A new report by the European Parliament’s Temporary Committee on illegal CIA activity in Europe is a powerful indictment of European governments’ complicity in CIA abuses, Human Rights Watch said today.
“The report shows how European governments acted as the willing facilitators of CIA abuses such as secret detention and rendition to torture,” said Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch. “European governments must now investigate these abuses fully and take steps to ensure that they do not happen again.”
The report, made public today, does not mince words in condemning European government complicity in CIA abuses. Its language is equally strong in deploring the failure of the Council of the European Union to keep the European Parliament fully informed of developments in EU security policy, particularly with regard to the council’s discussions with US government officials.
According to the report, records of a meeting of European foreign ministers with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last December confirm that EU member states “had knowledge of the programme of extraordinary rendition and secret prisons.”
“At a time when the EU should have been providing global leadership in the wake of US abuses, European governments were secretly colluding with the Bush administration on secret detention and unlawful rendition,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The EU must openly oppose unlawful rendition and secret detention and reestablish itself as a force for human rights.”
The committee’s report strongly criticizes the reluctance of “nearly all member States,” and of the European Union as an institution, to fully cooperate with the committee’s investigations.
Poland, the United Kingdom and Italy are singled out as having been especially uncooperative.
“The committee’s achievements are all the more extraordinary considering how much stonewalling it faced,” Mariner said. “European governments need to end their silence on these abuses.”
The report documents a number of cases of “extraordinary rendition,” by which people were transferred to countries that routinely practice torture. It accuses Italian intelligence officials of assisting in the CIA’s kidnapping and rendition of Abu Omar from Milan to Egypt in February 2003, and states that it is “highly likely, in view of the involvement of its secret services,” that the Italian government knew of Abu Omar’s rendition. Because the Milan public prosecutor had been investigating Abu Omar prior to his rendition, the report also concludes that the rendition jeopardized the investigation of terrorist networks operating in Italy.
The report also condemns the Swedish government for direct complicity in the CIA renditions of Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed al-Zari from Stockholm to Cairo in December 2001. Both men were subsequently tortured. The report notes that Swedish reliance upon “diplomatic assurances” from the Egyptian authorities, promising that the two men would not be tortured upon return, provided no safeguard against such abuse.
The German government was identified as complicit in the renditions of Khaled el-Masri and Mohammed Zammar. US military bases in Germany were also used for stopovers during rendition flights. The report described interrogations by German officials of Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish national and resident of Germany, at Guantanamo Bay in 2002 and 2004, and the German government’s failure to assist in Kurnaz’s release until 2006.
The committee’s report concludes that there were at least 1,245 overflights or stopovers by CIA planes in Europe, and that some of these flights probably involved prisoner transfers.
The report contains a set of detailed recommendations to European governments to ensure that CIA abuses are fully investigated, and that they do not happen again in the future. It calls on existing and aspiring EU member states to, for example, pass laws regulating the activities of foreign secret services on their territories.
“European governments that facilitated CIA abuses in the recent past must now take concrete steps to prevent their reoccurrence,” said Mariner. “It’s shocking that these abuses happened at all, but it would be utterly inexcusable for them to happen again.”
The report also calls on the US government to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and for European governments to accept the return of their citizens and residents held at Guantanamo. It criticizes the British government, in particular, for refusing to provide consular assistance to two long-term British residents who remain in detention at Guantanamo.
As the report stresses, extraordinary rendition and secret detention “involve multiple violations of human rights,” including violations of the right to be free of torture and other inhumane treatment.
Human Rights Watch called on the US Congress to prioritize reforming US detention policies when it begins its session next year.
The draft report was issued by the Temporary Committee on the alleged use of European countries by the CIA for the transportation and illegal detention of prisoners. The committee was established in January, in the wake of a public outcry over press reports about secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe. Its rapporteur is the Italian MEP, Claudio Fava.
The committee’s report is the result of many months of investigations. As part of its inquiry, the parliamentary committee undertook fact-finding missions to seven countries and held some 130 interviews and hearings. Human Rights Watch representatives testified before the committee in February and May 2006.