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Report of Secret Prisons Stirs International Reaction

The European Commission said Thursday it will investigate published reports that the CIA set up secret jails in eastern Europe to detain high-profile terrorism suspects. The Commission says the governments of the EU's 25 member nations will be informally questioned about the allegations. As VOA's Robert Raffaele explains, EU commissioners are concerned about possible human rights violations.

The European Union reacted to a Washington Post newspaper report that the Central Intelligence Agency has set up a network of secret prisons in eight countries, including one in Afghanistan, code-named "the Salt Pit."

The report cited U.S. and foreign officials as saying the CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al-Qaida captives in a Soviet-era compound somewhere in Eastern Europe.

In Washington, U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley would neither confirm nor deny the sites' existence. He insisted President Bush's war on terrorism complies with international law.

"The President has been very clear that we are going to do that in a way that is consistent with our values, and that is why he has been very clear that the United States will not torture, the United States will conduct its activities in compliance with [the] law and international obligations," said Mr. Hadley.

The locations of the so-called "black sites" are said to be known to only a handful of U.S. officials.

Former and current U.S. intelligence officials tell the Post more than 100 suspected terrorists are in the covert system, created after the September 11, 2001 attacks. They reportedly include al-Qaida operations chief Abu Zubaida, and 9/11 planner Ramzi Binalshibh.

Intelligence officials told the Post the CIA detains high-profile suspects overseas, because it is illegal for the government to hold prisoners in secret prisons in the U.S. But legal experts said the CIA's internment policy also would be considered illegal under the laws of the "black site" nations.

The report says all the nations in question signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment -- as did the United States.

EU spokesman Frisco Roscam Abbing said, "It is clear that all 25 member states, having signed up to the convention on human rights and to the international convention against torture, are due to respect and fully implement the obligations derived from those two treaties."

The U.S. has invited independent human rights experts from the United Nations to visit its Guantanamo Bay, Cuba complex, where 500 Taliban and al-Qaida suspects are being held.

But the International Red Cross has asked the U.S. government about the report of secret jails.

Europe's human rights organization, the Council of Europe, also wants to know if the reports are true.