U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was to stop in Romania on Tuesday amid allegations that the CIA operated a secret prison in the former communist country where top al-Qaida captives were interrogated. Rice was to arrive in Bucharest Tuesday afternoon from Germany. Her five-day Europe trip, which also will take her to Ukraine and Belgium, has been overshadowed by European demands that Washington address the reports of CIA prisons and flyovers.
In Romania, Rice was to meet with President Traian Basescu and sign a defense agreement involving a Romanian air base that New York Based-Human Rights Watch alleges may have housed a covert U.S. detention facility.
Top Romanian officials and the Pentagon have denied such a prison ever existed in Romania, which has contributed troops to U.S.-led campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. On Monday, Rice would neither confirm nor deny the existence of prisons, but insisted the U.S. did not resort to torture.
Allegations that the CIA questioned terror suspects at secret locations in eastern Europe and transported captives through numerous countries' airspace have kindled outrage across the continent and have prompted Europe's top human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, to investigate.
Washington plans to take over the sprawling base just inland from the Black Sea port city of Constanta early next year as part of a strategic shift aimed at moving U.S. forces closer to potential targets in the Middle East and Central Asia.
"What guarantees do we have that American bases will not be transformed into CIA detention centers, catapulting us onto the black list of states which tolerate grave violations of human rights?" Miruna Munteanu wrote in a front-page commentary Tuesday's Ziua newspaper. "In reality, we will not have any kind of control over the activities of the U.S. bases on our territory _ not even over the American soldiers based here."
Secret prisons would be illegal in Romania, which hopes to join the European Union in 2007. Basescu and other top officials have denied that such facilities ever existed in the country, whose EU ambitions could be compromised if allegations of complicity were proven, reports the AP. N.U.