedly tortured.

Allegations the United States has operated secret prisons in Eastern Europe and elsewhere were published this week in the Washington Post newspaper, prompting a string of denials from governments in the former Soviet sphere. European Union officials, the Council of Europe – the continent’s top human rights organization – and the international Red Cross all said they would look into the issue.

European officials said such prisons would violate the continent’s human rights principles.

In Romania, aviation officials and the military denied Human Rights Watch allegations the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base may have been used by the CIA as a detention facility as well. The Kogalniceanu base, near the Black Sea port city Constanta, was used by the United States for troops and equipment during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The U.S. military evacuated its remaining forces in June 2003.

“When the Americans were here there were so many civilians working there, people would have found out about it,” Dan Buciuman, the base commander, said. Garlasco said one of the CIA flights was a Boeing 737 that in September 2003 flew from Washington to Kabul, Afghanistan, via Ruzyne in the Czech Republic and Tashkent, Uzbekistan, he said.

He said that plane then departed Afghanistan for Szczytno-Szymany Airport on Sept. 22, continued to Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base and Sale, Morocco, and finally landed at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba.

The Szczytno-Szymany Airport is in extensive forests outside the town Sczytno near Poland’s Masurian Lakes in northeastern Poland. It’s not an operating airport but planes can land if prior arrangement is made; only one small single-engined plane was parked there Friday and there were no takeoffs or landings.

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