BERLIN—A European investigator said Tuesday that there's evidence that the United States set up a system to outsource the interrogations of terrorism suspects to countries where torture is used, and European governments probably knew about it.
Dick Marty, chairman of the European Parliament's committee on legal affairs and human rights, said published reports and government statements supported allegations that the CIA transported prisoners to countries where they were tortured and operated secret interrogation prisons in some European countries.
It was the first official European inquiry into the claims. Marty said more investigation needs to be done.
"Drawing on all this concordant information and evidence we can say that there is a great deal of coherent, convergent evidence pointing to the existence of a system of `relocation' or `outsourcing' of torture," the report states. "Acts of torture, or severe violations of detainees' dignity through the administration of inhuman or degrading treatment, are carried out outside national territory and beyond the authority of the national intelligence services."
Marty said European governments almost certainly knew about the practice, known as "rendition."
"`Rendition' affecting Europe seems to have concerned more than a hundred persons in recent years," Marty wrote. "Hundreds of CIA-chartered flights have passed through numerous European countries. It is highly unlikely that European governments, or at least their intelligence services, were unaware."
European governments have in general claimed ignorance about the alleged practice, and U.S. officials have said that no prisoners were transferred to countries with the expectation that they would be tortured.
In Washington, a spokesman for the National Security Council reiterated those earlier denials. "The United States does not torture. We've said this numerous times in numerous venues," said Fred Jones. "We follow law. The report cites no evidence of any secret prisons or any evidence that the United States was complicit in torture."
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called the report "the same old reports wrapped up in some new rhetoric."
Europe's vice president for freedom, justice and security, Franco Frattini, called on countries to cooperate with Marty.
"I have taken note of (Marty's) serious, interim conclusion that it is highly unlikely that European governments, or at least their intelligence services, were unaware of rendition," Frattini said. "It is now for the member states of the Council of Europe to clarify their position."
The report details some alleged CIA abductions, including that of Egyptian Hassam Asama Mustafa Nasr, who allegedly was taken from Milan to Ramstein, a U.S. air base in Germany, and then to Egypt, where he was tortured. Italian prosecutors have issued warrants for 22 CIA operatives in that case.
The report also noted the case of six people who were allegedly abducted in Bosnia and transported to the Guantanamo Bay prison camp for suspected terrorists.
But Marty reported he could find no conclusive evidence of secret prisons in Europe.
Marty's report recounted Swiss news reports, however, that Swiss intelligence had intercepted an Egyptian Foreign Ministry fax that referred to secret detention facilities in Bulgaria, Kosovo, Macedonia, Romania and Ukraine. In addition, the report notes allegations that suspects in this summer's London bombings were "subjected to violent interrogation by British agents" at a secret prison at a naval base in Crete.
European terror experts said the report and subsequent investigations could have serious political repercussions for European politicians if it turns out they have lied about the extent of their knowledge about renditions.
"The political consequences of deliberately telling untruths are very serious, and we have made it very clear here that we don't send people to countries that practice torture," said David Bentley, an expert on extradition and terror law for the British research center Chatham House. "Jack Straw (Britain's foreign minister) said that to Parliament."
Dick Leurdijk, a senior fellow with the Dutch research center Clingendael Institute, said that if the new report is correct, it "puts the initial outrage (about rendition) in much of Europe in an interesting light."
Marty also said Europeans may bear responsibility for any mistreatment of prisoners that occurred because of the program.
"What is, therefore, the share of responsibility of member states when their airport facilities are used to transport detainees to places where they will be subjected to torture, i.e. places—dare I say—of public notoriety?" Marty wrote. "Is there true cooperation between European states and the United States, or do the former display a respectable kind of duplicity?"
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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