Probe of CIA Efforts in Europe Falls Short of Proof

A Swiss official reviewing allegations that the CIA ran covert prisons in Europe says the U.S. "outsourced" torture to other nations. But he finds no clear evidence of secret detention centers. Rob Watson of the BBC fills Steve Inskeep in on the scene in Strasbourg, Fance.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News, I'm Steve Inskeep. A European investigator found a startling phrase to describe U.S. treatment of prisoners. The investigator was examining allegations that the CIA maintained secret prisons in Europe. And he says there is evidence the CIA has a system of outsourcing torture. The question is, outsourcing where? The report was released in Strasbourg, France, and that's where we find the BBC's Rob Watson.

And Mr. Watson, first off, let's establish what the investigator found and didn't find here.

Mr. ROB WATSON (Reporter, BBC): Well, to be brutal, the most striking thing about Mr. Marty's report, the investigator, is that he hasn't really found any new evidence at all, and that is most striking. There is a great deal of assertion in the report, much of it very, very unpleasant reading for the Bush Administration, but no real hard evidence.

Indeed, most of what is in the report has come from culling media sources like the Washington Post, which of course, set the ball rolling on this story back in November.

INSKEEP: Does this mean that European governments have not confirmed these allegations that they were hosting secret prisons?

Mr. WATSON: I think that's pretty much spot on, Steve. Look, I think, reading between the lines of this report, he is asking for more cooperation from European governments, because clearly, that hasn't been forthcoming so far. And it seems to me, really, that his investigation will either sink or swim, depending on whether European governments do indeed decide to provide more details. So far, they have not.

INSKEEP: And there's no specific information, for example, that there was a secret prison in Poland or Romania, two countries that have been mentioned by the organization Human Rights Watch, which has been trying to track these things.

Mr. WATSON: Absolutely not. He says at one point in his report that in this stage of the investigation there is no formal irrefutable evidence of the existence of such prisons. But that's not to say that Dick Marty isn't asserting that he thinks that there's no doubt that there were. And indeed, that there was no doubt in his mind that prisoners have been taken forcibly from Europe, taken to third countries, normally in the Arab world, where they were tortured, but just no evidence.

INSKEEP: That's what he means by outsourcing torture, he's talking about this practice that we call rendition?

Mr. WATSON: That's absolutely right, and of course, it's not that the United States doesn't admit to extraordinary rendition. Indeed, I remember being in Europe when Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, said, we do, do extraordinary rendition, it is not against United States laws.

But what the U.S. denies and what Mr. Marty's asserting does happen, is that when those prisoners are rendered to places like Egypt, Jordan, Syria, or wherever, that at that point, they are tortured. The U.S. says, well, we don't know that they are, and we certainly don't take them there for that purpose.

INSKEEP: Mr. Watson, this story has been around for several months, now. How big is the news in Europe of this?

Mr. WATSON: It's big in that it's something that worries Europeans. I think, though, that Mr. Marty, if he wants to keep getting the kind of media attention he has been getting, and I can tell you, this place is swarming with European media, you know, he really would need to come up with proof.

But, there's something else going on here. Look, fundamentally, what we've got, what this debate is all about, in a way, is a fundamental disagreement between some Europeans and the Bush Administration. But what you repeatedly hear in this report and in the parliamentary proceedings here at Council of Europe is that Europeans, or some of them, see the war against terrorism, they don't see it as a war. They think the way to deal with Al Qaeda is, essentially, they're criminals. It's a law enforcement issue.

The Bush Administration, clearly, does not entirely think that. It thinks that, in part, this is a war, and that, therefore, there are some different rules. And it's that fundamental difference in approach that is generating the friction. But I think it's worth adding that an awful lot of U.S. officials that I know in Europe are pretty fed up with all of this. They think the Europeans are being very hypocritical, and they're just basically refusing to understand the way in which Washington sees this conflict.

INSKEEP: We've been talking to the BBC's Rob Watson in France, thanks very much.

Mr. WATSON: Good to be with you.

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