By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, June 8, 2006
BERLIN, June 7 -- A European investigator concluded Wednesday that there are "serious indications" that the CIA operated secret prisons for senior al-Qaeda figures in Poland and Romania as part of a clandestine "spider's web" to catch, transfer and hold terrorism suspects around the world.
Dick Marty, a Swiss lawyer working on behalf of the Council of Europe, the continent's official human rights organization, said at least seven other European nations colluded with the CIA to capture and secretly detain terrorism suspects, including several who were ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing.
Sweden, Italy, Britain, Turkey, Germany, Bosnia and Macedonia "could be held responsible for violations of the rights of specific individuals" who were handed over to the CIA or captured by U.S. operatives in those countries, Marty said in a report released in Paris.
He also said Spain, Cyprus, Ireland, Greece and Portugal turned a blind eye to CIA-chartered flights that landed on their soil to transfer terrorism suspects within Europe and beyond.
"It is now clear," Marty added in his report, "that authorities in several European countries actively participated with the CIA in these unlawful activities. Other countries ignored them knowingly, or did not want to know."
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack characterized the report as "sort of rehash" and lacking in "solid facts." He defended the U.S. policy of abducting terrorism suspects and detaining them without oversight from the courts as "an internationally established legal practice" and said intelligence cooperation between the United States and its allies "saves lives in the war on terror."
The CIA declined to comment on the report Wednesday.
Marty acknowledged that he lacked proof that would firmly establish the existence of the secret prisons. But he cited flight data and satellite photos acquired from European agencies as evidence that the CIA transported high-level terrorism suspects from Afghanistan to airports in Szymany, Poland, in October 2003 and Timisoara, Romania, in January 2004. Marty said a close examination of the flights indicated that the suspects were dropped off in those countries for detention.
"Even if proof, in the classical meaning of the term, is not as yet available, a number of coherent and converging elements indicate that such secret detention centers did indeed exist in Europe," Marty wrote.
Marty has accused Poland and Romania of stonewalling his requests for information. On Wednesday, officials in those countries repeated earlier denials that they permitted the CIA to run secret prisons within their borders.
"The accusations are slanderous," Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, the prime minister of Poland, told reporters in Warsaw. "They are not based on any facts."
"There is no evidence there were such detention bases in Romania," Romeo Raicu, head of Romania's parliamentary committee overseeing foreign intelligence services, told the Associated Press.
Marty, who lacks subpoena power or other tools to compel countries to cooperate, began his probe after The Washington Post reported in November that the CIA had operated secret prisons for al-Qaeda leaders in Eastern Europe, as well as in Afghanistan and Thailand, following 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, including a direct appeal from President Bush. They argued that the disclosure might disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation.
The Council of Europe functions as the continent's official human rights watchdog. Its 46 member nations are legally bound to observe its human rights statutes, although the council has limited power to enforce the rules.
A separate investigation by the European Parliament reported in April that the CIA had operated more than 1,000 flights through European airspace since 2001.
Marty, who obtained similar flight data from European aviation officials, cautioned that it was impossible to tell how many of the flights actually carried terrorism suspects and that most flights could probably be ascribed to the spy agency's normal course of business.
"It would be exaggerated to talk of thousands of flights, let alone hundreds of renditions concerning Europe," he wrote in his report, referring to the practice of "extraordinary rendition," or the secret abduction of suspects by CIA operatives and their allies in foreign intelligence services.
According to his analysis of the flight data, Marty found a pattern of "flight circuits" involving CIA-chartered aircraft that often began at Washington Dulles International Airport and made several common stops around the world before returning to the United States or to the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Based on the same flight analysis, Marty reported that there was "prima facie" evidence that the CIA regularly delivered al-Qaeda suspects to detention centers outside Europe, including facilities in Algiers; Amman, Jordan; Baghdad; Cairo; Islamabad, Pakistan; Kabul, Afghanistan; Rabat, Morocco; and Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Marty's report details the travels of one plane in particular, a Boeing jet with tail number N313P. According to the European flight logs, it departed Kabul on Sept. 22, 2003, and landed several hours later at Szymany. It stopped for 64 minutes before continuing to an airport in Bucharest, Romania, and then to Rabat.
Based on the short duration of the stops, as well as other logistical details of the flights, Marty concluded that the operation was part of a broader effort at the time by the CIA to transfer high-ranking al-Qaeda figures out of Afghanistan and into new detention centers in Europe.