European rights chief: Rendition flights probes are weak because countries fear upsetting US

By Robert Wielaard, AP
Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Euro official urges strong rendition flight probes

BRUSSELS — Europe’s human rights chief on Wednesday accused European countries of avoiding tough investigations into the treatment of suspected terrorists because they do not want to rock relations with the United States.

Thomas Hammarberg praised Britain for authorizing an inquiry into allegations that British officials aided and abetted the mistreatment of suspects held by the United States, Pakistan and others through CIA rendition flights during the Bush administration.

But, he said other European governments, including in Sweden, Macedonia, Romania, Lithuania and Poland, are making only feeble attempts to shed light on the program that flew alleged terrorists to countries that allowed harsh interrogation techniques.

“One reason for the reluctance among European governments to allow robust truth-seeking procedures is obviously the fear of damaging relations with the U.S. intelligence services,” Hammarberg, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, said in a post on his website.

The 47-nation Council of Europe is the continent’s premier human rights watchdog. It believes that at least 14 European nations colluded in the rendition program that started after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the U.S.

Hammarberg rejected the idea that revealing details of rendition programs would be a threat to security.

“Exchange of secret information between the security agencies is essential for each of them. (But) confidentiality does not excuse silence about human rights violations,” he said.

Hammarberg said it was time “to break the conspiracy of silence around the complicity of European governments in the human rights violations which have taken place during the counterterrorism actions since September 2001.”

Hammarberg’s remarks come only a few weeks after Britain pledged to hold a formal inquiry into whether its government and spy agencies colluded in the torture of terrorism suspects overseas. A dozen men have filed lawsuits against the British government alleging officials were involved in their purported torture, and police are investigating two intelligence officers from the MI5 and MI6 spy agencies.

The inquiry will be led by a senior judge and is likely only to make recommendations about future conduct, and not have the power to assign criminal liability or apportion blame.

Hammarberg called Britain’s inquiry “a proper response to a request from 12 former detainees who have all credibly claimed that they became victims of the ‘war on terror’ and were severely tortured” with the cooperation of British, U.S. and other intelligence services.

He named several countries with disappointing track records.

Sweden must still investigate the case of the two asylum-seeking Egyptians — Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed al-Zery — who were handed over to CIA for transport to Cairo “and subjected to unlawful interrogation,” said Hammarberg.

He added that Macedonia, Lithuania Poland and Romania have done too little to clarify their roles in the detention, transfers and interrogations of terrorist suspects.

“More and more detailed and shocking information has gradually emerged about systematic torture, secret detentions and other serious human rights violations in the ‘war on terror’ after September 2001,” according to Hammarberg. “It is crucial that lessons are learned and that requires that allegations are investigated and the real facts exposed.”

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