'U.S. Torture Camps' in Europe: 'The Proof!'

'Now there is evidence: the Americans are running secret torture prisons in Europe.' That much emerges from a fax sent by the Egyptian Ambassador in London to his Foreign Minister in Cairo. According to this article from Switzerland's Sonntags Blick, the newspaper has a copy of the fax, which was intercepted by Swiss intelligence.

By Sandro Brotz and Beat Jost

Translated By Carl Bergquist

January 10, 2005

Original Article (German)    

A Marine Stands Guard at Abu Ghraib (above);
Heart of Swiss Eavesdropping System 'Onyx' (below).

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit (above);
A Mig Jet at the Mihail Kogalniceanu Airbase (below).

Soldiers at a Kogalniceanu Airport Hanger (above);
Swiss Armed Forces Chief Christophe Keckeis (below).

Swiss Senator and Investigator Dick Marty (above);
Romanian Base Has a George Washington Blvd (below).

U.S. Troops Move Prisoner at Guantanamo Bay (above);
A Prisoner at Abu Ghraib Gets 'Softened Up' (below).

THE SURVEILLANCE MISSION: How Swiss agents netted the Egyptian fax out of the air waves.

It is the middle of the night when the first ounce of light is shed on a dark tale, nearly one thirty in the morning on November 15, 2005.  The electronic surveillance command of the Swiss Defense Ministry (VBS), located in Zimmerwald, a mile south of the capital Bern, is eavesdropping as usual, and naturally, strictly according to procedure. This night, like all others, the satellite-based intercept system Onyx is listening with a million ears. The intelligence officer with the codename "wbm" is polishing up "Report COMINT SAT" file number S160018TER00000115.

Does "wbm" know just how explosive this communication - which he is translating into French for his superior in the Army’s electronic warfare department - really is?

It was intercepted from outer space, secretly transmitted from a satellite down to earth five days earlier on the 10th of November at 8:24 pm. It is a fax exchanged between Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and his ambassador in London. The Swiss agent uses the following headline for the communication: "The Egyptians have sources who confirm the existence of secret American prisons." According to the Swiss intelligence report, the fax stated: "The embassy has via its own sources ascertained that 23 Iraqi and Afghani nationals have indeed been interrogated at the Mihail Kogalniceanu base near Constanţa, Romania, just by the Black Sea. There are similar interrogation facilities in Ukraine, Kosovo, in Macedonia and in Bulgaria." Furthermore, the fax says that the NGO Human Rights Watch, according to a newspaper article, has evidence that "on the 21st and the 22nd  of September 2005, prisoners were transported in U.S. military planes from the Salt Pit base in Kabul, Afghanistan to both the aforementioned Romanian base and the Szymany base in Poland." The Egyptians also pointedly note: "Despite these facts, the Romanian authorities deny the existence of secret prisons where American intelligence agents interrogate al-Qaeda members. These denials by the Romanians have been accepted by the spokespersons of the European Union."

A SENSATION: For the first time a country confirms that it has knowledge regarding the existence of secret CIA prisons in Europe

The political explosiveness of the Egyptian Foreign Minister’s fax is hard to top, proving a country is actually aware of secret CIA prisons on European soil. Here, the basis is not a public source like the media or reports by organizations like Human Rights Watch. Instead, the fax refers to [Egypt's] "own sources." The work of the Egyptian intelligence services is, according to experts, who themselves wish to remain anonymous, considered "highly professional." In spy circles, intelligence information out of Cairo is generally seen as "totally reliable and trustworthy." The Egyptian ambassador to Bern declined to answer SonntagsBlick’s queries about the fax transmission. The editors did not comply with his request to hand over the document. Further questioning about whether he disputed the authenticity of the fax was met with silence.

Thus, what the whole world has so far only assumed can now be confirmed, thanks to the Egyptian sources. That is: that the U.S. systematically abducts, hides and interrogates its prisoners in the War on Terror. "We have not used airports or airspace for the purpose of transferring people or detainees to places where we believe that they are going to be tortured," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at the meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers in Brussels in early December. But what she did not say is: that there are no prisons or transports.

THE SILENT ONE: Armed Forces Chief Christophe Keckeis needs 48 hours to react

There is now also an overwhelming need for an explanation from the Federal Palace [which houses both the Swiss Parliament and the Federal Executive Council]. SonntagsBlick confronted the top brass last Wednesday with questions about its eavesdropping. How did Army Intelligence wind up spying on a friendly state? Were Defense Minister Samuel Schmid (age 59), Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey (age 60) and Justice Minister Christoph Blocher (age 65) informed about the significant content of the communication? Did someone inform the GPDel, the supervisory body responsible for intelligence? Was the document shared with American intelligence or with other countries, as is normally the case with Onyx intercepts?

48 hours elapsed before the head of the Armed Forces Christophe Keckeis reacted. SonntagsBlick’s questions will not be answered, Corps Commander Keckeis stated categorically on Friday. The GPdel supervisory authority was, however, fully informed. Its chairman Hans Hofmann stated on Friday that he had no knowledge of this political tinderbox. Nevertheless, Hofmann spontaneously referred to the revelations as "unparalleled indiscretions."

A deafening silence is also coming from the independent control body UKI. Its three members – all high-ranking civil servants from the Defense, Justice and Transport Ministries – are obliged by the electronic warfare law to oversee all intercepted assignments. If the legality is in doubt, UKI can ask the relevant intelligence service at either the Defense or Justice and Police Ministry to freeze the surveillance. Was the Egypt assignment approved, and was it perhaps even requested? UKI Chairman, Professor Luzius Mader of the Justice Ministry did not really wish to answer any questions, "all public information regarding the activities of UKI is the responsibility of the Defense Ministry." But there as well, it is "no comment." Jean-Blaise Defago, spokesman for Defense Minister Schmid, relayed that "the Ministry has nothing to say regarding this issue."

THE CONSEQUENCES: Defense Minister Samuel Schmid opens an administrative investigation

Commotion, nervousness and silence: the furor in Bern is understandable. At most, three or four people read the intercepts in their raw, original form. Important communications are then classified, with the sources blotted out and veiled.

"It’s a disaster that the dealings regarding the Egyptian fax have become public knowledge," said one high-ranking intelligence insider. "I would have gone to Schmid straight-away since as Defense Minister, he is chair of the Federal Council’s security committee."

The question of if and when Schmid told his two Federal Council colleagues on the security committee is being treated as a State secret. The Defense Ministry is mum, Calmy-Rey’s Foreign Ministry is saying nothing and the Justice Ministry under Christophe Blocker is stonewalling. Sascha Hardegger, spokesperson for the Justice Minstry said "we are not taking a position on this."

The only thing for certain, according to Defago at the Defense Ministry, is that Minister Schmid has opened an administrative investigation into how the classified document could come into public spotlight.

THE INVESTIGATOR: What are international experts saying about the revelations?

Is a newspaper allowed to publish classified files on possible secret CIA prisons? In response to this question, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Viennese law professor, Manfred Nowak (age 55) said "Of course. Absolutely. It is in the public interest."

"This is quite a scoop" proclaimed Dick Marty (age 61), who is a Swiss Senator and the Council of Europe’s special rapporteur on the CIA prison affair. With the caveat that it's not possible for him to certify the authenticity of the document, he still doesn't mince words: "This is more evidence of something we already suspected". The truth is now "coming out bit by bit."

Marty, formerly also a thorn in the Mafia’s side and who has been investigating the CIA affair from two months, challenges the government to "finally tell the truth on this matter."

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