Committee deplores Member States' passivity in the face of illegal CIA operations
Fundamental rights - 23-01-2007 - 16:08
Over a thousand CIA-operated flights used European airspace in 2001-05 and temporary secret detention facilities "may have been located at US military bases" in Europe, says Parliament's temporary committee on CIA activities in Europe. Its final report deplores the passivity of some Member States in the face of illegal CIA operations, and a lack of co-operation from the EU Council of Ministers. It calls for a formal investigation under EU Treaty Article 7 on breaches of fundamental rights.

The report, adopted on Tuesday with 28 votes in favour, 17 against and 3 abstentions, and now due for debate and vote at the February plenary in Strasbourg, says European countries have been "turning a blind eye" to flights operated by the CIA which, "on some occasions, were being used for extraordinary rendition or the illegal transportation of detainees." In some cases, says the report, "temporary secret detention facilities in European countries may have been located at US military bases" and “there may have been a lack of control” over such bases by European host countries. “Secret detention facilities”, it explains, can also include places where somebody is held incommunicado, such as hotel rooms, as in the case of Khaled El-Masri in Skopje in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The Temporary Committee therefore "expects the Council to start hearings and commission an independent investigation without delay, as foreseen in EU Treaty Article 7", and, "where necessary, to impose sanctions on Member States in case of a serious and persistent breach of Article 6".

"Not possible" to point to secret detention centres in Poland

In an amendment passed by a single vote (23 in favour, 22 against), MEPs stated that from the available "circumstantial evidence", "it is not possible to acknowledge that secret detention centres were based in Poland." The report nonetheless notes that the names of "seven of the fourteen detainees" transferred from a secret detention facility to Guantánamo in September 2006 coincide with those mentioned in a report by ABC News (in a report from December 2005) that identified the twelve top Al Qaeda suspects held in Poland.

From testimonies gathered during their visit to Poland, MEPs conclude that the investigation by the Polish Parliament was not conducted independently and that statements to their delegation were “contradictory” and compromised by "confusion about flight logs [...] which were first said not to have been retained, then said to have probably been archived at the airport, and finally to have been sent by the Polish government to the Council of Europe".

CIA Flights

“At least 1245 flights operated by the CIA flew into European airspace or stopped over at European airports between the end of 2001 and the end of 2005”, although, as MEPs emphasise, “not all those flights have been used for extraordinary rendition”.

Working documents published by rapporteur Claudio Fava (PES, IT) also cite “strong evidence of the extraordinary renditions analysed by the committee, as well as of the companies linked to the CIA (…) and the European countries in which the CIA made stopovers”. In their report, MEPs mention up to 21 well-documented cases of extraordinary rendition in which rendition victims were transferred through a European country or were residents in a European state at the time of their kidnapping. With this in mind, the text "calls on the countries of Europe to compensate their innocent victims of extraordinary renditions".

Committee members deplore these renditions “as an illegal instrument used by the USA in the fight against terrorism” and condemn the “acceptance and concealing of the practice, on several occasions, by the secret services and governmental authorities of certain European countries”. They therefore call on the Council and the Member States "to issue a clear and forceful declaration calling on the US Administration to put an end to the practice of extraordinary arrests and renditions".

Use of torture

The report notes that the renditions investigated by the committee “in the majority of cases involved incommunicado detention and torture” during interrogations, as was confirmed by the victims - or their lawyers - who testified to the committee. According to the testimony of former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray, the exchange of intelligence obtained under torture by third countries' secret services to the British services was a practice known and tolerated by the UK government.

In the light of the available evidence, note Committee members, there is a "strong possibility that some European countries may have received [...] information obtained under torture".

Reluctance to co-operate

MEPs also deplored “the lack of co-operation of many Member States and of the Council of the EU towards the temporary committee” and explained that “the serious lack of concrete answers to the questions raised by victims, NGOs, media and parliamentarians has only strengthened the validity of already well-documented allegations”. The Council, they said, initially withheld -- and then provided only partial fragments of -- information pertaining to regular discussions with high-level US officials. The report calls this behaviour "totally unacceptable". Such "shortcomings" of the Council, reads the report, "implicate all Member State governments, since they have collective responsibility as members of the Council". As MEPs note later in the text, the Treaty-based "principle of loyal cooperation [...] which binds Member States and EU institutions to take any measures to ensure the fulfilment of the European obligations, such as the respect of human rights, [...] has not been respected".

The national governments specifically criticised for their unwillingness to co-operate with Parliament's investigations were those of Austria, Italy, Poland, Portugal and the UK. The report also gives detailed evidence of investigations of illegal rendition or CIA flight cases involving Bosnia, Cyprus, Denmark, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Germany, Greece, Ireland, Romania, Spain, Sweden and Turkey.

At the same time, MEPs complained about “omissions” in statements by Javier Solana, the Council's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, regarding the Council’s discussions on fighting terrorism with US representatives. Mr Solana, they add, “was unable to supplement the evidence already in the possession of the temporary committee”. The same goes for EU Counter-terrorism Co-ordinator Gijs de Vries, who, MEPs concluded, was “unable to give satisfactory answers”. With this in mind, MEPs took the view that the competences and powers of the Counter-terrorism Co-ordinator should be strengthened and monitored by the European Parliament.

Policy recommendations

With a view to the end of the committee's mandate, and acknowledging that its conclusions are not "exhaustive", the report encourages governments and/or national parliaments to launch (or to pursue) independent investigations. MEPs also ask the Civil Liberties Committee to follow up the proceedings of the Temporary Committee, to monitor developments and, if necessary, to recommend sanctions under EU Treaty Article 7 against those Member States found to be in breach of EU fundamental rights.

The report also recommends that all European countries should have "specific national laws to regulate and monitor the activities of third countries' secret services on their national territories" and advises that over-flight clearances for military and/or police aircraft should be granted "only if accompanied by guarantees that human rights will be respected".

Lastly, the report calls for the closure of Guantánamo and urges European countries "to immediately seek the return of their citizens and residents who are being held illegally by US authorities".

23/01/2007
Temporary Committee on the alleged use of European countries by the CIA for the transport and illegal detention of prisoners
In the chair : Carlos COELHO (EPP-ED, PT)
Procedure: Own-initiative
Plenary vote: February, Strasbourg