PRAGUE, 24 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- A preliminary report by Europe's official human-rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, has found that the United States may have secretly moved more than 100 terror suspects abroad for interrogation in countries with poor human rights records.
"The real debate is to establish which methods we want to use to combat terrorism. Is it really true that to fight terrorism it is necessary to renounce human rights, to renounce the dignity of the individual, to renounce justice, and all the guarantees that we have built up over the past century?"
The head of the investigating team, Swiss Senator Dick Marty, told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 23 January that "I believe it is absolutely demonstrated that alleged terrorists or terrorist sympathizers were kidnapped, transported against their will across Europe, detained outside any jurisdiction, deprived of all rights, and sent to countries that, notably, offer no guarantees at all of the respect for fundamental rights."
Forty-six countries are members of the Council of Europe. The United States has observer status.
Rendering Suspects, Rendering Rights Asunder?
In December, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged that some "extraordinary renditions" -- meaning that detainees had been transported from one country to another -- had taken place in the context of the United States' efforts to counter terrorism.
Nonetheless, the practice is highly controversial in Europe, with concerns that the prisoners may subsequently have been tortured. Marty's assertion that more than 100 detainees may have been transferred to third countries will fuel questions about the complicity of European states.
Marty himself posed the question that the report will raise in many European countries: "Is it possible that nobody in Europe knew this or cared to know what was happening to these people?"
Marty's answer was that it is highly unlikely that European governments -- or at least their intelligence services -- could remain unaware of such flights.
Though it acknowledges an unspecified number of "renditions," Washington categorically denies that U.S. officials have tortured terror suspects, or sent any to countries known to use torture.
No Incontrovertible Evidence Of Secret CIA Prisons
By contrast, the U.S. government has neither denied nor confirmed reports that the U.S. intelligence services have been operating secret detention centers on European soil, allegations first made in November by the U.S. daily newspaper "The Washington Post."
Speaking in French to the Parliamentary Assembly, Marty said that, as yet, his investigations had turned up "no evidence in the judicial sense to prove the existence of centers of detention, or that the existence of such centers was known to local authorities."
"But," he continued, "I must nevertheless say that there are many indications which tend in this direction, and justify the continuation of our [investigative] work."
He described the sources providing information on such detention centers as multiple, reliable, and very well-informed.
Marty also said it would be unfair to single out for attention Poland and Romania -- the two countries most cited last year by human rights groups as hosting secret CIA camps.
Marty, who said it was extremely difficult to establish facts about the alleged secret prisons, indicated that he will be pursuing a number of new leads.
Specifically, he welcomed detailed information sent to his office on 23 January by Eurocontrol -- the European air traffic control agency -- and the European Union's space satellite agency.
This should, he believes, provide images of possible detention sites and yield clues about the number of CIA flights stopping in Europe en route to other destinations.
In his remarks to the Parliamentary Assembly, Marty indicated that "the real debate is to establish which methods we want to use to combat terrorism. Is it really true that to fight terrorism it is necessary to renounce human rights, to renounce the dignity of the individual, to renounce justice, and all the guarantees that we have built up over the past century?"
Other speakers in the debate declared that it is vital that Europe stick to the hard lessons learned in World War II -- that human rights are absolute and can be ignored only at peril to the whole system.
Humfrey Malins, a British member of the assembly, called on the Council of Europe to continue its efforts to establish the truth about the practice of "extraordinary rendition" and the existence of secret prisons.
"Our duty is to discover which other countries are involved, and what is the extent of their involvement," he said. "Perhaps some permit [U.S.] rendition flights to land, and refuel on their way to torture destinations, not knowing the purpose of such flights. Perhaps some guess, but turn a blind eye. More seriously, perhaps some know the truth, and even provide detention facilities. However unpalatable the truth, we have a duty to investigate without fear."