Group Outlines Evidence of Secret CIA Prisons

Europe is investigating reports that the CIA has been operating secret detention centers in Eastern Europe. Steve Inskeep talks with Tom Malinowski, Washington director of the non-profit group Human Rights Watch. His group has been involved in making the evidence known.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Bush administration officials have repeatedly said the US does not torture detainees. Now the CIA director is offering some hint of just what the administration defines as torture and what it doesn't.

INSKEEP: Porter Goss told USA Today that his agency collects information in, quote, "a variety of unique and innovative ways, all of which are legal and none of which," he says, "are torture." To get a sense of just how fine the line may be, Goss contends the CIA has gathered information with techniques that would be banned under a Senate proposal to prevent what it calls cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.

MONTAGNE: The debate over torture continues at the same time that Europeans want to know what's been happening on their soil. Very little has been revealed since The Washington Post first reported that the US held prisoners there.

INSKEEP: Today, we have an update about what's known about detention centers in Europe, what's not known and what's being done about it. We'll start with Tom Malinowski. He's with Human Rights Watch, which found evidence that the United States might have taken prisoners to Poland and Romania.

Mr. TOM MALINOWSKI (Human Rights Watch): Well, we have been able to look at the flight logs of a number of aircraft that the CIA has used in part to ferry prisoners around the world. There are several flights to those countries, one in particular in September of 2003 at just around the time when we've been told by other sources that several high-level al-Qaeda prisoners were taken out of Afghanistan, and this flight in particular leaves Kabul, goes to a small isolated rural airfield in northeastern Poland that happens to be attractant to a Polish intelligence facility, then goes on to a military airfield in Romania, makes its way to Guantanamo Bay. Very probably a detainee flight. Can't be explained by refueling.

INSKEEP: Why is it very probably a detainee flight?

Mr. MALINOWSKI: Well, because it begins in Kabul and ends up in Guantanamo. Certainly suggests that this involved detainee transport. And again it's been suggested to us by other sources that several of the more well-known al-Qaeda leadership figures, for example, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, were in Afghanistan until September of 2003 and then left.

INSKEEP: Now we should mention that a number of people, just as a hobby if nothing else, tracked the comings and goings of various planes with various tail numbers. I assume that's part of this.

Mr. MALINOWSKI: That's the original source. I mean, I think it's sort of a funny story. Some members of Congress have expressed outrage that the cover of the secret CIA operation was broken by The Washington Post. In fact, it was broken by a bunch of folks who as a hobby go to airports and watch planes take off and land, write down the serial numbers and put them on the Internet. The CIA didn't count on that apparently, and with that information, some journalists were able to obtain the flight records of these planes and the information is there for everybody to see.

INSKEEP: Do you think that this could only happen with the knowledge of the host governments?

Mr. MALINOWSKI: I don't think it could happen without the knowledge of at least some people in the host governments. I would be surprised if the United States had kept people for any period of time in Poland without the president of Poland being informed and without people at least in the intelligence services of those countries knowing about it, although presumably knowledge could have been limited to a small number of people.

INSKEEP: Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch, thanks very much.

Mr. MALINOWSKI: Thank you.

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