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European parliament condemned Britain's role in CIA "torture flights"
Guardian (UK)
Richard Norton-Taylor and Nicholas Watt in Brussels
November 29, 2006

Britain's role in CIA "torture flights" was roundly condemned yesterday by the European parliament in a scathing report which for the first time named the site of a suspected secret US detention centre in the EU - at Stare Kiejkuty in Poland.

It says EU governments, including the British, knew about the practice known as extraordinary rendition - secret CIA flights transferring detainees to locations where they risked being tortured - but made a concerted attempt to obstruct investigations into it.

The MEPs singled out Geoff Hoon, the minister for Europe, saying they deplored his attitude to their special committee's inquiry into the CIA flights. They expressed outrage at what they said was the view of the chief legal adviser to the Foreign Office, Sir Michael Wood, that "receiving or possessing" information extracted under torture, if there was no direct participation in the torture, was not per se banned under international law. They said Sir Michael declined to give evidence to the committee.

The report condemned the extraordinary rendition of two UK residents, Bisher al-Rawi, an Iraqi citizen , and Jamil el-Banna, a Jordanian citizen, seized in the Gambia in 2002. They were "turned over to US agents and flown to Afghanistan and then to Guantánamo, where they remain detained without trial or any form of judicial assistance", it said. The men's abduction was helped "by partly erroneous information" supplied by MI5. It also condemned the treatment of Binyam Mohammed, an Ethiopian citizen and UK resident arrested in Pakistan and at one point held in Morocco where questions "appear to have been inspired by information supplied by the UK". His lawyer has described what the report called "horrific torture".

It referred to the rendition of Martin Mubanga, a UK citizen arrested in Zambia in 2002 and flown to Guantánamo Bay. It said he was interrogated by British officials at the US detention centre in Cuba where he was held and tortured for four years and then released without trial.

It expressed "serious concern" about 170 stopovers at British airports by CIA-operated aircraft which on many occasions came from, or were bound for, countries linked with "extraordinary rendition circuits". The Guardian gave evidence to the committee on the CIA flights. The MEPs also praised help they were given by the all-party parliamentary group on rendition chaired by Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie. "Parliamentary concern about extraordinary rendition is not going to go away," Mr Tyrie said. Next week he will meet John Rockefeller, new chairman of the US Senate intelligence committee.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil rights group Liberty, said: "Our government wept hot tears for torture victims in Saddam Hussein's Iraq but adamantly refuses to investigate CIA torture flights despite growing international pressure. The silence in Whitehall is damning."

Yesterday's report described in detail how CIA Gulfstream jets landed in secret at Szymany airport in Poland. There was circumstantial evidence, it said, that there may have been a secret detention centre at the nearby intelligence training centre at Stare Kiejkuty. It disclosed that records, from a confidential source, of an EU and Nato meeting with the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, last December confirmed "member states had knowledge of the [US] programme of extraordinary renditions and secret prisons".

It criticised EU officials such as foreign policy chief Javier Solana and counter-terrorism coordinator Gijs de Vries for a lack of cooperation with the inquiry, and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Nato's secretary general, for declining to give evidence.

Sarah Ludford, a Liberal Democrat MEP and vice-chair of the European parliament's committee, said last night: "If the EU's aspirations to be a 'human rights community' have any meaning whatsoever, there must now be a forceful EU response to this strong evidence that the CIA abducted, illegally imprisoned and transported alleged terrorists in Europe while European governments, including the UK, turned a blind eye or actively colluded with the United States."

At least 1,245 CIA rendition flights used European airspace or landed at European airports, the report said. It accused the former head of Italy's Sismi intelligence service, Nicolo Pollari, of "concealing the truth" when he told the committee Italian agents played no part in the CIA kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric in 2003. It says Sismi officials had an active role in the abduction of Abu Omar, who had been "held incommunicado and tortured ever since".

The Foreign Office said last night that Mr Hoon had answered all the questions put to him. He said the government did not approve of any transfer of individuals through the UK where there were substantial grounds to believe they would face the real risk of torture.

Original Text