Europe 'ignored detention of prisoners by the CIA'

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The Independent Online

Dick Marty, a Swiss parliamentarian, will release interim findings from his inquiries on behalf of the Council of Europe, assessing a host of allegations concerning secret flights across EU airspace and illegal prisons. However, the inquiry is not so far thought to have uncovered any new evidence on the most sensitive of the allegations - the location of secret prison sites.

Instead, Mr Marty's report will focus on cases already in the public domain, including those of the Egyptian cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, allegedly kidnapped from Milan in 2003; and of a Lebanese-born German, Khaled el-Masri, who was allegedly abducted in Macedonia last year and flown to Afghanistan where he was held for four months.

Today's report marks the start, rather than the conclusion, of European efforts to get to the truth of CIA flight claims, which first surfaced last November.

The secretary general of the Council of Europe, Terry Davis, has invoked article 52 of the European Convention to ask all his 46 member nations to reply to a series of questions on the claims by 21 February. And last week the European Parliament agreed to set up a separate but parallel committee of inquiry which, though it will not be able to subpoena witnesses, has the power to embarrass governments by holding public hearings and making it clear who is refusing to cooperate.

European member states have been reluctant to press the US on the issue, leading to speculation that many were complicit in the CIA's activities. Yesterday, René van der Linden, chairman of the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly said he "would like to see some parliaments [stand up to] the governments."

Mr Marty has been promised imagery of possible detention sites from the EU's satellite centre at Torrejon in Spain, though this has not yet been delivered, nor has he received flight log books from the Brussels-based air safety organisation Eurocontrol.

The allegations fall into two categories. The first and most serious is that prisoners were detained secretly in two east European countries. Human Rights Watch identified Romania's Kogalniceanu military airfield and Poland's Szczytno-Szymany airport as possible sites for secret detention centres, basing its claims on flight logs of CIA aircraft from 2001 to 2004. Both governments deny involvement.

Mr Marty has conceded that he faces an uphill battle in proving these allegations, since the facilities for which he is searching are likely to be small, and have probably been closed.

The second set of claims centres on secret CIA flights. Across the continent, governments have been forced to reveal possible involvement with the flights. Sweden says at least one plane with possible CIA links has landed in its territory. Denmark has identified 14 suspect flights, while Norway pinpointed three. And Austria's air force is investigating allegations that a US transport plane containing suspected terrorist captives passed through the neutral country's airspace in 2003.

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