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Published: Sunday, 11/6/2005

Hide and don't seek

After all the damaging stories that have surfaced about U.S. mistreatment of detainees in military custody, one would expect the Bush Administration to strictly adhere to international standards when holding any foreign terrorism suspects. But unfortunately, such assumptions may be premature.

The administration will neither confirm nor deny published reports that the CIA has set up secret prisons in Eastern Europe for its most important al-Qaeda captives. The Washington Post says the CIA has been hiding and interrogating inmates at so-called "black sites" in eight countries for nearly four years.

The allegations are supported by surreptitiously obtained CIA flight logs that indicate captured suspected terrorists in Afghanistan were transported to Poland and Romania. Those countries are among about a dozen nations that deny having secret CIA prisons in their territory.

But a senior military analyst with Human Rights Watch in New York said the flight logs, combined with witness testimonies of some prisoners released from Guantanamo and Afghanistan, reveal a pattern of the CIA moving prisoners from Afghanistan to secret detention facilities worldwide.

Reaction from foreign governments and international humanitarian groups was swift. Officials from the European Union plan to determine the truth of the reports about the covert CIA prison system which would appear to violate EU human rights laws and other European human rights conventions.

In addition, the International Committee of the Red Cross is calling for access to all foreign terrorism suspects held by the U.S., especially those at alleged secret jails hidden from outside scrutiny. The ICRC, which monitors compliance of prison conditions and detainee treatment with the Geneva Conventions, has long been concerned that the U.S. is hiding some prisoners from inspection.

The secret CIA prisons, if they do exist, would seem to confirm those fears. Without acknowledging their existence, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley theorized that if they do, "The United States will conduct its activities in compliance with law and international obligations."

But after Abu Ghraib and documented accounts of prisoner abuse elsewhere in U.S. custody, many would prefer a trust-but-verify position instead of simply relying on Washington's word.

Mr. Hadley insists the U.S. follows principles "consistent with our values" not to torture detainees even though such assurances may not be substantiated in every case.

Yet his statement rings hollow considering a proposal the administration is floating to exempt covert agents outside the Defense Department from a recent Senate-approved ban on torturing detainees in U.S. custody, or weakening the prohibition.

Small wonder the Bush Administration has failed to win many friends or influence people in the international community. Saying one thing and doing another tosses all assumptions of multilateral progress aside.

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