Polish Role in Secret CIA Prisons Under Probe
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
NPR's Rachel Martin reports.
RACHEL MARTIN: Airport manager Tomas Starovieski (ph) climbs the stairs to the control tower, opens the near empty operations room and runs a quick equipment test.
TOMAS STAROVIESKI: (Speaking Polish)
MARTIN: He flips a switch and the snow-covered runway illuminates like Christmas lights against the nearby forest. Human Rights Watch identified Chimani as one of several European airfields used to transport terrorist detainees and European media identified the nearby town of Cancutte (ph) as the site of one of the CIA's alleged secret prisons. But Airport Manager Starovieski says he has no knowledge of any terrorist transfers through his airfield.
STAROVIESKI: (Through translator) What I know for sure is that there were American planes that landed at this airport, but there were also planes from Germany, France and Spain. Whoever wanted to come here could do so.
MARTIN: In the middle of a frozen lake a few miles from the airport, 50-year-old Julian Chilynsky (ph) and his friend Bogdan Bouber (ph) are ice fishing. Like many local people, Chilynsky is skeptical about the reports of the secret prison in his backyard.
CHALYNSKI: (Through a translator) These are all just accusations about Chimani and Cancutte. They have to be investigated and proven. If there was something like this here, not only military officials would know it, but people from the villages would know it. We would know about it.
MARTIN: The same message is echoed by Gramascof Champinski (ph), the former head of Poland's secret service. Cooperation with the CIA has been tight since the fall of the Iron Curtain, but Champinski says that partnership has limits. He says the CIA tried to set up a secret telecommunications center in Poland in the early-90s.
GRAMASCOF CHAMPINSKI: At the beginning, sometimes, somewhere, they sought to develop some secret place, but we easily discovered it and said, okay, if anything like this happened again, it would jeopardize our relationship and never happened again. We are very close, very close, but I would like to stress that we are very independent in these relations.
MARTIN: Joseph Pinorf (ph) represents Poland in the European Parliament and is a member of the committee investigating CIA operations in Europe. E.U. leaders have said that any country that allowed the CIA to operate a secret detention center on its soil could lose E.U. voting rights. Pinorf says he's not sure President Kaczynski and his ministers understand how serious the situation is.
JOSEPH PINORF: If we are so close to American government that to have a good relations with the government is more important for them than to find the truth about these allegations.
MARTIN: Many Poles believe that it's in their country's interest to contribute to the U.S. fight against terrorism. Zebulin Labinsky (ph), a professor of American studies at Warsaw University, worries that the debate over secret prisons and detainee flights detracts from the global threat, but he says, Poland has to be careful to balance its relationships with Europe and the United States.
ZEBULIN LABINSKY: How much of our European identity are we going to sacrifice in order to remain close to the United States? And how close to the United States can you actually be without burning yourself? Those issues have to be very seriously discussed.
MARTIN: Rachel Martin. NPR News.
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