BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) – The European Union and the continent’s top human rights group said Thursday they will investigate allegations the CIA set up secret jails in eastern Europe and elsewhere to interrogate terror suspects, and the Red Cross demanded access to any prisoners.

Human Rights Watch said it has evidence, based on flight logs, that indicate the CIA transported suspects captured in Afghanistan to Poland and Romania. But the two countries – and others in the former Soviet bloc – denied the allegations. U.S. officials have refused to confirm or deny the claims.

Such prisons, European officials say, would violate the continent’s human rights principles. At work may be a complex web of global politics, in which eastern European countries face choices between the views of the European Union and their interest in close ties with the United States.

The International Committee of the Red Cross expressed strong interest in the claims, first reported Wednesday in the Washington Post, that the CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al-Qaida captives at Soviet-era compounds.

Red Cross chief spokeswoman Antonella Notari said the agency asked Washington about the allegations and requested access to the prisons if they exist. The Red Cross, which has exclusive rights to visit terror suspects detained at a U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, long has been concerned about reports U.S. officials were hiding detainees from ICRC delegates.

Europe’s top human rights organization, the Council of Europe, said it, too, would investigate.

Notari said the Red Cross, which also monitors conditions at U.S. detention centers in Afghanistan and Iraq, has been unable to find some people who reportedly were detained. She said the Red Cross was “concerned about the fate of an unknown number of persons detained as part of what is called the ‘global war on terror’ and held in undisclosed places of detention.”

In implicating Poland and Romania, Human Rights Watch examined flight logs of CIA aircraft from 2001 to 2004, said Mark Garlasco, a senior military analyst with the New York-based organization. He said the group matched the flight patterns with testimony from some of the hundreds of detainees in the war on terrorism who have been released by the United States.

“The indications are that prisoners in Afghanistan are being (taken) to facilities in Europe and other countries in the world,” Garlasco, a former civilian intelligence officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency, told The Associated Press.

He would not say how the organization obtained the flight logs, but said two destinations of the flights stood out as likely sites of any secret CIA detention centers: Szymany Airport in Poland, which is near the headquarters of Poland’s intelligence service; and Mihail Kogalniceanu military airfield in Romania.

Human Rights Watch also obtained the tail numbers of dozens of CIA aircraft to match them with the flight logs, Garlasco said.

He said that in September 2003, a Boeing 737 flew from Washington to Kabul, Afghanistan, making stops along the way in the Czech Republic and Uzbekistan. On Sept. 22, the plane flew on to Szymany Airport, then to Mihail Kogalniceanu, proceeded to Sale, Morocco, and finally landed at Guantanamo, Garlasco said.

As far as he knew, Human Rights Watch has not found and interviewed detainees who were held in any alleged facilities in Poland and Romania.

Washington had an agreement with Romania to use its air space during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the U.S. military has used Kogalniceanu air base. But the Romanian Defense Ministry issued a statement saying it was “not aware that such a detention center … existed at the Mihail Kogalniceanu base,” and invited journalists to come see for themselves.

“I repeat: We do not have CIA bases in Romania,” said Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu.

In Poland, an aide to President Aleksander Kwasniewski said authorities there had “no information” of such facilities.

Other European countries also issued denials.

Boglar Laszlo, a spokesman for Hungary’s prime minister, told the AP that an official report would be drawn up following consultations with air transportation officials and others “so we can bring this matter to a close.”

Baltic countries Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia also denied the allegations, as did former Soviet republics such as Georgia and Armenia.

In London, the office of Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has close ties with the Bush administration, declined to comment.

EU spokesman Friso Roscam Abbing told reporters that the European Commission, the EU’s executive office, would launch an informal probe, requesting answers from all 25 member governments and EU candidates Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Turkey.

At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States has not received any request from the EU for cooperation with an investigation into the reported secret prisons.

“If we do receive a request, we will take a look at it,” McCormack said.

Such an investigation could create tensions between Washington and EU governments, many of which have been outspoken critics of how the United States has been handling terrorist suspects at Guantanamo. EU heavyweights France and Germany led international opposition to the U.S. decision to invade Iraq.

Countries outside Europe also took notice.

“We’re pleased to learn that the veracity of these allegations is being examined by European authorities,” Rodney Moore, a spokesman for the Canadian Foreign Affairs ministry in Ottawa, told the AP. “And we expect all detainees to be treated according to international humanitarian law, which requires that the detainees, regardless of their status, must be treated humanely at all times.”

Canadian authorities have been called to task by some members of the country’s parliament over the case of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian who was detained at a New York airport in September 2002 on suspicion of being an al-Qaida member. U.S. authorities subsequently deported Arar to Syria, where he was held and tortured for more than a year before being released in 2003.

According to the Post’s report, the CIA set up a covert prison system nearly four years ago which at various times included sites in eight countries, including Afghanistan and several eastern Europe nations. It quoted current and former intelligence officials and diplomats as sources for its story.

Roscam Abbing said such prisons could violate EU human rights laws and other European human rights conventions.

Matjaz Gruden, a spokesman for the Council of Europe, said the human rights watchdog would also be following the issue “very closely.”

Associated Press writer Andrew Selsky contributed to this report from New York.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.