Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen considers himself "America's best friend" in Europe. He even broke a long-standing Danish tradition of seeking parliament-wide consensus in contentious foreign policy issues to back Washington's decision to invade Iraq.
But the right-wing leader's closeness to United States President George W. Bush may be changing. The government in Copenhagen has accused its American friends of violating Danish airspace 12 times since 2001 -- as recently as Oct. 10 with an aircraft linked to the US Central Intelligence Agency. The plane -- a Gulfstream 5 often used by the CIA -- was on its way from a US base in Keflavik, Iceland to Budapest, Hungary and was presumed to be carrying Islamic terror suspects.
Another CIA plane even landed in Copenhagen for 23 hours last March, prompting Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller in August to make "clear to US officials that Denmark does not want its airspace used for purposes that are in conflict with international conventions."
Concern amongst European officials has grown following a report published last week in the Washington Post detailing an expansive network of so-called "black sites" across Eastern Europe -- mostly prisons and military bases -- allegedly used by the US intelligence community to house and interrogate suspected Islamic terrorists.
EU worried about torture
According to Danish sources, two top level al-Qaida members, the group's operations chief Abu Zubaida and planner of the 9/11 attacks Ramzi Binalshibh, have been held at least temporarily in Europe. The most damaging allegation is that the CIA may be using "improved interrogation techniques" that are outlawed by the United Nations Convention Against Torture and US military law when questioning prisoners overseas.
The group Human Rights Watch compared information from former detainees and European officials with 150 flights from 33 aircraft thought to be used for American intelligence activities. The analysis highlighted several destinations in Eastern Europe -- including airports in Skopje, Macedonia and Timisioara and Bucharest, Romania in 2004. A year earlier, flights headed to both Prague in the Czech Republic and the supposedly closed small airport Szymany in northeastern Poland.
Understandably, officials from those countries have either denied involvement in the CIA's plans or have remained silent. According to the Washington Post, only the leaders and top intelligence officers of each host country are aware of the black sites. Czech Interior Minister Frantiek Bublan admitted American intelligence officials asked a month ago if several people could be flow in from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for "secure asylum," but Prague turned down the request.
It's also known that the CIA abducted a German citizen of Arab descent -- Khaled el-Masri -- in Macedonia in 2003. Unfortunately, Masri was the victim of mistaken identity, but he was still held and interrogated in Skopje for 23 days before being taken by US intelligence operatives to prison in Afghanistan.
The Americans are also active in other parts of the Balkans. Not far from Macedonia, in the heart of Kosovo, the US government even operates a Gitmo-style camp with its own prison and landing strip around 30 kilometers east of Pristina. Originally used to house members of the Albanian independence group the UCK, Camp Bondsteel -- like Guantanamo -- is an overseas US enclave existing in legal limbo.
The United States has also used the Mihail-Kogalniceanu military airport on Romania's Black Sea coast as a base for operations in Iraq since 2003. According to Human Rights Watch, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld inspected the base in October 2004. In recent months, there have been reports in Romania of terrorists being transported to unknown locations, but there has been no official confirmation. Washington's unspoken policy in its war on terror has often been to only inform the countries directly affected. Allies in transit countries are generally left in the dark.
But in a sign that European governments are growing impatient with these clandestine operations, some no longer appear to be prepared to accept such conditions. "It's now the EU's turn," says one high-ranking German official. "If the reports are true, there will be plenty explaining to do." Members of the European Parliament are demanding that EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana investigate the allegations.
Up till now, the European Commission in Brussels says it has "absolutely no evidence for the existence of secret prisons" in Europe. But western intelligence agencies have more information. "We know these places exist," says one official. "But the exact details are kept extremely secret."