EU warns against hosting CIA jails

PUNISHMENT: The bloc's top judge said any EU nations found to have harbored secret US detention centers on their territory could have their voting rights suspended

AP , BERLIN

Wed, Nov 30, 2005 - Page 7

The US has told the EU it needs more time to respond to allegations of CIA secret jails and flights in Europe, as the bloc's top justice official warned that any EU country found to have hosted a clandestine detention center could face punishment.

The warning, issued by EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini, comes amid rising concern about alleged CIA activities in Europe, with investigations being carried out in half a dozen countries.

Frattini said on Monday that any EU nation found to have secret CIA prisons on their territory could have their EU voting rights suspended -- a measure unprecedented in the 25-nation bloc.

The Council of Europe -- the continent's main human rights watchdog -- is investigating the allegations, and EU justice official Jonathan Faul last week formally raised the issue with White House and US State Department representatives, Frattini said.

"They told him, `give us the appropriate time to evaluate the situation.' Right now, there is no response," he said.

The CIA has refused to comment on the EU investigation.

Frattini said suspending EU voting rights would be justified under the EU treaty which stipulates that the bloc is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, and that a persistent breach of these principles can be punished.

Clandestine detention centers would violate the European Convention on Human Rights.

Allegations that the CIA hid and interrogated key al-Qaeda suspects at Soviet-era compounds in Eastern Europe were first reported on Nov. 2 in the Washington Post. A day after the report appeared, Human Rights Watch said it had evidence indicating the CIA transported suspected terrorists captured in Afghanistan to Poland and Romania.

More denials of involvement came from Poland on Monday, with President Aleksander Kwasniewski reiterating that his country has never hosted any CIA prison.

"There aren't those types of prisons in Poland, and there aren't those types of prisoners on Polish territory," Kwasniewski said in comments broadcast by the all-news station TVN24.

Frattini said Romania's interior minister, Vasile Blaga, also had assured him the allegations were untrue and that a base at Mihail Kogalniceanu -- used by US forces from 2001-2003 to transport troops and equipment to Afghanistan and Iraq -- was not used as a detention center.

Reports of secret CIA flights followed the allegations of secret prisons, as more countries have decided to open investigations into the issue. Frattini said if the flights took place without the knowledge of local authorities, they would violate international aviation agreements.

Other airports that might have been used by CIA aircraft in some capacity include Palma de Mallorca in Spain, Larnaca in Cyprus and Shannon in Ireland, as well as the US air base at Ramstein, Germany, EU officials have said.

Investigations into alleged CIA landings or flyovers have been launched in Austria, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, and there have been unconfirmed reports in Macedonia and Malta.