CIA Secret Prison in Kosovo
Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo
A NATO base in UN-administered Kosovo is home to a US-run secret prison.
Story by Natalie Nougayrède | Le Monde| 25 Nov 2005
As the number of questions being asked grows across Europe on the existence on the continent of a chain of secret prisons run by the CIA, the EU Commissioner for Human Rights, Alvaro Gil Robles, describes for the first time what he saw in September 2002 at a site which until now had not been mentioned in the controversy of extrajudicial detentions and the war on al-Qaeda: The US military base at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo.
Within this imposing base, which is home to 6,000 US Army troops and spreads across 300 hectares near Ferizaj, south of Pristina, the “capital” of the UN-administered province of Kosovo, Gil Robles saw a replica of Guantanamo. A prison has been built inside Camp Bondsteel. [Home to the Laura Bush Education Center--Nur] Run by the US Army, it is the principal detention center for KFOR, the multinational NATO force deployed to Kosovo in June 1999.
From a tower, I saw a place which looked like a replica of Guantanamo, but on a smaller scale, Gil Robles tells Le Monde. Small rudimentary wooden shelters were surrounded by a tall barbed wire fence. I saw between fifteen and twenty prisoners inside in huts, dressed in orange jumpsuits like those used in 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 guard duty. A US female soldier who worked at the prison explained to me that she had just been transferred there from Guantanmo, Gil Robles continues. He also met with a representative of the US Department of Justice.
"Shocked" by what he say in Camp Bondsteel, Gil Robles requested on 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 in “rotations” of prisoners by the CIA between Afghanistan, the Middle East, Europe and Guantanamo? Have there been or are there now places of secret detention? On whose jurisdiction does a KFOR prison inside Camp Bondsteel depend?
In 2002 at Camp Bondsteel and in Guantanamo, the prisoners did not have access to legal counsel. Their incarceration was not the result of any judicial procedure and their place of origin is fluid. The legal limbo of Kosovo has contributed to the situation. The province is under UN administration pending a definitive determination but the multinational force is NATO and has significant prerogatives. Camp Bondsteel is a zone of un-law. As it was being built in 1999, the camp was described as the largest US base since the Vietnam War.
Among the detainees seen by Gil 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 reasons of “security.” But on paper the reason for detention was strange: “Resolution 1244”, referencing the UN Security Council resolution covering Kosovo and the powers of KFOR.
Alvaro-Gil 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 UN in the "war on terror" raises the question of transparency of US activities vis-à-vis its allies.
These facts go back three years. The fact that Gil Robles has waited until now to talk about is raises an eyebrow. The report which 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, accomplished in 2003.
The reason why he recalls the episode now, says Gil 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 do not possess concrete evidence, says Gil 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. (End)
P.S. There may be other secret prisons in Kosovo. Remember that bizarre shoot out at a Kosovo detention center near Mitrovica between female US MPs and a Jordanian police unit in April 2004 which was quickly hushed up?
An American former correctional officer serving with the U.N. mission in Kosovo was in critical condition Sunday, a day after an attack on a group of prison guards, most of them Americans, by a Jordanian policeman also serving with the U.N. mission in Mitrovica.Um, now just what would have provoked some individuals in that Jordanian police unit to do a thing like that? Clan members of some detainee, perhaps? Some Koranic outrage in a prison camp they might have witnessed?
Two American women died in the shooting and another nine American officers were wounded at a jail in the city of Mitrovica in the northern part of the province on Saturday. An Austrian prison guard was also wounded. The Jordanian officer was killed when the guards returned fire.