February 2006

US air bases due as controversy over illegal CIA detention facilities continues

     While small operational US Army bases in the east of Romania counties are likely to be active in Summer 2007, investigations by human rights watchdog the Council of Europe continue into alleged CIA detention facilities in the eastern Europe neighbourhood.
     Following the Washington Post’s report last September that the CIA had illegally detained and tortured Al Qaeda suspects in the region, the past and present Romanian Government has been quick to deny any involvement or knowledge.
     US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has defended the use of moving terrorist suspects by air transport between nations, but stated the US does not condone torture.
     However she did not deny the potential existence of so-called CIA ‘black sites’, where terror suspects have allegedly been subject to interrogation and possibly torture in secret locations in eastern Europe.
     This would be in abuse of international law.
     According to an ABC News report last year, two secret CIA bases in eastern Europe were shut down in November, prior to Rice’s visit to the region, as quoted by current and former CIA sources.
     ABC News reported that this included 11 Al Qaeda suspects who were subject to ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ including water-boarding, where interrogators strap down a detainee and lower them into water to simulate drowning.
     The suspects were moved to sites in north Africa in private jets, stated the agency.


     Swiss tabloid SonntagsBlick has also quoted leaked documents revealing how Swiss intelligence intercepted a fax received by the Egyptian embassy in London, supposedly confirming the existence of detention centres in Romania. SonntagsBlick said the Egyptian fax stated that 23 Iraqi and Afghan citizens had been transferred to a Romanian military base near the port of Constanta for interrogation purposes. It added that similar detention centres had been set up in Ukraine, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bulgaria.
     This report has been dismissed in some media as a ‘press review’ of the news allegations themselves, rather than proof of the existence of such sites.
     Since then, the Romanian Government has opened up one of the alleged site of the centres in the Egyptian fax, Mihail Kogalniceanu air base, for journalists to inspect. The press has since found no evidence of CIA detention facilities.
     Although all the nations potentially involved have denied the existence of such camps, the Czech Interior Minister, Frantiszek Bublan said that, at the beginning of Autumn 2005, the US had approached his Government to build a detention camp, but the request was turned down.
     The Council of Europe has appointed Swiss senator Dick Marty to head an investigation into the allegations. Each European member state must give an explanation by 21 February as to whether any officials have been involved in “in the unacknowledged deprivation of liberty of any individual, or transport of any individual while so deprived of their liberty” including at “the instigation of any foreign agency.”  
     Marty has told journalists in a January 2006 press conference that he has no doubts that the US has undertaken illegal activity in transporting and detaining prisoners. But he added that he was shocked by the “passivity” of European countries in general and said it was unfair for the international community to single out Romania and Poland as guilty.
     If there had been illegal detention centres in these countries, Marty said it was “highly unlikely” that the European Governments or at least their intelligence services would not know of their existence.
     At the end of January he said there was “no irrefutable evidence” of CIA detentions centres in Romania.
     Existence of a clandestine detention centre could have an effect on Romania’s chances of EU accession on 1 January 2007.
     But European Commission officials stated to The Diplomat that any decision on Romania’s fate, if the council finds such sites, is “hypothetical” until Marty releases his report.
     The investigation continues.

Romania has become the first ex-Warsaw Pact country to host US Army bases. This is part of a shift of US military redeployment from western to eastern Europe to position itself closer to the flashpoints of the war on terror.
But it is only a “small contingent” as the new US Ambassador to Romania Nicholas Taubman has said.
These bases will offer facilities for around 2,000, including an air base at Mihail Kogalniceanu, near Constanta, a training camp and arms transport facility in Badabag and a training area in Smardan (both in Tulcea county), and shooting range in Cincu, near Sibiu.
“This accord places Romania in the global security circuit and will help the country become a pillar of stability in the region,” said President Basescu.
Foreign Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu called it “a blank cheque for the credibility of Romania.”
The Government hopes this could also be a lightning rod for further investment from the USA.
President Basescu has stated that America and the UK are Romania’s strongest political partners and is arguably the most vocal supporter of the war on terror among heads of state in mainland Europe.
However 60 per cent of Romanians believe the presence of the bases will see an increase in the threat of terrorist attack against Romania, according to a report by the Institute of Public Policies.