US denies running secret prison in Kosovo as covert CIA flights investigated


US: The United States has denied running a covert detention facility in Kosovo, amid concerns that the CIA is holding terror suspects in secret prisons across Europe.

Council of Europe human rights commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles said he was "shocked" by conditions at a detention centre inside the US military's Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, when he visited in 2002.

He described the facility as "a smaller version of Guantanamo", referring to the US centre at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where hundreds of terrorism suspects are detained without trial.

Mr Gil-Robles told France's Le Monde newspaper that he remembered "small wooden huts ringed by tall barbed wire", each housing "between 15 and 20 prisoners . . . wearing orange boiler-suits like the ones worn by Guantanamo inmates". Some prisoners were bearded and reading the Koran, he added.

But US military spokesman Maj Michael Nunn denied the existence of any secret jails, and defended conditions for detainees at Camp Bondsteel.

"There are no secret detention facilities located on Camp Bondsteel," he insisted.

"It is common knowledge that we do have a Kosovo Force detention facility located here. The US army maintains this facility," Maj Nunn said.

"The facility is subject to inspection by the International Committee of the Red Cross."

Mr Gil-Robles said he had no evidence that Camp Bondsteel was linked to the alleged CIA operations, but called on Washington to explain the sightings of suspected CIA planes at dozens of airports across Europe. "I do believe that an explanation should be given for this base in Kosovo, as for other potentially suspect sites," he told Le Monde.

Germany and Switzerland have joined nearly a dozen other countries and the Council of Europe in investigating flights suspected of carrying prisoners to extra-judicial detention and locations where they may be tortured. New German foreign minister Franz-Walter Steinmeier, who is due in Washington tomorrow, said he was troubled by the reports.

"What we have read is in fact grounds for concern," Mr Steinmeier told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Germany has already opened an investigation into a case in which an Egyptian suspect was reportedly secretly transported via Ramstein in western Germany, the largest US air base in Europe. German media have reported that more than 80 secret CIA flights touched down in Germany en route to secret detention centres.

Council of Europe investigator Dick Marty, a Swiss member of parliament, expressed pessimism at the weekend about the prospects for US co-operation in the investigation.

"It doesn't seem like the US government is helping us in this case," said Mr Marty, who is looking into suspect flights by 31 aircraft. They can't confirm or deny. They say they are at war, so it will be difficult to obtain information from their side."