Europe Lauds Obama’s Order to Close Secret CIA Prisons

January 23, 2009 - 4:51 AM
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Dublin, Ireland (AP) - U.S. President Barack Obama's decision Thursday to shut secret CIA-run prisons abroad brought renewed calls for their locations to be disclosed as well a fresh denial from Poland, one of two eastern European countries most closely linked to the practice.
 
Across Europe, governments uneasy that CIA flights had been carrying terrorism suspects through their airports and air space for years said they were relieved to be heading into a new rendition-free era.
 
Dick Marty, the Swiss lawmaker who spearheaded the Council of Europe investigations that sought to expose the existence of clandestine interrogation centers in Eastern Europe and Africa, said he expected the truth would come trickling out once the centers were closed.
 
"For some countries, things are going to become very embarrassing. I think European countries would do well now to tell the truth," Marty said in an interview with The Associated Press.
 
Marty said he "would be very surprised" if any CIA-run facilities were still operating in Europe, but added "in East Africa, or Morocco, I might assume there is something." He said Obama's order granting Red Cross officials access to all secret facilities might prove critical in revealing their locations, both past and present.
 
"I have deep respect for what's happening in the United States now. That's America as we love and respect and admire it," Marty said.
 
Poland and Romania are the NATO newcomers that welcomed U.S. military deployments and strongly backed former President George W. Bush's "war on terror." One country offered a strong new denial of involvement, while the other kept silent.
 
"There are no American prisons in Poland," said Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Piotr Paszkowski. "We've said that many times in recent years and our position and statements haven't changed, and we have nothing new to say."
 
But Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, who directed Poland's foreign intelligence agency until 2004, expressed doubts that Obama's moves would make the West more secure from terror.
 
"It won't make things easier ... one will have to devise new methods, different methods," Siemiatkowski said, declining to elaborate.
 
Romanian government officials issued no statement on Obama's move and did not respond to numerous calls for comment. Romania has repeatedly denied that it allowed CIA secret prisons or permitted the agency to make flights across Romania carrying terrorism suspects.
 
But a Romanian intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said Thursday that Obama's move had made Romanian authorities "worried."
 
"They are not going to say anything because it will make Romania look guilty," he said.
 
In Ireland, government and opposition leaders united in praise for Obama's move.
 
The officially neutral nation had spent years uneasily permitting CIA flights to refuel at Ireland's strategically placed Shannon Airport. On every occasion, the Bush administration insisted, no rendition suspects were on board. U.S. officials also said that Irish authorities never search the planes.
 
"Certainly, CIA planes involved in rendition refueled at Shannon and were going to and from Guantanamo Bay from Shannon. We have not been able to inspect the contents of the planes to determine if there were detainees in them. So we were complicit in this illegal, abominable activity," said Joe Costello, human rights spokesman for Ireland's opposition Labour Party.
 
Costello, like so many across a continent largely opposed to Bush's policies, expressed pleasant surprise that Obama had changed course so quickly.
 
"Ireland expected that he would close down Guantanamo Bay, but it's a wonderful bonus to close down all the secret centers," he said.
 
Costello said he doubted that the world would ever learn the true scope of the CIA's interrogations network.
 
"It's going to be difficult to get official recognition from any government that torture or illegal detention took place on their soil. Things will be leaked over time," he said, "but I don't expect any government to admit to anything."
 
Wolfgang Kaleck, an attorney who last June sued the German government to demand that it pursue the extradition of 13 CIA agents sought in the alleged kidnapping of German citizen Khaled al-Masri, said Obama's executive order could clear the way for more clarity into European governments' involvement.
 
"We believe, based on reports from human rights organizations, that there are still people detained through this program," Kaleck told The Associated Press.
 
"We hope, in many cases, that American files and information will be made public," he said. "We know that in Germany, as in Italy, warrants were passed on to the CIA that were highly suspicious."
 
Al-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, maintains he was abducted in December 2003 at the Serbian-Macedonian border and flown by the CIA to a detention center in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was interrogated and abused.
 
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Associated Press writer Frank Jordans reported from Geneva. AP reporters Ryan Lucas in Warsaw, Poland, and Patrick McGroarty in Berlin contributed to this report.