Investigator blasts 'spider's web' of human rights abuse collusion
Thursday, June 8, 2006
PARIS -- Fourteen European nations colluded with U.S. intelligence in a "spider's web" of human rights abuses to help the CIA spirit terror suspects to illegal detention facilities, a European investigator said Wednesday.
Swiss senator Dick Marty's report to Europe's top human rights body was thin on evidence but raises the possibility of a cover-up involving both friends and critics of Washington's war on terror. It says European governments "did not seem particularly eager to establish" the facts.
The 67-page report, addressed to the 46 Council of Europe member states, will likely be used by the rights watchdog to pressure countries to investigate their suspected role in U.S. rendition flights carrying terror suspects.
Marty's claims triggered a wave of angry denials but also accusations that governments are stonewalling attempts to confront Europe's role in the flights.
'Exposes the myth'
"This report exposes the myth that European governments had no knowledge of, or involvement in, rendition and secret detentions," said lawmaker Michael Moore, foreign affairs spokesman for Britain's second opposition party, the Liberal Democrats.
In the strongest allegations so far, Marty said evidence suggests planes linked to the CIA carrying terror suspects stopped in Romania and Poland and likely dropped off detainees there, backing up earlier news reports that identified the two countries as possible sites of clandestine detention centers.
The United States did not respond directly to the report, but officials in Romania and Poland denied the accusations.
"This is slander and it's not based on any facts," Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, Poland's prime minister, said in Warsaw.
But Filip Ilkowski, leader of Poland's "Stop War" movement protesting the Iraq war, said the Polish government was trying to thwart European Union investigators.
"It is hard to say whether prisoners were dropped off here, but from what we know, U.S. planes landed in Poland outside the official channels. The government has done nothing to clarify the matter, it is doing everything to cover it up," Ilkowski said.
No new evidence
British Prime Minister Tony Blair also denied the collusion allegations and said Marty's report contained no new evidence.
"I have to say, the Council of Europe report has absolutely nothing new in it," he told lawmakers.
White House press secretary Tony Snow stressed that the United States does not condone or practice torture, adding, "we will not agree to send anybody to a nation or place that practices torture."
"International cooperation in the war on terror is essential for winning," Snow said, "and rendition is not something that began with this nation, and it's certainly going to be practiced in the future." He also noted that "Carlos the Jackal, you may recall, by rendition ended up in a French jail."
Marty, investigating the flights since November, said the 14 European nations -- along with some other countries including Iraq, Morocco and Afghanistan -- aided the movement of at least 17 detainees who said they had been abducted by U.S. agents and secretly transferred to detention centers around the world.
Some former detainees said they were transferred to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and others to alleged secret facilities in countries including Egypt and Jordan. Some said they were mistreated or tortured.
"I have chosen to adopt the metaphor of a global spider's web, a web that has been spun out incrementally over several years using tactics and techniques that had to be developed in response to new threats of war," Marty said.
In his investigation, Marty -- a former prosecutor -- relied mostly on flight logs provided by the European Union's air traffic agency, Eurocontrol, witness statements gathered from people who said they had been abducted by U.S. intelligence agents, and judicial and parliamentary inquiries in various countries.
He concluded that several countries let the CIA abduct their residents, while others allowed the agency to use their airspace or turned a blind eye to questionable foreign intelligence activities on their territory.
"European governments simply agreed not to want to see," Marty told journalists.
He listed 14 European countries -- Britain, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Bosnia, Macedonia, Turkey, Spain, Cyprus, Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Romania and Poland -- as being complicit in "unlawful interstate transfers" of people.
Some, including Sweden and Bosnia, already have acknowledged some involvement.
Marty put airports in Timisoara, Romania, and Szymany, Poland, in a "detainee transfer/drop-off point" category, together with eight airports outside Europe.
He said one plane arrived in Timisoara from Kabul, Afghanistan, on the night of Jan. 25, 2004, after picking up Khaled El-Masri, a German who said he had been abducted by foreign intelligence agents in Skopje, Macedonia, and taken to the Afghan capital.
The investigator said the plane stayed in Timisoara for 72 minutes before leaving for Spain.
"The most likely hypothesis of the purpose of this flight was to transport one or several detainees from Kabul to Romania," Marty said in the report, without elaborating.
But Dan Andrei, the head of Romania's Civil Aeronautic Agency, denied that the CIA operated the plane.
"The plane did not drop off or pick up any passengers and declared five passengers on board. We don't have any evidence that it was a CIA plane," he said.
Marty said he believed the Szymany airport in northeastern Poland was also used for a rendition flight in September 2003.
A parallel investigation by the European Parliament has said data show there have been more than 1,000 clandestine CIA flights stopping on European territory since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Officials said it was not clear if or how many detainees were on board.
"We're definitely not talking about hundreds of detainees, it likely is a much smaller number," Marty said.
Allegations that CIA agents shipped prisoners through European airports to secret detention centers, including compounds in eastern Europe, were first reported in November by The Washington Post.
Clandestine prisons and secret flights via or from Europe to countries where suspects could face torture would breach the continent's human rights treaties, including the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Council of Europe has no power to punish countries for breaching the treaty other than terminating their membership in the organization. Based on irrefutable evidence, the European Union might be able to suspend the voting rights of a country found to have breached the convention.