The European Commission said Thursday that it will investigate reports that the CIA set up secret prisons in eastern Europe to interrogate al-Qaida captives.Separately, the international Red Cross said it had asked the United States about the allegations and requested access to the prisons if they exist. Europe's top human rights organization, the Council of Europe, said it too would try to see whether the claims were true.
The governments of the EU's 25 members nations will be informally questioned about the allegations, EU spokesman Friso Roscam Abbing said in response to a question by a reporter at an EU briefing. U.S. officials have refused to confirm or deny a report by the Washington Post that the CIA has been hiding and interrogating top al-Qaida suspects in several eastern European countries.
According to the report, a covert prison system was set up by the CIA 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.
Ten nations issued denials about the existence of such prisons. Boglar Laszlo, a spokesman for Hungary's prime minister, told AP that an official report would be drawn up - following consultations with a broad range of authorities, including air transportation officials - "so we can bring this matter to a close."
In the Baltics, the chief of Latvia's Security Police, Janis Reinikis, said such facilities "do not and cannot exist here." Denials also came from now-independent former Soviet republics such as Georgia and Armenia.
Roscam Abbing, the EU spokesman, said said such prisons could violate EU human rights laws and other European human rights conventions - and that the Commission would look into the issue. However, he cautioned that the Commission, which handles the EU's day-to-day affairs, could not take action against member states if they had indeed violated human rights codes. He said technical experts from the Commission's justice and interior affairs directorate would be in contact with their counterparts across the EU and candidate countries - a category which currently includes Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Turkey - to assess the truth of the report.
The international Red Cross, which has had exclusive rights to visit terror suspects detained at a U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere, has long been concerned about reports that U.S. officials were hiding some detainees from ICRC delegates. Antonella Notari, chief spokeswoman, said Thursday the organization was "concerned about the fate of an unknown number of persons detained as part of what is called the 'global war on terror' and held in undisclosed places of detention." A.M.