Senior EU officials accused of covering up secret CIA prisons for terror suspects

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The Independent Online

European countries - including Britain - and senior EU officials have come in for heavy criticism for concealing the truth and obstructing an investigation into the transport and illegal detention of prisoners by the CIA.

A draft report from the European Parliament deplores the attitude of the British Government, attacks the EU's foreign policy spokesman, Javier Solana, and complains of a lack of co-operation from many European countries.

The document also said that Nicolo Pollari, former head of Italy's Sismi intelligence service, had "concealed the truth" when he told a European Parliament committee in March that Italian agents had played no part in the CIA kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric. The Italian secret service played an active role in the abduction and it was "very probable" the Italian government knew of the operation, the MEPs concluded.

While yesterday's report, drawn up after 130 hearings over 10 months, reveals little new about the existence of secret CIA prisons, it is comprehensive in its criticism of those it believes have not told the truth.

In a verdict that could prove damaging for the EU's foreign policy chief, the document expresses its "profound concern with regard to the omissions and denials which resulted from the statements made in front of the temporary committee by the secretary general of the council, Javier Solana".

The evidence given by the EU anti-terrorism co-ordinator Gijs De Vries showed a "lack of credibility", the report said. And the document "deplores" the level of co-operation offered by the British minister for Europe, Geoff Hoon, and expressed "serious concern about 170 stop-overs made by CIA-operated aircraft at UK airports."

Moreover, the document cites a confidential source quoting from an EU/Nato meeting last December with the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, which confirmed "member states had knowledge of the programme of extraordinary rendition and secret prisons".

The European Parliament launched its report after an inquiry made by the Council of Europe. Both investigations were a response to US press reports last year that claimed the US ran secret prisons in Poland and Romania.

Although both countries denied the charges, neither was given a clean bill of health from the MEPs who complained of a lack of co-operation from the Polish government and regretted Romania's reluctance to investigate thoroughly.

The draft report expressed concern that temporary secret detention facilities in European countries may have been located in US military bases and called on states hosting such bases to exercise greater control. It also described as "totally unacceptable" the fact that EU officials failed to provide full and accurate information on regular discussions with senior US administration officials.

Also castigated for their failure to address the committee were Europol's head of criminal intelligence, Max-Peter Ratzel, the former Nato secretary general Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and his successor, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

In a statement, Amnesty International said: "Confronted once again with these facts, European leaders cannot continue to deny them just as the EU cannot maintain that it is not its business. As the European Parliament debates the report over the next two months Amnesty International will continue to press for proper accountability at both EU and national level."

Sarah Ludford, Liberal Democrat MEP and vice-president of the temporary committee, said: "The 9/11 attacks were a terrible wrong done to the United States. But the EU and its leading member states have done a disservice to our US partners by failing to stick to the moral high ground of international legitimacy."