European Inquiry Fails to Confirm Secret CIA Prisons

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 25, 2006

BERLIN, Jan. 24 -- A European human rights investigator on Tuesday accused the United States of "unacceptable and appalling" tactics in the fight against terrorism but said he was unable to independently confirm reports of secret prisons run by the CIA in Eastern Europe.

In an interim report presented to the Council of Europe, the continent's official human rights watchdog group, Dick Marty, a Swiss parliamentarian, also accused European governments of either collaborating or looking the other way as U.S. intelligence officers abducted or secretly detained terrorism suspects on European soil.

"We can say that there is a great deal of coherent, convergent evidence pointing to the existence of a system of 'relocation' or 'outsourcing' of torture," he wrote in his report, the product of a two-month investigation. "Europe must clearly and unambiguously declare that it refuses outright to tolerate such doings in its territory, or anywhere else."

Marty has only limited powers to compel individuals and governments to cooperate. His report offered no fresh evidence to support his allegations, and he relied primarily on media reports and previously documented cases to draw his conclusions. In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack dismissed the findings as the "same old reports wrapped up in some new rhetoric."

The Council of Europe commissioned the investigation after The Washington Post reported in November that the CIA had operated secret prisons for high-level al Qaeda figures in Eastern Europe since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Post has not published the names of the East European countries involved in the covert program at the request of senior U.S. officials, who argued that it could disrupt counterterrorism efforts and make those nations a target for terrorists.

Marty said he could not find any "formal, irrefutable evidence" of CIA detention centers in Eastern Europe. He said he had recently obtained satellite data and flight logs from European agencies that could offer clues, however, and cited other "reliable" sources that justified his ongoing investigation.

"I know it will be a long and difficult path," he said in a telephone interview from Council of Europe headquarters in Strasbourg, France, when asked if he expected to find concrete answers. "But as far as the truth is concerned, I am fundamentally optimistic."

Marty criticized European governments as being less than candid about their role in or knowledge of U.S. counterterrorism operations on the continent. U.S. officials have said they routinely notify or partner with allied intelligence agencies when conducting such missions.

In London, British officials have fended off accusations that they allowed the CIA to use British airspace and military bases to carry out operations known as "extraordinary renditions," the abduction of terrorist suspects who are then handed over to other countries for interrogation.

On Monday, Prime Minister Tony Blair said the British government had been "extremely open" about renditions and had received no recent requests from the United States for the use of British airspace. The government has previously said it had received U.S. requests dating before Sept. 11, 2001, but none since then.

But a Foreign Office memo written in early December and published by the New Statesman magazine in the issue dated Jan. 23 suggested that the government was not being entirely forthcoming. It advised British officials to "try to avoid getting drawn on detail" about the debate. Citing two renditions that occurred in 1998, the memo said, "The papers we have unearthed so far suggest there could be more such cases."

Correspondent Mary Jordan in London, staff writer Glenn Kessler in Washington and special correspondent Shannon Smiley in Berlin contributed to this report.

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