Romania, Poland scrutinized over prisons
Updated: 2005-12-07 08:54
Romania and Poland, stalwart allies in the U.S.-led global war on terror,
came under increasing fire Tuesday amid widening reports that they hosted secret
CIA prisons where top al-Qaida suspects were interrogated.
Top leaders in both countries denied it, but lawmakers in Romania called for
a parliamentary investigation. The stakes are high: Although they have curried
favor with the U.S., any proof of complicity could leave the nations
isolated and scorned in a Europe demanding a full accounting from Washington,
and threaten Romania's drive to join the European Union in 2007.
"We are open to any kind of investigation," said Romanian Prime Minister
Calin Popescu Tariceanu, visiting EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. He said
the country would throw open any suspect facilities to demonstrate "good
intentions and good faith."
But Tariceanu added: "There is no proof, merely speculation."
In Poland, authorities said CIA prisons would be illegal, though they were
not planning an inquiry without evidence.
Romania's Prime Minister Calin Popescu
Tariceanu, left, gestures while talking to the media during a joint press
conference with European Union Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso,
right, at the end of their meeting at the EU Commission headquarters in
Brussels, Monday Dec. 5, 2005. [AP]
"For an investigation to start, there should be some sort of evidence, proof
that this in fact took place in Poland," Julita Sobczyk, a spokeswoman for the
prosecutor general, Zbigniew Ziobro, told The Associated Press. Ziobro is also
Poland's justice minister.
The Council of Europe, the continent's top human rights watchdog, has
launched an investigation. EU leaders say any member states found to have been
involved could have their voting rights suspended ¡ª a warning that unnerves some
Poles, whose country joined the bloc only last year.
President Aleksander Kwasniewski and other leaders repeatedly have denied
allegations that Poland ever hosted so-called "black site" prisons.
"Neither now, nor in the past, were any inmates held in any military
installations," Defense Ministry spokesman Piotr Paszkowski said Tuesday.
ABC News reported Monday night that two secret CIA prisons in eastern Europe
were closed last month and 11 al-Qaida suspects were transferred to a facility
in North Africa. The report, which ABC attributed to current and former CIA
officers who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the prisons were shut down
after Human Rights Watch said it had evidence suggesting such facilities existed
in Romania and Poland.
Nabil Benabdellah, Morocco's minister of communications and a government
spokesman, told the AP: "We have nothing to do with and we have no knowledge
about this subject."
Officials in Algeria and Tunisia had no immediate comment.
Romanian President Traian Basescu ¡ª hosting a visit Tuesday by U.S. Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice ¡ª insisted there was "no such thing" as CIA prisons in
the country and pledged to open all facilities to outside scrutiny.
Underscoring a friendship that has deepened, Rice hailed the country as "a
strong friend with whom we share common values."
Suspicion fell on Romania's Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base near the Black Sea
and Poland's Szymany Airport, after Human Rights Watch said it had flight
records indicating that aircraft with links to the CIA landed repeatedly at both
facilities in 2001-2004.
The Romanian base, which was heavily used by U.S. forces after the Sept. 11,
2001, attacks for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, was among several
installations formally handed over to the U.S. in an agreement signed Tuesday by
Rice and Foreign Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu.
Officials opened it to AP journalists last month, and the sprawling base
appeared virtually deserted, with no obvious sign of a prison and no Americans
present. Asked Tuesday whether there had ever been detainees on the site, base
spokesman Lt. Comm. Adrian Vasile said: "Negative."
Romania's military and the Pentagon say U.S. forces, which at one point
numbered about 3,500 at the base, were withdrawn in June 2003 and since have
returned only briefly for training exercises, most recently in September.
Yet some officials acknowledged that parts of the installation were
off-limits to Romanian authorities, and the country's main intelligence service,
SRI, has said it had no jurisdiction there.
"There were some bases we put at the Americans' disposal. We can't know what
happened there," former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, who served 2001-2004 and
now heads the Chamber of Deputies, conceded Tuesday. He added, however: "For us,
it's clear there was no secret agreement" allowing covert U.S. activity.
"Unfortunately, the attacks from abroad against Romania and Poland have
continued. Subsequently, we consider that parliament must get involved and
provide its answer," said Senate Chairman Nicolae Vacaroiu, who together with
Nastase called for a parliamentary probe.