Military investigating newspaper over CIA prison story

New York, January 10, 2006—Swiss Defense Minister Samuel Schmid has instructed military officials to open a criminal inquiry after a Zurich-based weekly SonntagsBlick published a confidential document about purported CIA prisons in Eastern Europe, according to international press reports.

Defense Ministry spokesman Jean-Blaise Defago said on Monday that Schmid “ordered an investigation into how this secret document became public” and may take legal action against SonntagsBlick for publishing the document in violation of Swiss law, The Associated Press reported.

On Sunday, SonntagsBlick published the contents of a fax from Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit to the Egyptian Embassy in London regarding a purported CIA prison in Romania and suggesting there were other such prisons in Bulgaria, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Ukraine.

SonntagsBlick reported that the fax was sent by satellite from Cairo to London on November 15 and intercepted by the Swiss Strategic Intelligence Service (SRS).

The Swiss army’s chief auditor is investigating SonntagsBlick Editor-in-Chief Christoph Grenacher and the two reporters who wrote the article—Sandro Brotz and Beat Jost—for allegedly publishing military secrets. Military investigators are also seeking to determine how the newspaper obtained the fax, according to international press reports.

The journalists face up to five years in prison if convicted under the Swiss military penal code, according to Alex Biscaro, a spokesman at the Swiss Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Grenacher has issued a statement taking responsibility for publishing the document and saying that he personally decided that the public interest of disclosure outweighed state security interests, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported.

The publication of the fax comes at a politically sensitive time as the European Union and Council of Europe seek to determine whether the CIA operated secret prisons within the EU and in neighboring East European countries, some of whom are seeking EU membership.

“We’re troubled any time a government seeks to prosecute journalists for disclosing information that serves the public interest,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.