Investigate Europe's role in CIA rendition, MEPs urge
by Daniel Mason
European Union member states have been accused of putting obstacles in the way of investigations into alleged collusion with the United States' secret rendition programme and urged to end what one campaign group has called their "evasion of responsibility".
In Strasbourg today members of the European Parliament overwhelmingly supported a highly critical report by 568 votes to 34 with 77 abstentions. They called on a number of EU countries to carry out investigations into their alleged involvement in hosting secret Central Intelligence Agency prisons or allowing flights carrying terrorist suspects through their territory.
They suggested that the European Commission should oversee an EU-wide inquiry to ensure that member states take collective responsibility for their part in what Green MEP Hélène Flautre claimed was a "vast, secret and illegal system that led to acts of torture and forced disappearances".
Flautre, who drafted the document in parliament's Civil Liberties committee, said that by giving their backing MEPs had "shone the spotlight on serious human rights abuses by the CIA in the EU and, in doing so, kept the pressure on to ensure these abuses are finally addressed". According to the report, member states blocked investigations through a "lack of transparency, classification of documents, prevalence of national and political interests" as well as "lack of rigorous investigative techniques and of cooperation".
Flautre said: "Despite considerable pressure from different national and other interests, seeking to keep a lid on the latest revelations, the report adopted today remains a clear and strong indictment of these abuses. This new evidence of extraordinary renditions, illegal detention centres, torture and other abuses are shocking and cannot simply be brushed under the carpet."
It comes five years after MEPs' first inquiry into the issue. The latest report cites "new evidence of flight connections between Romania and Lithuania" and calls on the Romanian authorities to open an independent inquiry into alleged secret detention sites. It also urges Lithuanian authorities to "honour their commitment to re-open the criminal investigation into the country's involvement in the CIA programme".
Meanwhile MEPs called on Poland to "persevere in its on-going criminal investigation into secret detention" while criticising the "lack of official communication on the scope, the conduct and the state of play" in the investigation. And they said some 12 member states – Finland, Denmark, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Poland – should reveal information about the activity of planes associated with the CIA in their territory.
Campaign groups welcomed the outcome of the vote. "It sends a very powerful signal," said Amnesty International's Nicolas Beger. He added that it was time for European governments to take "tangible action" and end their "evasion of responsibility". Amnesty pointed out that no EU country had fulfilled its legal obligation "to hold a full and effective investigation into its role in the CIA programmes".
Crofton Black, from the legal action charity Reprieve, said: "This comprehensive statement shows that Europe – including the United Kingdom – has failed to come to terms with its key role in the CIA's programme of torture and rendition. Countries including Britain, Romania and Lithuania have failed to carry out the necessary inquiries into the part they played in some of the worst human rights abuses of the war on terror."
The report won support from across the political spectrum. Tanja Fajon MEP, from the Socialists and Democrats group, said EU countries were "bound by international human rights standards to protect the integrity and well-being of any individual. We believe that a call for collective responsibility for all member states is necessary as no member state attempted to prevent the renditions and protect the human rights of the individuals involved."
Sophie in't Veld, an MEP in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats group and a member of parliament's Civil Liberties committee, said that Europe lost "moral authority and credibility" by refusing to investigate its role in CIA renditions and the black sites programme. "There is a bitter irony in the fact that we help to unseat dictators like Gaddafi, like Mubarak, who not so long ago were our allies in shipping people to their countries where they have been illegally detained and tortured for us to get the information that we want," she said.
"Some of them continue to try to prevent the sad truth from emerging," said United European Left/Nordic Green Left MEP Marie-Christine Vergiat. "All credit to the European Parliament for continuing to demand accountability while the union's credibility is at stake."