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CIA prisoners "taken to North Africa"

afrol News, 6 December - Following the uproar in Europe over the alleged torture of CIA prisoners in prisons on European soil, Washington is reported to have moved the prisoners to "somewhere in North Africa" well ahead of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's trip to Berlin and Brussels. While no concrete country is named, it expected that the CIA torture victims are now held in Egypt and/or Morocco.

Ms Rice is currently in Berlin, where she had a difficult task meeting Germany's new Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the German press. It will not be easier at European Union (EU) headquarters in Brussels or in Poland and Romania, the two countries most frequently named as the European countries hosting the CIA's torture centres as part of the "war against terrorism".

Media reports had revealed that Washington had sent alleged "terrorists" to detention centres outside the US, where the CIA could avoid legislation prohibiting torture during interrogation. Scandal broke lose in Europe as it was known that at least two European countries hosted such detention centres. Many pointed fingers at Poland and Romania. The EU and almost all European governments have demanded an explanation from Washington.

Given the delicate situation, the CIA's detention centres in Europe were no longer sustainable, Current and former CIA officers speaking to the US broadcaster 'ABC News' on the condition of confidentiality had said that Washington thus had "scrambled to get all the suspects off European soil before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived there today."

"The officers say 11 top al Qaeda suspects have now been moved to a new CIA facility in the North African desert," ABC News reports. The CIA officials had asked the US broadcaster "not to name the specific countries where the prisons were located, citing security concerns," 'ABC News' added. Official comments were not available from American authorities, which so far have denied the holding of CIA prisoners in Europe.

In North Africa and the Middle East, few countries have so far admitted to their cooperation with the US intelligence services. Human rights groups long ago however documented that at least Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Morocco are cooperating with the CIA regarding detentions of alleged "terrorists". Further, the US detains "terrorists" in foreign locations under its control but far away from the US legislation, including on its base in Guantanamo Bay (Cuba), Iraq's infamous Abu Ghraib prison and detention centres in Afghanistan.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch, among others, has documented widespread use of torture in these detention centres controlled by the CIA. The Washington government, which terms this "light" torture "rendition", has asked lawmakers to approve of the use of torture in the "war against terrorism", but the US parliament has not bowed into pressure. Evidence of innocent people being tortured after having been captured and held as "terrorists" has made the CIA's case even more difficult.

Speculations are now high on where the 11 suspected "terrorists" sent to "somewhere in North Africa" now are held. In fact, the candidates are few. Libya is not cooperating with the US government in such ways. Tunisia and Algeria, while having relatively pro-US governments, do not have the full confidence of Washington. Egypt and Morocco, on the other hand, are the main US allies in the Arab world at large.

Human Rights Watch claims to have evidence of the CIA using detention centres in both Egypt and Morocco to be bale to use its new "rendition" methods against the alleged "terrorists". Also the anonymous CIA sources speaking to 'ABC News' mentioned "Jordan, Syria, Morocco and Egypt" as the countries used to host "unlawful combatants", where the CIA may use "interrogation techniques harsher than any authorised for use by US intelligence officers."

Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch today strongly criticised US Secretary of State Rice for her statements made in Berlin. "Secretary Rice made extra-legal rendition sound like just another form of extradition," said Mr Malinowski. "In fact, it is a form of kidnapping and 'disappearing' someone entirely outside the law."

The US Secretary of State had noted that "where appropriate, the United States seeks assurances that transferred persons will not be tortured." But Human Rights Watch said that such assurances are ineffective and did not relieve Washington of its obligation not to send people to countries where they are likely to be tortured. "No one honestly believes that assurances from countries like Egypt and Syria can be trusted," said Mr Malinowski.

The widespread and systematic use of torture in Egyptian and Moroccan detention centres is very well documented. In both North Africa countries, opposition militants have been subjected to heavy torture. In Morocco, a young Sahrawi protester allegedly died of injuries sustained during heavy torture only in November.

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