Guantanamos in Europe? Washington Post Covers-up CIA’s ‘Black Sites’
November 9, 2005
Der Spiegal Online & FAIR
The Washington Post has reported that the CIA may be using secret locations in Europe to interrogate prisoners in America’s war against terror. Despite the illegality of this secret program, the Post announced that it was Pnot publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior US officials." Contact the Post to request full exposure.
(November 7, 2005) — Is the CIA using secret locations in Europe to interrogate prisoners in America’s war against terror? Reports about “black sites” have unsettled even the Bush administration’s closest European partners.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen considers himself “America’s best friend” in Europe. He even broke a long-standing Danish tradition of seeking parliament-wide consensus in contentious foreign policy issues to back Washington’s decision to invade Iraq.
The CIA uses a modified version of the Gulfstream 5 jet. AP The CIA uses a modified version of the Gulfstream 5 jet. But the right-wing leader’s closeness to United States President George W. Bush may be changing. The government in Copenhagen has accused its American friends of violating Danish airspace 12 times since 2001 — as recently as Oct. 10 with an aircraft linked to the US Central Intelligence Agency.
The plane — a Gulfstream 5 often used by the CIA — was on its way from a US base in Keflavik, Iceland to Budapest, Hungary and was presumed to be carrying Islamic terror suspects.
Another CIA plane even landed in Copenhagen for 23 hours last March, prompting Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller in August to make “clear to US officials that Denmark does not want its airspace used for purposes that are in conflict with international conventions.”
Concern amongst European officials has grown following a report published last week in the Washington Post detailing an expansive network of so-called “black sites” across Eastern Europe — mostly prisons and military bases — allegedly used by the US intelligence community to house and interrogate suspected Islamic terrorists.
EU Worried about Torture
According to Danish sources, two top level al-Qaida members, the group’s operations chief Abu Zubaida and planner of the 9/11 attacks Ramzi Binalshibh, have been held at least temporarily in Europe.
The most damaging allegation is that the CIA may be using “improved interrogation techniques” that are outlawed by the United Nations Convention Against Torture and US military law when questioning prisoners overseas.
The group Human Rights Watch compared information from former detainees and European officials with 150 flights from 33 aircraft thought to be used for American intelligence activities.
The analysis highlighted several destinations in Eastern Europe -- including airports in Skopje, Macedonia and Timisioara and Bucharest, Romania in 2004. A year earlier, flights headed to both Prague in the Czech Republic and the supposedly closed small airport Szymany in northeastern Poland.
Understandably, officials from those countries have either denied involvement in the CIA’s plans or have remained silent.
According to the Washington Post, only the leaders and top intelligence officers of each host country are aware of the black sites.
Czech Interior Minister FrantiA!ek Bublan admitted American intelligence officials asked a month ago if several people could be flow in from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for “secure asylum,” but Prague turned down the request.
It’s also known that the CIA abducted a German citizen of Arab descent—Khaled el-Masri—in Macedonia in 2003. Unfortunately, Masri was the victim of mistaken identity, but he was still held and interrogated in Skopje for 23 days before being taken by US intelligence operatives to prison in Afghanistan.
Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo has been compared to the US base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. DPA Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo has been compared to the US base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The Americans are also active in other parts of the Balkans.
Not far from Macedonia, in the heart of Kosovo, the US government even operates a Gitmo-style camp with its own prison and landing strip around 30 kilometers east of Pristina. Originally used to house members of the Albanian independence group the UCK, Camp Bondsteel—like Guantanamo—is an overseas US enclave existing in legal limbo.
The United States has also used the
Mihail-Kogalniceanu military airport on Romania’s Black Sea coast as a base for operations in Iraq since 2003. According to Human Rights Watch, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld inspected the base in October 2004. In recent months, there have been reports in Romania of terrorists being transported to unknown locations, but there has been no official confirmation. Washington’s unspoken policy in its war on terror has often been to only inform the countries directly affected. Allies in transit countries are generally left in the dark.
But in a sign that European governments are growing impatient with these clandestine operations, some no longer appear to be prepared to accept such conditions. “It’s now the EU’s turn,” says one high-ranking German official. “If the reports are true, there will be plenty explaining to do.” Members of the European Parliament are demanding that EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana investigate the allegations.
Up till now, the European Commission in Brussels says it has “absolutely no evidence for the existence of secret prisons” in Europe. But western intelligence agencies have more information. “We know these places exist,” says one official. “But the exact details are kept extremely secret.”
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2005
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
The Consequences of Covering Up:
Washington Post Withholds Info on Secret Prisons at Government Request
Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting
(November 4, 2005) — On November 2, the Washington Post carried an explosive front-page story about secret Eastern European prisons set up by the CIA for the interrogation of terrorism suspects. While the Post article, by reporter Dana Priest, gave readers plenty of details, it also withheld the most crucial information — the location of these secret prisons — at the request of government officials.
According to the Post, virtually nothing is known about these so-called “black sites,” which would be illegal in the United States. Given the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, news that the US government maintains a secret network of interrogation and detention sites raises troubling questions about what might be going on at these prisons.
The Post reports that “officials familiar with the program” acknowledge that disclosure of the secret prison program “could open the US government to legal challenges, particularly in foreign courts, and increase the risk of political condemnation at home and abroad.”
But the Washington Post did its part to minimize those potential risks:
“The Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior US officials. They argued that the disclosure might disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation.”
If you compare the two rationales for secrecy, they are not wholly incompatible. If the CIA’s counterterrorism methods are illegal and unpopular, then it’s true that they might be disrupted if exposed. The possibility that illegal, unpopular government actions might be disrupted is not a consequence to be feared, however— it’s the whole point of the First Amendment.
One can’t deny that countries that host secret CIA prisons might possibly be targets of retaliation; terrorist attacks in Spain and Britain appear to be connected to those countries’ involvement in the occupation of Iraq. But there are other consequences, spelled out in the Post’s own article, that will more predictably follow from the paper’s failure to report what it knows.
Without the basic fact of where these prisons are, it’s difficult if not impossible for “legal challenges” or “political condemnation” to force them to close. As the Post notes, there has been “widespread prisoner abuse” in US military prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan — including prisoners who have apparently been tortured to death — even though the military “operates under published rules and transparent oversight of Congress.”
Given that Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Director Porter Goss are seeking to exempt the CIA from legislation that would prohibit “cruel and degrading treatment” of prisoners, and that CIA-approved “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” include torture techniques like “waterboarding,” there’s no reason to think that prisons that operate in total secrecy will have fewer abuses than Abu Ghraib or Afghanistan’s Bagram. Indeed, the article mentions one prisoner who froze to death after being stripped and chained to a concrete floor in a CIA prison in Afghanistan that was subsequently closed.
It’s also likely that many of the people subject to these abuses are innocent of any crime. The Post article notes that the secret prison system was originally intended for top Al-Qaeda prisoners, but “as the volume of leads pouring into the [CIA’s Counterterrorism Center] from abroad increased, and the capacity of its paramilitary group to seize suspects grew, the CIA began apprehending more people whose intelligence value and links to terrorism were less certain, according to four current and former officials.”
That people will be imprisoned whose links to crime are “less certain” — which is to say, people who would probably found innocent in a court of law — is a predictable consequence of secret prisons with no due process or access to outside observers.
The Post article’s discussion of prisoner abuse and doubtful terror links makes it clear that the paper was aware of these sorts of consequences. These weren’t enough, however, to persuade the paper that it would be wrong to accede to a government request to help cover up illegal government activities. (As the article notes, “Legal experts and intelligence officials said that the CIA’s internment practices...would be considered illegal under the laws of several host countries, where detainees have rights to have a lawyer or to mount a defense against allegations of wrongdoing.”)
The paper should consider, then, that its decision put at risk not only the secret prisoners, but also potentially endangers US soldiers and civilians. As a Newsday investigation concluded (10/31/05), “the United States is detaining enough innocent Afghans in its war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda that it is seriously undermining popular support for its presence in Afghanistan.”
More broadly, by embracing illegal and inhumane methods to combat its enemies, the US government is fueling anti-American sentiments that are a vital resource for groups like Al-Qaeda. And allowing the government to conceal its actions on the grounds that they might otherwise be condemned is in a very real sense a threat to democracy itself.
The Post’s decision has struck some experts as enormously significant. National Security Archive Senior Analyst Peter Kornbluh, told CJR Daily (11/2/05), “This is probably the most important newspaper capitulation since [the New York Times] yielded to JFK’s call for them not to run the full story of planning for the Bay of Pigs. By withholding the country names, the Post is directly enabling the rendition, secret detention, and torture of prisoners at these locations to continue. That is a ghastly responsibility.”
But the Post is not the only US news outlet to choose to honor government requests for secrecy rather than the journalistic duty to inform the public about government wrongdoing.
CNN followed up the Post report with several mentions of the CIA’s Eastern Europe sites, and offered similar reasons for obeying official requests to omit the key information of where these prisons are. CNN reporter David Ensor said (11/2/05), “US intelligence officials insist the problem is these prisons are still supplying useful intelligence in the war against terrorism” — as if effectiveness could justify concealing a program that would be shut down as illegal and reprehensible if it were exposed.
When anchor Wolf Blitzer noted that the names of the countries were “circulating on the Internet,” Ensor replied that while “a couple of newspapers” were releasing more specific information about the location of the prisons, “CNN is taking the view that we don’t have enough sources, we don’t have official sources, and frankly, we are concerned about the possibility that, as US officials have said to us, lives could be as stake.”
Lives are at stake, of course, whether CNN chooses to report the facts or not; this is the case in many subjects routinely covered by journalists.
The “other newspapers” that Ensor referred to included the Financial Times, which reported on November 3:
“Human Rights Watch, a US lobby group, on Wednesday said there was strong evidence — including the flight records of CIA aircraft transporting prisoners out of Afghanistan — that Poland and Romania were among countries allowing the agency to operate secret detention centres on their soil.”
Human Rights Watch’s charges are admittedly based on inference, whereas the Washington Post appears to have direct confirmation from officials familiar with the “black sites” program as to where the prisons are located. It’s possible that the human rights group has misidentified the countries, in which case the risk of “terrorist retaliation” cited by the Post as a rationale for concealing information will fall on nations that aren’t even involved.
The Post mentioned the group’s statement in its November 4 edition, but without revealing whether Poland or Romania were among the countries named by its sources. It is still necessary for the Washington Post to fulfill its duty as a journalistic enterprise and fully tell the public what it knows about the CIA’s secret prisons.
ACTION: Contact the Washington Post and let them know that withholding information about the CIA’s secret prisons at the request of the US government was the wrong journalistic decision.
CONTACT: Washington Post Ombudsman Deborah Howell
firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 202-334-7582