View Full Version : HRW: US coverup on CIA Europe flights and camps

02-23-2006, 03:31 PM
Rights group alleges U.S. coverup

A Human Rights Watch official told a European Parliament committee Thursday that Washington has taken great efforts to conceal any evidence of alleged CIA secret detention centers and flights in Europe.

Joanne Mariner, a terrorism and counterterrorism expert for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said concrete evidence of CIA activities remained elusive. She testified to a committee investigating allegations that U.S. agents interrogated al-Qaida suspects at clandestine prisons in eastern Europe and transported some on secret flights that passed through Europe.

"The U.S. government has taken every possible step to guard the secrecy of these activities," Mariner said, adding that European governments must ensure their military, intelligence and law enforcement officials answer all questions and provide all requested information on the issue.

The allegations of CIA secret prisons on European territory were first reported in early November. Human Rights Watch said it has circumstantial evidence indicating the CIA transported suspected terrorists captured in Afghanistan to Poland and Romania, and identified the two countries as possible hosts of secret U.S.-run detention facilities. Both countries have denied any involvement.

Mariner stuck to Human Rights Watches' earlier claims, but offered no direct proof that detainees were held in Romania or Poland, earning criticism from several EU deputies.

"There is circumstantial evidence they were held at one point in Poland and Romania ... It's based on flights records and other circumstantial evidence. There is very much that is in doubt," Mariner said, telling lawmakers they should focus on flight records and CIA activities on Europe in 2003 and 2004.

The European Parliament and the Council of Europe, the continent's leading human rights watchdog, have launched separate investigations into the secret prison allegations. Mariner called on the U.S. Congress to also investigate the reports.

Mariner said a Boeing 737, registration number N313P, flew from Kabul, Afghanistan and landed in northeastern Poland on Sept. 22, 2003, "during a period when some prisoners were secretly transferred from Kabul." She also gave other examples of planes that she said flew from Kabul to Romania and on to Morocco and Guantanamo. She said civilian planes would have "no reason to land at these airfields"

But some lawmakers said evidence that CIA planes flew over European airspace or landed in Europe does not prove they were used to transfer terror suspects.

"I couldn't care less if CIA planes land in Europe. I want to know if there is transfer of prisoners. Your singling out of Poland is based on flight records. This really is no proof at all," said Polish Conservative lawmaker Jas Gawronski.

The assembly also heard Italian prosecutor Armando Spataro, who has issued European arrest warrants for 22 purported CIA operatives in connection with the alleged kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric from Milan in 2003. The 22 purported agents - including some accredited as diplomats - allegedly were involved in the kidnapping of cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar.

The operation was believed to be part of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program in which terror suspects are transferred to countries where some allegedly are subjected to torture.

Spataro described the abduction in detail, telling the EU assembly how Abu Omar had been driven from Milan to the Aviano air base and flown to Egypt via the Ramstein air base in Germany, where he changed planes. The abduction was a "serious crime against Italian sovereignty," he said.

"There is no consular immunity that would prevent a trial from going ahead. A trial can even be held in absentia," Spataro said.

Swiss senator Dick Marty, who leads the Council of Europe probe, told the hearing that the alleged abduction of Abu Omar is "a worrying example of how coordination in the fight against terrorism is not what it should be."

"There are gaping holes in it," he said. He accused the German authorities of not providing him with any information on the alleged stopover of Abu Omar at Ramstein despite his request.