The runway and control tower of the airport in Szymany, Poland, where a Boeing 737 used by the CIA allegedly landed in 2003 with prisoners from Afghanistan. (AP)
The allegations have already triggered a flurry of denials from governments in the former Soviet bloc and prompted European Union officials, the continent's top human rights organization and the international Red Cross to say they would look into the issue. Such prisons, European officials say, would violate the continent's human rights principles.
Friso Roscam Abbing, an EU spokesman, said the European Commission, the EU's executive office, would seek statements from governments that have not yet denied the existence of secret prisons on their territories to comment on the issue "if only to get as much clarity and transparency as possible."
The commission had earlier said it would make an informal investigation, requesting answers from all 25 member governments as well as EU candidates Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Turkey.
According to a report Wednesday in the Washington Post, the CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at Soviet-era compounds in Eastern Europe.
Human Rights Watch in New York said Thursday it had 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.
Human Rights Watch said it matched the flight patterns of the CIA aircraft with testimony from some of the hundreds of detainees in the war on terrorism who have been released by the United States.
Garlasco told The Associated Press that two destinations of the flights in particular stood out as likely sites of any secret CIA detention centers: Szymany Airport in Poland, which is near the headquarters of Poland's intelligence service; and Mihail Kogalniceanu military airfield in Romania.
Poland and Romania have vigorously denied the existence of secret detention centers on their territories. U.S. officials have refused to confirm or deny the claims.
"It is obvious we'll take the statements of those countries for true. Only if we receive evidence which would prove the contrary we will decide what possible next steps to take in terms of contacting authorities," Roscam Abbing said.
He said Human Rights Watch told the commission there was "evidence there would have been transfer of people to the aforementioned countries in 2003 and 2004."
"We haven't heard anything about practices which would take place now. We need to know what it is (the Human Rights Watch) precisely are alleging," he said.
Roscam Abbing said there are American bases in many European countries and "one could even imagine that they could be used for transferring people."
"Another story would be if there were people held secretly for an x-number of days. That would amount to detention, and we have no evidence that this would be the case," he said.
According to the Post's report, the CIA set up a covert prison system nearly four years ago which at various times included sites in eight countries, including Afghanistan and several eastern Europe nations. It quoted current and former intelligence officials and diplomats as sources for its story.
The U.S. government has been criticized by human rights groups for practicing "extraordinary rendition," sending suspected terrorists to foreign countries, where they are detained, interrogated and allegedly tortured. Link