WARSAW - Poland was the heart of the CIA's secret detention network in Europe, with bases there until recently holding a quarter of the 100 detainees estimated held in such camps worldwide, a human rights group said.
Reports of the CIA operating secret jails in Poland and Romania as part of its war on terrorism have caused controversy on both sides of the Atlantic and dogged U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's European trip this week.
Both countries deny hosting such facilities, and the United States has declined to comment on the reports.
Polish media said this airport in Szymany, northeastern Poland, was identified by Human Rights Watch as a potential site of alleged CIA prisons used to interrogate al Qaeda captives. Archive photo from 2005. REUTERS/FORUM/Tomasz Marek/file photo
"Poland was the main base for CIA interrogations in Europe, while Romania played more of a role in the transfer of detained prisoners," Marc Garlasco, a leading analyst at Human Rights Watch, was quoted by Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza on Friday as saying.
Garlasco said the CIA had set up two detention centers in Poland, which were closed shortly after the Washington Post published an article about secret prisons last month.
He said the allegations were based on information from CIA sources and other documents obtained by Human Rights Watch. "We have leads, circumstantial evidence to check but it's too early to reveal them," Garlasco said.
U.S. broadcaster ABC News this week reported that the United States held al Qaeda suspects at two secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe until last month, when 11 prisoners were relocated to a site somewhere in north Africa.
Polish authorities have repeatedly denied the existence of secret jails on Polish territory, with Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz saying this week he would fully cooperate in human rights probes into the allegations.
Poland is one of Washington's leading allies in Europe, where it irked EU heavyweights Germany and France by sending troops to join the U.S.-led war with Iraq.
European countries responded to public pressure by seeking answers from Washington before Rice's trip, but appeared reassured by her defense that the United States respected their sovereignty and acted within the law in its war on terrorism.
The U.N. human rights ombudsman in Kosovo, Marek Nowicki, accused the U.S. army of running a secret prison at Camp Bondsteel in the U.N.-administered Serbian province.
Nowicki said in an interview with Germany's Berliner Zeitung newspaper that he visited the facility in 2000 and 2001. "In the prison, it looked like the pictures we know from Guantanamo," he said, referring to the U.S. detention center in Cuba for "enemy combatants" in the war on terrorism.
He said there was no external control over Camp Bondsteel. "In reality we have no idea what's going on there."
The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Alvaro Gil Robles, raised similar concerns about Camp Bondsteel last month but said he could establish no clear link to the CIA secret prison reports.
© Reuters 2005