Romania's CIA Prison Illuminates Failure of European Accountability

12/09/2011 04:40 pm ET | Updated Feb 08, 2012

On Thursday, after countless official denials, the location of the CIA's secret prison in Romania was revealed. According to the Associated Press and SDZ, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and other al Qaeda suspects were held in a concealed basement beneath Bucharest's National Registry Office for Classified Information in 2003 and 2004.

The Romanian government have always dismissed allegations of a secret prison on their soil, and they still do; a senior official has said that the existence of the prison was "impossible". "We have no knowledge of this subject," AP quoted President Traian Basescu as saying.

The evidence tells a different story: records of flights into and out of Romania from other CIA "black site" locations and the picture painted by former CIA officials of the goings-on at the site leave little room for doubt. Richmor Aviation's notorious rendition plane N85VM was a regular visitor, shuttling between Bucharest, Guantanamo Bay and Rabat, Morocco.

Sadly, stubborn denial of 'War on Terror' complicity, even in the face of damning evidence, is standard practice for Europe's governments. In Lithuania and Poland, where the British legal charity Reprieve has been investigating clear evidence of illegal prisons, most politicians still scoff at the idea that they, or their security services, were involved in the CIA's secret prison system.

The search for CIA prisoners in Lithuania was "like looking for life on Mars", one MP said, presumably ironically. Another congratulated the Lithuanian Parliamentary Committee on Security and Defence for investigating the issue and finding no prisoners -- "especially bearing in mind that it was necessary to create an illusion before the international community that the inquiry was thorough." Lithuania's pre-trial investigation began late, concluded swiftly and failed to discover the full complement of U.S. Government-contracted jets which flew into and out of Lithuania during the prison's operation. When alerted to the omission by Reprieve, the prosecutor stirred briefly to admit that it was news to him, and resumed his slumber.

In Poland, a long pre-trial investigation, begun in 2008, has revealed almost nothing. Two prisoners currently held indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay have been granted 'victim status', but this appears to be merely a trope: their lawyers are unable to see what the investigation is uncovering, or even what it is trying to uncover. And despite evidence identifying Poland as the site discussed in the CIA Inspector General's 2004 report -- where an interrogator used a gun and a power-drill to "frighten" a prisoner -- the Polish government insists there was no such prison.

Elsewhere, the international organization Eurocontrol is refusing to release crucial flight data to investigators, while the British government dismisses the embarrassingly well-documented records of their dalliances with Colonel Gadaffi's Libya as "allegations" and ring-fences their torture inquiry with a remit designed to prevent it from finding anything out.

The discovery of the Romanian prison site (after six years of official denials) demonstrates, once again, that the truth will eventually come out. At the moment, it is the governments of Europe -- those with the greatest responsibility -- who are making the least effort to ensure it does.