BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania's former defense minister said Monday that parts of an air base used by U.S. troops during the Iraq war were off-limits to Romanian authorities, but he could not determine whether prisoners had been held there.
The Mihail Kogalniceanu military airfield near the Black Sea, which was used by the Americans in 2003, had "a handful of two-people tents used by special forces" from which Romanian officials were barred, the ex-minister, Ioan Mircea Pascu, told Associated Press.
He said the U.S. military used the base to transport troops, some of whom were sent to northern Iraq. The U.S. also used the facility as a transit point for troops and equipment during the war in Afghanistan, Maj. Florin Putanu, the base commander, has said.
Allegations that the CIA hid and interrogated Al Qaeda suspects at compounds in Eastern Europe were first reported in the Washington Post on Nov. 2.
Since then, officials at the base have vehemently denied that CIA detention facilities were located there. Pascu said Monday he trusted their denial.
In an interview Saturday with Evenimentul Zilei newspaper, Pascu said planes carrying U.S. prisoners may have made stopovers in Romania. He indicated that any such stops would not amount to evidence that the CIA was running a secret prison for Al Qaeda suspects on Romanian soil, as had been alleged.
Although Romanian officials have denied the existence of a secret CIA prison, they have been vague about the possible transportation of prisoners through their territory.
On Nov. 3, Human Rights Watch said it had evidence that the CIA brought suspected terrorists captured in Afghanistan to Poland and Romania.
The New York-based group said it based its conclusion on flight logs of CIA aircraft from 2001 to 2004 that it had obtained. The activist group identified the Kogalniceanu airfield and Poland's Szczytno-Szymany airport as probable sites of secret detention centers.
In an interview with AP on Nov. 9, Putanu, the head of the base, denied that there had been Afghan or other Muslim prisoners at the facility. It was not clear, however, whether his denial of a secret prison was also meant to dismiss the possibility that the airfield was used as a transit point for prisoners.
The Washington Post reported that the alleged CIA facilities were part of a covert prison system set up by the agency after the Sept. 11 attacks and included sites in eight countries.