Rights Group Issues List of 'Ghost Detainees'

Human Rights Watch has released a list of "ghost detainees" — terror suspects believed to be held incommunicado by the CIA. The list comes to light as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prepares for a visit to Europe to answer allegations about secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe.

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Human Rights Watch has published a list of what it calls ghost prisoners. These are terrorism suspects believed to be in CIA custody but hidden from the public. The list was published just as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is getting ready to go to Europe, and that could prove troublesome. As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, the European Union is already asking Rice to answer other allegations about the CIA, specifically that the agency has flown suspects through European airports and that it may have held them in secret detention centers in Eastern Europe.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

Several European countries launched investigations after The Washington Post published a report on secret CIA prisons. Human Rights Watch has continued to try to piece together the puzzle. John Sifton, the organization's lead researcher on terrorism, has been going through media reports, public statements by government officials and using his own sources to draw up a list of suspects who he says have been held incommunicado.

Mr. JOHN SIFTON (Human Rights Watch): The suspected mastermind of the September 11th attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, is in ghost detention. Ramzi Binalshibh, Majid Khan--these are people who are suspected of planning attacks after September 11th. There are people like Hambali, the Indonesian terrorist who's suspected in the bombing in Bali in 2002.

KELEMEN: Sifton says while they may be guilty, he believes they should be put on trial, not held in secret. And he says his list of 26 is far from complete.

Mr. SIFTON: There are more people. This is just the names we know. There are names that were on the list that we took off because we found they were in Guantanamo, and there are names of other people that we're still trying to prove are in US custody. Many of these people are actually listed on the White House Web site as captured, and yet they haven't been seen by the Red Cross. They're not even held as enemy combatants, like the people at Guantanamo. They are essentially disappeared.

KELEMEN: Sifton expects that Secretary Rice will get an earful on the subject of secret detentions when she's in Europe next week. Rice has received a formal written request for information from her British counterpart, Jack Straw, writing on behalf of the European Union. When the secretary appeared before cameras today, she did not take any questions. Her spokesman, John McCormack, says the Bush administration is preparing to answer the EU.

Mr. JOHN McCORMACK (Spokesperson, State Department): The secretary looks forward to responding to Foreign Secretary Straw's letter. We're going to do that in as timely a manner as we are able and will keep you up to date on that response.

KELEMEN: As has been practice, McCormack did not confirm or deny the existence of secret detention centers. Some politicians in Europe want the EU to be tougher, as does Sifton from Human Rights Watch. For now he continues to study newly uncovered aviation records and says he's found new sources of information.

Mr. SIFTON: Plane spotters who hang out at airports and take pictures of airplanes because I guess they have nothing better to do, but they've been a very valuable resource in the last few weeks because it turns out they've snapped a lot of photos of CIA planes coming in and out of airports, which has helped advance the story as well and piece together where these planes went and when.

KELEMEN: Sifton is trying to determine whether those planes simply carried CIA personnel or some of the terrorism suspects he's been trying to track. The American Civil Liberties Union is preparing a lawsuit to challenge the CIA's alleged practice of secret detentions. The ACLU is to announce next Tuesday that it's suing top CIA officials and the companies that operated planes that the ACLU believes brought a wrongfully accused terrorist suspect to Afghanistan. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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