BRUSSELS, Jun 27, 2006 (RFE/RL) – Europe's leading human rights body, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), today passed a resolution accusing a range of European states of colluding with the illegal abduction and incarceration of terrorist suspects by U.S. secret service agents.
The resolution endorses the findings of a seven-month investigation conducted at the Council of Europe's request. That report, in large part already publicized in early June, identified 14 specific countries. The PACE resolution avoided naming them.
Dick Marty, a Swiss senator and PACE deputy who was the highest-profile investigator, stressed that he had been given no real investigating powers. However, he made clear that he believes there is now enough evidence to back up the main allegations.
"Yes or no: Have people been abducted in Europe by foreign agents? The answer is yes. And this has been clearly established by judicial authorities," Marty said.
He asked a similarly rhetorical question to answer whether he believed some European governments had illegally handed over suspects to U.S. agencies or colluded in illegal arrests by U.S. operatives.
"Yes or no: Have people been handed over in Europe, outside all judiciary procedures, to agents of the United States, to be rendered to countries where we know that torture is practiced or transported to Guantanamo -- a detention center already criticized and condemned in this very room a year ago? The answer is yes."
The U.S. government has acknowledged the practice of moving prisoners to third countries for interrogation -- "renditions" -- but categorically rejects accusations of torture. Washington also maintains it has broken no European laws.
Marty estimates some 30-50 people have been abducted in Europe at the behest of the U.S. government. They were then taken either to U.S. detention facilities or handed over to other countries for questioning. The overwhelming majority were either citizens or long-term residents of Arab descent in European countries. Some say they were tortured.
Marty says that in addition European governments have sanctioned hundreds of overflights and landings by U.S. government-operated aircraft illegally transporting terrorist suspects detained in Europe or elsewhere.
The report says there exists very strong evidence to suggest Poland and Romania hosted illegal CIA detention centers at some point in the past.
Governments Not Eager To Establish The Truth
Marty thanked those who had helped in his investigations, including the judicial authorities in a range of countries, serving and former intelligence agents, nongovernmental organizations, and journalists.
Conspicuously absent from the list were governments.
Marty said most -- but not all -- had acknowledged his requests for information and noted that most governments did not appear "particularly eager to establish the alleged facts." European government must have been aware of what took place, he said -- or, "insofar as they did not know, they did not want to know."
The report also says "the main concern of some governments was clearly to avoid disturbing their relationships with the United States, a crucial partner and ally."
Marty added that some governments -- he cited the Irish government as an example -- had told him that they saw no reason to investigate the presence of American aircraft, "since the United States had given assurances".
Marty's experiences were largely echoed during the debate by the vice-chairman of a separate report conducted by the European Parliament into the allegations against the United States, Cem Ozdemir. He said some EU governments had turning a blind eye to torture, and condemned as "unacceptable" the practice of "certain governments" of limiting their responsibilities by simply asking for diplomatic assurances.
The Next Avenues Of Investigation?
Few of those involved in the debate expected any cases to be brought against states or individuals. Instead, their chief hope was to bring to light as much as possible what has happened in a bid to avoid a repeat -- and to put pressure on the United States to use less controversial methods in its war on terror.
The vice president of the European Commission, Franco Frattini, lent his backing to the report and its aim, which he said was to ensure that "such gravely illicit activities...are not repeated in the future."
However, like PACE and the European Parliament, the European Commission has no power to force European countries to act on the report's findings.
Two potential ways of pursuing the investigations emerged during the debate. Ozdemir said the European Parliament's investigating committee wants to interview NATO's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer about the possible complicity of NATO forces in the Balkans in the abduction of six Bosnian subjects.
The second avenue of investigation could involve Russia. Marty said Russian-backed authorities in Chechnya had used the U.S. fight against terrorism as a cover for its own human rights abuses.