EU governments complicit in shady CIA activities – investigator
David Lindsay / Malta Independent | January 23 2006
Governments across the European Union have “collaborated, tolerated or looked away” from the United States Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine operations on their countries’ soil for the last two to three years. This is expected to be one of the main findings that will be revealed on Tuesday when a Council of Europe (COE) inquiry presents its interim report on the use of European territory for the practice of ‘extraordinary rendition’.
The preview was given by Swiss COE senator Dick Marty, tasked with heading a wide-sweeping investigation into allegations that member States have hosted CIA flight stopovers and detention centres linked to the highly controversial practice of ‘extraordinary rendition’.
One of the more unsavoury phrases to have been integrated into everyday English last year, ‘extraordinary rendition’ refers to the US practice of clandestinely transporting terrorism suspects aboard private aircraft owned by CIA shell companies to secret prisons in countries where torture is used as a routine interrogation technique.
Several European governments and human rights organisations alike have expressed outrage at the possibility that European soil and airspace may have been implicated in the practice – either through the use of EU airspace, airports or, more sinisterly, by hosting secret ‘black site’ detention centres where interrogations are carried out beyond the normal conventions of law and human rights.
The Malta Independent on Sunday has reported a total of eight stopovers at Malta International Airport by seven different aircraft implicated in the practice. The reasons for the stopovers, all carried out between 2003 and 2005, are still unknown.
The government, despite numerous requests for comment from this newspaper, has, to date, been reluctant to confirm whether it is looking into the reports, or to issue a stance on the use of Maltese airspace and the airport for the widely condemned practice.
Speaking to the Swiss television station TRS last week, Mr Marty described European governments’ response, or lack thereof, to the issue as “shocking”, adding that European governments have known about the illegal detention and transport of terrorism suspects by the United States on their territory.
“For two or three years countries knew exactly what was going on. Some countries actively collaborated, some tolerated, while others simply looked away,” Mr Marty said.
Although many European governments have claimed ignorance over the practice, Mr Marty insists, “It is impossible to transport people from one place to another in such a manner without the secret services knowing about it. The question is: Was the CIA really working in Europe? I believe we can say today, without a doubt, yes.”
Mr Marty, however, is adamant that it would be unfair to single out any single member State since governments across Europe had been “willingly silent” on the issue.
The results of Mr Marty’s investigation will be coupled with the findings of the Council’s Secretary General Terry Davis, who has requested information from member States on the alleged transportation and illegal detention of detainees in Europe. The States, Malta included, have until 21 February to report to the COE.
The two-pronged COE investigation coincides with a European Parliament temporary committee set up just this week to look into the use of European airspace and territory in the practice. EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini has indicated that EU member States could face sanctions if the allegations are found to hold water.
The Committee will, among other things, look into whether EU States knew about the CIA’s activities on their soil. Forty-six committee members have been appointed from among Europe’s parliamentarians and Nationalist Party MEP Simon Busuttil has been appointed as a substitute committee member. The committee is to furnish an interim report within the next four months, and has a maximum of one year in which to submit its final findings, unless the EP should choose to extend the deadline.
The only Maltese MEP to have, publicly, voiced concern on the matter has been MLP MEP Joseph Muscat, who has demanded that the government states whether it knew about the Malta stopovers and if it intends ordering an inquiry into the matter.
The government, however, appears to be turning a blind eye to the request – and to information published by this newspaper in articles appearing since 20 November 2005, and to questions asked by this newspaper on various occasions since 1 December 2005.