LONDON - Britain said on Wednesday it had asked the United States to respond to media reports that the CIA is running secret jails in Eastern Europe and covertly flying prisoners through airports in the European Union.
Foreign Minister Jack Straw wrote to Washington on behalf of the EU on Tuesday amid growing concern in Europe about the reports. His letter raised "media allegations of CIA terror camps in Eastern Europe" as well as the question of flights, a foreign office spokeswoman said.
The Washington Post reported the existence of the jails earlier this month. U.S.-based campaign group Human Rights Watch named Poland and Romania as the most likely locations, a claim both countries deny.
The United States has neither confirmed nor denied the existence of secret jails.
Europe's leading human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, is investigating the allegations and has asked all European governments to respond to it by February.
It is also probing flights by 31 aircraft which it suspects may have been used by the CIA to deliver terrorism suspects secretly to countries where they may have been tortured -- a practice known as "extraordinary rendition".
At least eight European governments have raised concerns with the United States about the flights.
British human rights group Liberty said on Wednesday it was worried that some CIA flights had passed through British airports and airbases, secretly carrying prisoners.
The government denied that charge.
"We are not aware of the use of UK territory or airspace for the purpose of extraordinary rendition, nor have we received any requests, nor granted any permission for the use of UK territory or airspace for such purposes," the Foreign Office said.
Liberty said it had written to police chiefs across Britain urging them to investigate claims airports in their areas had been used to transfer prisoners.
"The allegations, the suspicions, the circumstantial evidence ... give serious enough concern that we should ask chief constables to do their duty," Liberty's director Shami Chakrabati told BBC radio.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair said anyone making allegations against Britain "should produce some facts to support them".
Menzies Campbell, foreign affairs spokesman for the opposition Liberal Democrats, urged the government to clarify its position regarding the flights.
"We know that extraordinary rendition is being practiced, we know that a large number of CIA flights go through United Kingdom airports," he told the BBC.
"In those circumstances, I think the obligation of our government is much greater than they have so far discharged. We need full disclosure by the government."
In Brussels, EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini said the 25-nation bloc would have "a political duty, institutional duty and I think also a moral duty" to take action against any state found guilty of hosting a secret CIA jail.
He said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice could give a formal answer to Straw's letter when she comes to Brussels next week for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers.
(Additional reporting by Katherine Baldwin in London and Mark John in Brussels)
© Reuters 2005