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Rendition: New report criticises EU for lack of progress over investigations

Ahead of an EU-USA summit in Portugal (20 November), Amnesty International has called on the EU - including EU countries like the United Kingdom - to deliver justice for the victims of the CIA’s unlawful rendition and secret detention programmes.
The call came as the organisation published a new report detailing the lack of progress on the issue at both the EU level and among individual EU member states.
The 53-page report, Open Secret: Mounting evidence of Europe’s complicity in rendition and secret detention (pdf), provides the latest assessment of whether countries such as the UK, Italy, Germany and Poland have fulfilled their responsibility to properly investigate the involvement of their nations in the USA’s notorious “war on terror” programme of kidnapping, secret flights and illegal detention and torture.

Every one of the rendition victims interviewed by Amnesty has said they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated in custody.
The report concludes that the response has so far been extremely poor among EU countries, while also noting that Europe is still “fertile ground” for accountability, especially compared to the United States - which is described as an “accountability-free zone”.
Amnesty International European Institutions Office Director Nicholas Berger said:
“The EU has utterly failed to hold member states accountable for the abuses they’ve committed.
“The Council of the EU hasn’t even acknowledged that the Union itself bears collective responsibility for governments’ complicity in torture, unlawful detention and enforced disappearances.
“These abuses occurred on European soil. We simply can’t allow Europe to join the US in becoming an ‘accountability-free’ zone.”

The UK has been implicated in several cases of rendition - including of seven UK nationals or residents who were previously held at Guantánamo Bay - and in July the Prime Minister David Cameron announced that an inquiry would be set up to investigate allegations of UK complicity in torture and other human rights abuses of individuals detained abroad.
Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
“After years of stonewalling from the previous government we are finally getting an inquiry into alleged complicity by UK officials in rendition and other ‘war on terror’ abuses. This is hugely welcome.
“Generally, though, it’s proving to be a long, hard road to get the UK and other European countries to face up to their full involvement in US-led abuses.”

Amnesty’s report outlines allegations of renditions - and varying degrees of progress in uncovering to what extent local officials were involved in the CIA programme - in eight European countries (Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Sweden and the UK). Two secret CIA prisons are now known to have existed in Lithuania and there are separate allegations relating to Poland and Romania; meanwhile, there are claims that the UK territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean was used as a secret prison and/or transit stop for undeclared prisoners by US forces.

Which countries did what?

Germany was complicit in the secret detention of Muhammad Zammar, interrogated by German agents while held in secret detention in Syria in November 2002. Germans officials acknowledged that torture occurred in Syrian prisons. He has yet to receive justice, despite a German parliamentary inquiry into his and others’ claims of abuse.

Italy has convicted US and Italian agents for their involvement in the February 2003 abduction of Abu Omar in Milan. He was then unlawfully sent to Egypt where he was held in secret and allegedly tortured. But the cases against high-level US and Italian officials were dismissed on the basis of state secrecy and diplomatic immunity. The prosecutor has appealed against those dismissals while Italian claims of the need to protect “state secrets” continue to obstruct justice.

Lithuania has admitted that two secret prisons existed. The prisons were visited in June 2010 by a delegation from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the first visit by an independent monitoring body to a secret CIA prison in Europe. An on-going criminal investigation must ensure that those responsible are held accountable.

Macedonia is alleged to have assisted in the unlawful detention and subsequent CIA-led rendition to Afghanistan of German national Khaled el-Masri, who has taken a case against Macedonia before the European Court of Human Rights: the first time this court is likely to consider a case involving a Council of Europe member state’s alleged complicity in the CIA programmes. Macedonia continues to deny that its agents acted unlawfully.

Poland’s Border Guard Office in July 2010 revealed that seven planes - many carrying passengers - operating in the CIA’s rendition programme landed at Szymany airport, near the alleged site of a secret prison at Stare Kiejkuty. In September, the prosecutor’s office confirmed it was investigating claims by Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, that he was held in secret in Poland. He was granted “victim” status in October 2010, the first time a rendition victim’s claims have been acknowledged in this context.
Romania is alleged to have hosted a secret CIA prison. It totally denies responsibility despite fresh evidence of its involvement in the rendition programme.

Sweden is charged with failing to investigate fully the renditions at the hands of the CIA in December 2001 of Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed al-Zari to Egypt, where the men reported that they were tortured. Despite having awarded the men compensation, the government has also failed to provide the men with full and effective redress.

The UK announced in July 2010 that it would establish an inquiry into the involvement of British officials in the alleged mistreatment of individuals detained abroad by foreign intelligence services. The government has also acknowledged that the US used British territory for rendition flights.

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