By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, June 9, 2007
PARIS, June 8 -- The CIA exploited NATO military agreements to help it run secret prisons in Poland and Romania where alleged terrorists were held in solitary confinement for months, shackled and subjected to other mental and physical torture, according to a European investigative report released here Friday.
Some of the United States' highest-profile terrorism suspects, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, considered the prime organizer of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, were detained and interrogated at the facility in Poland, according to the 72-page report completed for the Council of Europe, the continent's human rights agency.
Dick Marty, a Swiss lawyer hired by the council, said the CIA conducted "clandestine operations under the NATO framework," providing military intelligence agencies in member countries -- including Poland and Romania -- the cover to assist the agency in disguising the use of secret flights, operations and detention facilities from the days immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks until the fall of last year.
Officials speaking on behalf of the CIA, NATO, Poland and Romania on Friday criticized the report's findings. Both Poland and Romania have denied that the CIA established secret prisons on their soil.
"The CIA's counter-terror operations have been lawful, effective, closely reviewed, and of benefit to many people -- including Europeans -- by disrupting plots and saving lives," CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said. "Our counter-terror partnerships in Europe are very strong." He described the report as "biased and distorted."
Disclosure of the existence of CIA prisons in Eastern Europe, but not the specific countries where they were located, by The Washington Post in 2005 triggered widespread anger in Europe. The Council of Europe commissioned Marty to find out all he could about the program.
In the report, Marty expressed deep disapproval of U.S. practices with the prisoners. "We must banish forever the Bush Administration mindset that effectively says, 'if it is illegal for us to use such a practice at home or on our own citizens, let us export or outsource it so we will not be held to account for it,' " the report concluded.
The report was also critical of European governments for having allowed the prisons or the transport of prisoners through their airspace. Many did not cooperate with the investigation, the report said, nor did NATO or the United States.
Investigators relied primarily on sources they did not identify in the report, but Marty said they spoke to more than 30 serving or retired members of intelligence services in the United States and Europe as well as civilians performing contract work for intelligence agencies.
The report provided new details about the CIA's purported methods of operation, detention tactics and detainees in the secret facilities. The report said evidence indicated that in order to bypass civilian authorities the CIA used emergency provisions approved by the NATO alliance after the Sept. 11 attacks to partner with European military and intelligence agencies.
"The CIA's clandestine operations in Europe -- including its transfers and secret detentions of HVDs [high-value detainees] -- were sustained and kept secret only through their operational dependence on alliances and partnerships in what is more traditionally the military sphere," the report said.
The secret "high-value" prisoner program was given the NATO classification of "Cosmic Top Secret," according to the report.
The report said the NATO-oriented arrangement was particularly effective with two of the alliance's newest members, Poland and Romania, which were eager to assist the United States and strengthen their ties with Washington.
A facility at Poland's Stare Kiejkuty intelligence training base was used to detain and interrogate the most important CIA suspects, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, a suspected senior al-Qaeda operative, the report said. By its account, both men were "held and questioned using 'enhanced interrogation techniques,' " described in the report as a euphemism for torture.
The report said that based on flight documents and information provided by intelligence sources, "it is likely" that Mohammed, who was arrested in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on March 1, 2003, was transferred to Kabul, then flown on March 7 to the Szymany military airport in Poland.
Sources told investigators that when a CIA flight approached the Szymany airfield, Polish operatives would order all Polish personnel to leave the area of the runway. An American "landing team" usually waited at the end of the runway "in two or three vans with their engines often running."
When the aircraft came to a stop, the vans would race toward the plane. American officials would board the craft, then hustle the detainee into one of the vans, usually out of the line of sight of the Polish control tower.
The vans would then speed through the airport's front security gates, using high beams that blinded Polish guards, then drive down a paved road "lined by thick pine forests on both sides" and follow an unpaved road along a lake, eventually reaching the entrance to the Stare Kiejkuty intelligence training base, where prisoners were held and questioned, the report said.
The report went on to describe conditions in the CIA secret detention cells, based on interviews with "former or current detainees, human rights advocates, or people who have worked in the establishment or operations of CIA secret prisons." The report said the descriptions were not based on a single prisoner or cell, but on a compilation of accounts. It did not specify which country's prison was being described.
According to those accounts, detainees were often kept naked in their cells for several weeks and endured up to four consecutive months of "solitary confinement and extreme sensory deprivation in cramped cells, shackled and handcuffed at all times." Temperatures in the cells were often kept at extreme levels: "sometimes so hot one would gasp for breath, sometimes freezing cold."
The Council of Europe is Europe's official human rights watchdog. It has limited power to enforce human rights regulations.
Staff researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.