European Union Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini has responded to allegations of secret CIA prisons on European soil by threatening to impose sanctions on any EU nation found to be housing clandestine camps.
The EU and US are set to tangle over reports of CIA in-flight torture
Speaking at a security conference in Berlin, Frattini made it plain that he was not prepared to tolerate any European involvement in the operation of CIA jails, which he stressed would violate the bloc's rules governing freedom and human rights.
Earlier this month the Washington Post reported the CIA to be holding suspects from Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda group in jails in eight countries, among them "several democracies in eastern Europe."
On the back of the reports, the US-based independent watchdog Human Rights Watch also said it was "practically convinced" of the existence of such centers in Poland and Romania.
EU Justice Commissioner, Franco Frattini
"Should the accusations be accurate, I would be forced to draw serious consequences," Frattini said. This could include the suspension of the voting rights in the Council of Ministers, the body which groups the 25 EU heads of government.
Awaiting White House response
The justice commissioner added that although the EU had made contact with Washington several days earlier to get to the bottom of the allegations, Brussels had so far received no "formal assurance" of the reports being untrue.
The State Department said on Monday that it had received inquiries from Europe concerning the press reports, and would be willing to answer any queries "in as complete and forthright manner" as possible when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits Europe next week.
The US Secretary of State will also be expected to respond to reports that the CIA tortured terror suspects during flights in European airspace. On Monday, Germany's new Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said Berlin was waiting for the White House to either confirm or deny the claims that Islamic extremists were tortured during CIA flights, which touched down on German soil en route to secret detention centers.
US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice
US State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack said that Rice, who is due to visit Germany, Romania and Ukraine before heading to Belgium for a NATO meeting, was prepared to discuss the reported secret prisons if asked by her country's allies. But he gave no indication whether she would go beyond the US administration's line, neither confirming nor denying the existence of the interrogation centers, but defending the US stance on the continued war against terror.
"I think the conversation will take place in the broader context of our common struggle against terrorism," he said.
The Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly had already announced a probe into reports of the CIA operating clandestine prisons in some European countries, and many EU countries including Finland, Italy, Poland, Romania and Spain have opened their own investigations into the allegations of aviation aircraft stopovers.
German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Germany has launched an investigation into a case in which an Egyptian suspect was transported via Ramstein, the largest US airbase on European soil, to Egypt where his supporters say he was tortured.
The new German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, is under domestic political pressure to raise the issue in Washington on Tuesday when he holds his first meeting with Rice since taking up office earlier this month.