EU governments condoned torture, Swiss investigator says

24.01.06 @ 09:59

  1. By Teresa Küchler

BRUSSELS - European governments have silently condoned the practice of abducting suspected terrorists and transporting them from European airports to countries in which torture is used, a Council of Europe (CoE) investigation has revealed.

Dick Marty, a Swiss parliamentarian and the chief investigator in the probe into alleged US seizures of foreign prisoners and the existance of secret CIA prison camps in Europe briefed the CoE on Tuesday (24 January) in Strasbourg.

"It has been proved – and in fact never denied – that individuals have been abducted, deprived of their liberty and transported…in Europe, to be handed over to countries in which they have suffered…torture," Mr Marty announced.

"It is highly unlikely that European governments, or at least their intelligence services, were unaware of the 'rendition' of more than a hundred persons affecting Europe," he said.

Mr Marty added there was "a great deal of coherent, convergent evidence pointing to the existence of a system of ‘relocation’ or ‘outsourcing’ of torture."

However, he acknowledged that, at this stage, there was no formal, irrefutable evidence of the existence of secret CIA detention centres in Romania, Poland or any other country.

Allegations of illegal CIA activities in Europe were first voiced in November last year, after a Washington Post report said that the CIA used camps in Eastern European countries to interrogate terrorist suspects.

Later on, the organisation Human Rights Watch reconfirmed the allegations, mentioning Romania and Poland as possible sites for US detention camps, adding that interrogation methods amounting to torture could have been used.

Leaders in Romania and Poland have consistently denied hosting US detention centres, however.

Washington has neither confirmed nor denied the allegations over secret prisons in Europe but has denied using or condoning torture.

CIA shady business known to European leaders

Tuesday's announcement in Strasbourg did not come as a surprise as Mr Marty had already hinted as to where his preliminary findings were leading.

Earlier this month he accused European leaders of "shocking" passivity, arguing they knew about the illegal detainment and transportation of prisoners in their countries, and that they had known for at least two to three years.

"There are countries that have collaborated actively, and there are others who have tolerated. Others have simply looked the other way," he had said.

Mr Marty also indicated that it was unfair to single out member states as possible sites for secret prison camps, as governments all across Europe had been "willingly silent" about the facilities.

EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini has indicated that EU member states as well as candidate countries such as Romania could face sanctions if the allegations are found to be true.

MEP's say EU leaders must put cards on table

The CoE investigation coincides with a European Parliament temporary committee set up last week to investigate CIA activities in European airspace and territory.

The 46 member parliamentary taskforce will collect and analyse information in close cooperation with the human rights watchdog in Strasbourg, and try to shed light on the level of knowledge or complicity of European governments.

The committe plans to summon high-ranking politicians and national intelligence officials for hearings in Brussels during spring.

Some MEPs doubt however that the summoned parties will be keen to travel to Brussels for questioning in parliament.

"Intelligence will not go to their national parliaments for hearings, so there is little chance that they will come to Brussels," British conservative MEP Charles Tannock, a member of the new committee, told EUobserver.

"I doubt it seriously that European defence ministers will willingly come to Brussels to be cross-examined by the European Parliament."

But Green MEP Kathalijne Buitenweg said that she expects people - both ordinary and high-ranking officials - to want to come forward with what they know or have seen, and suggests arranging public hearings on the matter.

"The government of Romania, for instance, might want to explain itself. The doubts about Romanian knowledge [of secret camps and possible torture] are not good for their future EU accession," she said.

The temporary committee set up by the European Parliament has no statutory power and cannot oblige anybody to attend a hearing.

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