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15th Aug 2022

EU countries obstructing investigations into CIA renditions, report says

  • "Poland is the 51st state", a US source said (Photo: EUobserver)

The "most important" of the CIA's secret detention prisons, or 'black sites', in the years immediately following the 11 September attacks was situated in Szymany, some 160km north of Warsaw, according to officers with the US intelligence service.

In a weekend article in the New York Times newspaper, unnamed CIA officers tell of one of the presumed dozens of sites, hitherto vehemently denied by the Polish government as having been located within the country.

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One officer quoted in the article says James L. Parvitt, a former director of the agency's clandestine service, as saying: "Poland is the 51st state."

"Poland was picked because there were no local cultural and religious ties to Al Qaeda, making infiltration or attack by sympathisers unlikely," the paper quotes another anonymous agent as saying.

But above all, claims the paper's account of CIA officer recollections, the country was picked because "Polish officials were eager to co-operate."

The article highlights how Al Qaeda operative Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was rendered by a "capture team" from Rawalpindi, Pakistan, to a secret base near Szymany Airport in March, 2003.

The paper describes the site as the location where "the most important of the CIA's black sites had been established," citing interviews from 24 current and former US and foreign intelligence officials.

Poland has consistently denied accusations that its territory was host to such compounds since the first allegations of European participation in abductions and rendition flights first came to light.

The country's defence minister, Bogdan Klich, was quick to deny the CIA officials' accounts and attacked Mr Parvitt's alleged description of Poland as America's 51st state.

"That is unacceptable. The sheer fact that we are in tough negotiations with the Americans regarding the anti-missile defence shield suggests that we are indeed an independent state," he told Polish Radio ZET on Monday (23 June).

EU accused of obstruction in investigations

The account comes as human rights campaign group Amnesty International has accused European governments and Brussels institutions of at best dragging their heels and at worst actively obstructing investigations into European participation in US-led rendition and secret detention programmes.

The NGO is damning of EU governments in a new report that catalogues their reactions over the past two years to allegations that state agents colluded with their American counterparts.

"Seven EU presidencies have passed since European involvement in renditions was first exposed and there has been no action whatsoever – not even an acknowledgement of Europe's complicity," said Nicolas Beger, director of Amnesty International's Europe office.

The report says European countries have engaged in a range of obstructive behaviour: they have refused to forward prosecutors' extradition requests onto the US government; not conducted independent investigations; and failed to provide investigators with files where there were probes.

The NGO gives examples of how Sweden, Denmark, the UK, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Poland, Romania, Germany, Italy and EU candidate country Macedonia have neglected to live up to their legal obligations, with the latter five singled out for particular criticism.

"Even where prosecutors in Italy and Germany have carried out investigations leading to efforts to hold CIA operatives to account for abductions ... their initiatives have been undermined by their own governments," the report says.

"The findings and recommendations of investigations have been met with almost total silence and denial of responsibility."

No air traffic control measures

The group also laments that no measures regarding air traffic control have been implemented.

The NGO says that Europe's airports and airspace "very likely continue to be made available to the CIA," noting that suspicious aeroplanes flew uncontrolled through Portuguese airspace until as recently as December 2007.

Member state actions have been compounded, the group says, by a reluctance on the part of the highest decision-making bodies of the European Union to condemn rendition and secret detention and to take concrete measures to prevent such human rights violations in the future.

Natasha Kazatchkine, a campaigner with the group, told the EUobserver the commission has performed only the bare minimum in its role of guardian of the EU treaties.

The commission has no powers to perform any investigations itself, but once proof has been established by a national court, then the EU's executive body can act on that basis, however, "the commission as well must reflect on EU measures to prevent this from happening," she said.

The commission, for its part, denied it had been inactive. Justice spokesperson Michele Cercone said: "The commission has stressed in multiple occasions the need for the member states to carry out in-depth, independent and impartial investigations to establish the truth, whatever that truth is."

The commission sent a letter to the Romanian and Polish authorities in July last year in order to remind them of the obligation to conduct effective investigations into the allegations of human rights violations.

It deemed the response it got from the two member states insufficient and sent an additional letter requesting further details to Romania in January 2008 and to Poland in May – Brussels is still waiting for a response.

An official at the council, representing member states said: "The Council has taken a strong line in defence of human rights since the issue first emerged, but this is not an EU competence: it is a national competence."

Ms Kazatchkine, however, said: "They always say it's not the business of the Council, but if it's not their business, who else? They can engage in a 'peer review' to push each other to conduct independent investigations and implement safeguards to prevent repetition of these violations."

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