When the European Parliament launched an investigation into claims that the CIA kidnapped terror suspects, flew them across European airspace and held them in secret prisons, few believed that anything new would be uncovered. The report voted on by MEPs yesterday, after a year-long inquiry, as expected, contained little information that was not already in the public domain. However that does not mean that the money spent on the exercise - estimated by one MEP at €1m - was wasted.
For one thing, by putting together all the available information, the European Parliament has painted an alarming picture of the ease with which normal standards of behaviour were flouted. No fewer than 13 countries were implicated in colluding with the CIA's extraordinary rendition programme, either by giving permission for covert flights or by turning a blind eye to the kidnapping of their citizens or residents. These included Britain, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Spain and Sweden - all nations which claim to have high standards of justice.
Moreover, the MEPs tried their best to fulfil their duty to hold politicians to account. The performance of those who agreed to appear before the committee was little short of dismal. Earlier drafts of the report were sharply critical of the performance of Geoff Hoon, the Europe Minister and former Secretary of State for Defence, who was accused of stonewalling the committee. At the insistence of Labour MEPs, that reference was excised yesterday.
But even in its toned-down final version, the report contained similar accusations against the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, who was judged guilty of "omissions" in his evidence. Also criticised was Gijs de Vries, the EU's outgoing counter-terrorism co-ordinator.
In producing such a verdict, the European Parliament has set a valuable precedent. Its work has underlined the fact that, if similar claims emerge again, politicians can expect to have to justify their actions.
We, on this side of the Atlantic, should not forget the profound impact of 11 September 2001 on the United States. But Europeans are still entitled to their own view on how to combat the potent threat from terrorism. Yesterday's report has sent out a clear signal about the balance between security and liberty. However alarming the terrorist threat, politicians and security chiefs cannot and should not expect to be given carte blanche. The ends cannot justify the means if the result is a full, frontal attack on the values which Europe rightly proclaims.Reuse content