Bush 'operating secret gulag in eastern Europe'

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Using the flight logs of a plane used by the CIA for transporting prisoners and other unspecified information, a leading human rights group said it believed the facilities were located in the two former Soviet bloc countries and first used in 2003.

Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch told The Independent: "These are the areas we are highly confident about, based on the flights logs and other information we have."

The investigation by the New York-based group has focused on the logs of a Boeing 757 jet with the tailgate marker N313P. This plane has been widely identified as being used by the CIA for the transportation and "renditioning" of terror suspects outside the US. Until recently, it was registered to a Massachusetts-based company believed to be a front for the CIA.

Using this data Human Rights Watch discovered that, in September 2003, it flew directly from Kabul to Szymany airport, near the remote Polish town of Szczytno, north of Warsaw, home to a training facility for the Polish intelligence service.

From there, the plane flew directly to Mihail Kogalniceanu air base, close to the Romanian city of Constanta on the Black Sea coast. The Pentagon is involved in negotiations to take over the airbase's operation. Throughout 2004, the plane made a number of other visits to Kogalniceanu, on which the US has spent at least $3m upgrading facilities in preparation for taking it over.

In 2003 Kogalniceanu was used as the temporary location for more than 3,500 US troops on their way to northern Iraq. Last October, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited the base and met senior Romanian military officials.

"The flight from Kabul in September 2003 happened at a time when we know a number of ghost detainees were being moved," said Mr Malinowski. "It's hard to imagine why this plane would be flying there otherwise."

Various human rights group have long monitored secret detention facilities used by the CIA around the world, known as "black sites". It is known the US sends prisoners to countries such as Jordan, Pakistan and Egypt for the so-called "renditioning" of detainees.

>The CIA is also understood to operate such facilities in Iraq and at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. The British Government has denied previous claims that a detention centre also operated on the island of Diego Garcia.

Yesterday, The Washington Post, which first reported that the agency had established detention facilities in two unidentified Eastern European countries, also reported the CIA had last year moved one of its prisons on Guantanamo Bay. It said it had shut down the facility because it was concerned that a Supreme Court ruling would force them to place detainees before a civilian court.

Under the Geneva Conventions, the Red Cross is afforded access to all prisoners of war. Simon Schorno, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Washington, said some of these "ghost prisoners" may have been arrested by law enforcement officials rather than captured in combat situations. He said: "We are concerned about the fate of an unknown number of prisoners captured during the so-called international war on terror."

Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst, said he believed news about the detention facilities was emerging because agency members were concerned. "Once again the Bush administration is out of control," he said.

Marek Purowski, a spokesman for the Polish Embassy in Washington, said he would investigate the allegations. "I have to deny it. I cannot believe it is true," he said. The Romanian embassy did not return calls seeking comment.