Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

CIA Terrorist prisons scandal refuses to die down

Europe Information - www.eis.be - 7 January 2006

There is no sign of a let-up in claims that Europe has been somehow complicit in the United States' extra-judicial abduction, transport and interrogation of terror suspects. MEPs in the European Parliament are jockeying for highly-prized positions on the temporary committee being set up to probe the allegations. Addressing the EP's Human Rights Sub-committee on January 4, Human Rights Watch, the organisation that helped break the story, urged MEPs to use their powers to get national intelligence agencies to talk. And in a new twist, the European Commission has been accused of funding the refurbishment of a prison in Afghanistan that will be used to detain terror suspects transferred from the infamous detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The EU executive has denied the accusation.


Europe complicit?

Lotte Leicht, EU director of Human Rights Watch, told MEPs there was circumstantial evidence of the US intelligence agency, the CIA, interrogating terror suspects in Romania and Poland. She said intelligence sources that had provided her organisation with this information were unwilling to go public for fear of losing their jobs. One source had cited another EU member state, too, but Human Rights Watch did not want to name the country until it gets corroborative evidence, she said.

MEPs could help to shed further light on the allegations by summoning intelligence services to testify before the temporary committee, Ms Leicht said. Parliament decided to create such an ad hoc committee in December 2005 after its Legal Service told it that there was no legal basis to create a more formal 'committee of inquiry' with stronger investigative powers. However, British Member Charles Tannock (EPP-ED) doubted that Parliament would be able to extract much information from intelligence services. UK Liberal MEP Sajjad Karim echoed his scepticism, noting the EU Council Presidency had so far adopted a 'hear no evil, see no evil' approach'.


Battle for places.

Given that the EP temporary committee is likely to have a high media profile, deputies are already fighting for a place on it, Parliamentary sources have told Europe Information. Chairman of the Civil Liberties Committee Jean-Marie Cavada (Liberals, France) has written to Parliament's President Josep Borrell (Socialists, Spain) asking for the Civil Liberties Committee to be given the lead role. But the Foreign Affairs Committee and Human Rights Sub-committee are anxious to make their presence felt too, the source said.

The committee's mandate also needs to be formalised. According to the EP's December 15, 2005 resolution, this should be to find out precisely what is happening, whether it is legal, whether EU citizens are involved and whether EU member states are complicit. It should be noted that the 46-member state Council of Europe is conducting two investigations into the same issue, with CoE rapporteur Dick Marty due to address the European Parliament in February.


EU funding secret prisons?

In a separate development, the prison at Pol-e-Charkhi in Afghanistan has come under the spotlight, after press reports said EU funds are paying for its refurbishment. The Afghan authorities are thought to want to use the prison to house their citizens who are currently being held by the US in Guantanamo Bay, as well as in US military bases in Bagram and Kandahar. Responding to the report, a Commission spokeswoman told Europe Information on January 6 that no EU money had been spent on the prison. She noted, however, that the EU contributes euro 105 million to the 'Law and Order Trust Fund' in Afghanistan.

The day before, Lotte Leicht from Human Rights Watch spoke about a separate, nameless detention centre in Afghanistan that she dubbed 'the prison of darkness'. Ms Leicht alleged the US had flown terror suspects from this centre to Guantanamo Bay via several European countries. She also claimed the US used interrogation techniques including forced shaking, open-handed slaps on the face and stomach, subjecting naked prisoners to extreme heat and cold and pouring water over them until they think they are drowning. She said the US considered these as legitimate practices and not torture.