Liberals outraged following fresh CIA torture flights revelations

Anti-Bush protest. London, 2008. [Reprieve/flickr]

Liberal Members of the European Parliament reacted with anger at a report by the US Senate, which confirmed torture allegations and secret rendition flights of suspected terrorists operated by some European countries during the US war on terror.

The US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) released a summary of a freshly declassified report into the CIA’s use of torture during the US “war on terror” waged by President George W. Bush after the 9-11 attacks.

The report, published on Tuesday (9 December), confirmed the use of torture and other degrading treatment against suspected terrorists.

Interrogation methods used by the CIA included “water-boarding”, mock execution, prolonged sleep deprivation and stress positions, the summary report stated. Some were also force-fed rectally, according to gruesome details revealed by Bloomberg.

These actions constitute torture under international law, according human rights group Amnesty International.

The US Senate report also confirmed the participation of some EU countries in flying detainees to secret interrogation centres, some of which were located in Europe.

In the European Parliament, lawmakers from the Liberal political group expressed outrage.

“It’s shameful that Europe not only gave support for this program, but played an active role in it. The continued silence of EU Member States is a disgrace,” said Sophie in ‘t Veld of the liberal ALDE group.

Parliament inquiry

The revelations are not entirely new or surprising. An enquiry by the European Parliament concluded in 2007 that over 1,000 of CIA-operated flights used European airspace from 2001 to 2005 to bring suspected terrorists to US interrogators.

“At least 1245 flights operated by the CIA flew into European airspace or stopped over at European airports between the end of 2001 and the end of 2005,” the Parliament inquiry found.

The 2007 EU Parliament inquiry also found that temporary secret detention facilities “may have been located at US military bases” in Europe where suspects were sent for interrogation, sometimes after being “kidnapped”.

According to the Council of Europe, at least 12 European countries cooperated to some degree with the CIA in secret transfers of terrorist suspects.  In a 2006 report, it said Romania and Poland had harboured secret CIA detention centres on their territory. The allegation was strongly rejected by Warsaw and Bucharest and could not be confirmed by the subsequent Parliament inquiry.

Craig Murray, a former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, told the inquiry committee that the exchange of intelligence obtained under torture was a practice known and tolerated by the UK government.

Blind eye

For In ’t Veld, however, the silence of the member states involved is deafening.

“If we are to have any credibility, European member states must also now come clean about their role in this, as the European Parliament has demanded on many occasions,” she said in a statement.

In’t Veld is a former member of European Parliament’s Temporary Committee on the alleged use of European countries by the CIA for illegal activities (TDIP).

According to the inquiry, European countries have been “turning a blind eye” to flights operated by the CIA.

“It’s vital the European Commission responds immediately to this report and for this issue to be added to the agenda of the December European Summit as a priority,” In ‘t Veld said.

Amnesty International, a human rights campaigning organisation, said the US Senate report came as "a stark reminder of the ongoing impunity for the many appalling human rights violations perpetrated in the name of 'national security'."

"Despite much evidence having been in the public realm for years, no one has been brought to justice for authorising or carrying out the acts in these CIA programmes,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

European countries that cooperated with the CIA include Poland, Macedonia, Italy, Lithuania, Romania, Sweden, and the UK, amongst others, according to Amnesty.

“The USA and all the countries that worked with it to transfer, detain and torture suspects, have an international legal obligation to ensure full accountability for crimes under international law, including torture and enforced disappearances. These countries must also facilitate genuine access to justice for all those subjected to them, and must provide the whole truth about the human rights violations committed in and around these operations,” said Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s Expert on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights.

Amnesty now called for the release of the full report "with as few redactions as possible and none that obscure evidence of human rights violations".

Claims that EU member states allowed covert CIA flights to stop in or fly over their territories sparked uproar in Europe when the revelations broke out in late 2005.

The European Parliament set up a temporary committee to investigate the issue, just days after Poland launched an inquiry over alleged US-operated secret detention or interrogation centres on its own territory.

The European parliament inquiry concluded in February 2007, after a year of investigations by a special committee.

It found that the CIA had secretly held al Qaeda suspects in EU member states and transferred them to countries known to practice torture. 

>> Read: EP: 1000 CIA flights passed through Europe

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