The CIA ran secret prisons in Poland and Romania from 2003 to 2005 to interrogate al-Qaida suspects, a European investigator said today, detailing harsh treatment that included months of solitary confinement, shackling and sleep deprivation.
Top terror suspects Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah were held and interrogated in Poland, according to the report, which cited unidentified CIA sources. Mohammed is the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and Abu Zubaydah is a suspected senior al-Qaida operative.
"Highest state authorities" in countries involved knew of the alleged detention centers, said the report by Swiss Sen. Dick Marty, who was tasked by the Council of Europe to investigate CIA activitives after media reports of secret prisons emerged in 2005.
Poland and Romania denied the claims in the report for the Council of Europe, the continent's human rights watchdog, with Poland's former defense minister calling it "political fiction." Officials with the European Union, which is separate from the council, have said they trust the denials.
The report said detainees were subjected to months of solitary confinement, constant shackling in cramped cells, poor food, being kept naked for weeks, exposure to temperature extremes, and noise to prevent sleep.
The report did not name or locate the prisons where the abuses allegedly occured. It said testimony came from former or current detainees, human rights advocates, or people who worked in setting up or operating CIA secret prisons. Guards wore masks, it said.
Clandestine prisons and secret CIA flights involving European countries would breach the continent's human rights treaties. The Council of Europe, which is separate from the EU, has no power to punish countries other than expelling them. The Council of Europe was set up by 10 European governments four years after World War II to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe.
Based in Strasbourg, France, it has 47 member states, many of them not EU members.
Any sanctions against Poland and Romania were extremely unlikely as secret prisons in both countries would need to be proven beyond reasonable doubt by the 27-nation EU.
"We have repeatedly stressed the need for the member states concerned to commence or continue in-depth, independent and impartial investigations," EU spokesman Friso Roscam Abbing said today.
Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Robert Szaniawski said Marty offered no proof for his allegations, adding, "there were no secret prisons in Poland."
The report said the "highest state authorities" in countries involved knew of the alleged detention centers.
Jerzy Szmajdzinski, Poland's defense minister from 2001-05, sarcastically brushed aside the accusations, saying: "Of course, I organized everything and gave them a red-carpet welcome." He declined further comment on "political fiction."
Romanian Sen. Norica Nicolai rejected Marty's findings as "totally unfounded."
CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said: "While I've yet to see the report, Europe has been the source of grossly inaccurate allegations about the CIA and counterterrorism."
President Bush did not acknowledge the CIA's secret detention program until September 2006, when he announced that the agency had just moved Mohammed and 13 other suspected terrorists to Guantanamo Bay. He did not say where the prisons were located.
In Germany, government spokesman Thomas Steg denied Marty's allegations that the government hindered the probe.
"To date, Mr. Marty has in his other reports also failed to provide any evidence that what is alleged is actually true," Steg added.
The report said collaboration by U.S. allies was critical to the secret detention program, which took place in the framework of NATO's security policy.
"The secret detention facilities in Europe were run directly and exclusively by the CIA," it said.
"While it is likely that very few people in the countries concerned, including in the governments themselves, knew of the existence of the centers, we have sufficient grounds to declare that the highest state authorities were aware of the CIA's illegal activities on their territories," it said.
Poland and Romania hosted the prisons under a special post-Sept. 11 CIA program to "kill, capture and detain" high-value terrorist suspects, wrote Marty.
Evidence of secret flights &
at least 10 flights to Poland between 2002 and 2005 &
show the pivotal role played by Poland and Romania as drop-off points, the report says.
"There is now enough evidence to state that secret detention facilities run by the CIA did exist in Europe from 2003 to 2005, in particular in Poland and Romania," the report said.
Marty did not identify his sources, saying they were people "who had worked or still worked for the relevant authorities, in particular intelligence agencies." The report said it cross-checked its information whenever possible.
Marty's report said Washington lured Romania into cooperating with "formidable" support for its accession to NATO &
the "biggest prize."
In Italy, the first trial involving the CIA's extraordinary rendition program opened on Friday, without the presence of any of the 26 American defendants accused of kidnapping an Egyptian terrorist suspect. The case has irritated the historically robust U.S.-Italian relationship, and coincided with Bush's arrival in Rome.
Associated Press Writer Jan Sliva contributed to this report.
Probe: CIA ran prisons in Poland, Romania