NATO Base in Kosovo Home to 'Secret' American Prison

The E.U. Commissioner for Human Rights, Alvaro Gil Robles, has for the first time divulged that in 2002, he visited the U.S. Army base in Kosovo, Camp Bondsteel, and saw a 'mini Guantanamo' there. According to this article from France's Le Monde, prisoners held there, like those at Guantanamo, have no access to legal counsel and have been incarcerated without legal process.

By Natalie Nougayrede

November 25, 2005

Original Article (French)



Alvaro Gil Robles, E.U. Human Rights Commissioner

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As the number of questions asked across Europe grows on the existence of a chain of secret prisons run by the CIA, the E.U. Commissioner for Human Rights, Alvaro Gil Robles, has described for the first time what he saw in September 2002, at a site that until now had not been mentioned in the controversy of extrajudicial detentions and the war on al-Qaeda: The U.S. military base at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo.

Within this imposing base, which is home to 6,000 U.S. Army troops and spread out across 300 hectares near Ferizaj, south of Pristina, the "capital" of the U.N.-administered province of Kosovo, Gil Robles saw a replica of Guantanamo. A prison has been built inside Camp Bondsteel. Run by the U.S. Army, it is the principal detention center for KFOR, the multinational NATO force deployed in Kosovo since June 1999.

From a tower, I saw a place which looked like a replica of Guantanamo, but on a smaller scale, Robles tells Le Monde. Small rudimentary wooden shelters were surrounded by a tall barbed wire fence. I saw between fifteen and twenty prisoners inside huts, dressed in orange jumpsuits like those used at Guantanamo. The prisoners I saw were not shackled. Most of them were sitting down, some isolated from the others. Some prisoners had beards. Others read the Koran. There were walkways around the cells for the guards. A female U.S. soldier who worked at the prison explained to me that she had just been transferred there from Guantanamo, Robles continued. He also met with a representative of the U.S. Department of Justice.


President Bush at Camp Bondsteel in July, 2001

"Shocked" by what he saw at Camp Bondsteel, Robles requested the day after his 2002 visit that detention operations end and that the buildings resembling Guantanamo be dismantled. He says he received assurances that this would be done the following year.

However a number of questions remain unanswered. Was the prison at Camp Bondsteel used by the CIA to "rotate" prisoners amongst Afghanistan, the Middle East, Europe and Guantanamo? Have there been or are there now places of secret detention? Under whose jurisdiction does a KFOR prison inside Camp Bondsteel fall?

In 2002 at Camp Bondsteel and Guantanamo, prisoners had no access to legal counsel. Their incarceration was not the result of judicial procedure and their place of origin was not always clear. The legal limbo of Kosovo has contributed to the situation. The province is under U.N. administration pending a definitive determination, but the multinational force is NATO and has significant prerogatives. Camp Bondsteel is a zone of "non-law." As it was being built in 1999, the camp was described as the largest U.S. base since the Vietnam War.

Among the detainees seen by Robles, four men were North African while others appeared to be Kosovars or Serbs. According to the official version, the four men were arrested by KFOR along the Macedonian border and were detained for compelling "security" reasons. But on paper the reason for detention was strange: "Resolution 1244," in reference to the U.N. Security Council resolution covering Kosovo and the powers of KFOR.



The 'Largest U.S. Military Base Since the Vietnam War,' Camp Bondsteel.

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Robles requested permission to visit the prison inside Camp Bondsteel after KFOR carried out a number of extrajudicial arrests in Kosovo. He was escorted to the base by the KFOR commander at the time, French General Marcel Valentin, who was visibly upset by the fate of the prisoners.

The use of a base linked to a NATO operation under the aegis of the U.N. in the "war on terror" raises the question of the transparency of U.S. activities vis--vis its allies.

These facts go back three years. The fact that Robles has waited until now to talk about this raises questions. The report that he published following his trip barely mentioned Camp Bondsteel. The priority at the time was to facilitate the admission of Serbia-Montenegro to the Council of Europe, which was accomplished in 2003.
The reason he recalls the episode now, says Robles, is his growing suspicion concerning the existence of secret prisons run by the CIA, and the apparent scale of the transfers by special planes of prisoners suspected of links to al-Qaeda.

I cannot prove the link between [the transfers] and Camp Bondsteel, because I don't possess concrete evidence, says Robles. But I believe that we must demand an explanation of the activities inside that base in Kosovo as well as other suspicious sites in Europe.

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