Turning a blind eye is ‘collaborating with abuses’ – Amnesty warning to Blair and EU over rendition

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HUMAN rights group Amnesty International has welcomed the call for European governments to cooperate fully with an investigation into ‘extraordinary rendition’ and secret detention centres used for torture.

Amnesty said that it welcomed the Council of Europe’s interim report on the allegations that European governments allowed the CIA to fly detainees to ‘black sites’ in eastern Europe.

Amnesty said that, as the report made clear, the response from EU states to the allegations ‘has not been sufficient’.

The human rights group said: ‘The governments of both the UK and Romania, for example, have cited their confidence in assurances offered by the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.

‘AI believes that such assurances cannot be regarded as adequate protection against abuse.

‘AI reiterates its call to the UK Government to launch an immediate, thorough and independent investigation into evidence that its territory has been used to assist in unlawfully transporting detainees to countries where they risk torture.

‘The Polish authorities must make the findings of their enquiry into the alleged existence of secret CIA detention centres available to the Council of Europe.

‘The authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina must provide more information about how six Bosnians came to be abducted by American agents on Bosnian soil and taken to Guantanamo Bay.

‘The report also casts doubt on the Italian Government’s denial that it was informed about the operation in which at least 25 foreign agents abducted an Egyptian citizen in the middle of Milan.

‘The Italian authorities clearly have more explaining to do.’

Amnesty added: ‘As Dick Marty points out in the report, “the fact that detention and interrogation centres have been relocated to other countries is proof that the authorities are fully aware that the methods used are incompatible with the American legal system.’’

‘Amnesty International strongly endorses his call that Europe must “clearly and unambiguously declare that it refuses outright to tolerate such doings in its territory, or anywhere else.’’

‘AI believes that European countries must do everything in their power to ensure that no further renditions flights take place.

‘Given the serious allegations that have been raised by both AI in the past and Mr Marty today, European governments must ask more detailed questions about the purposes of all such flights and about the identity and status of all passengers on board.’

Amnesty has analysed the movements of 17 aircraft that have been identified with specific cases of ‘rendition’, or with companies alleged to be supporting the ‘logistics’ of the programme.

‘Mr Marty has identified 14 additional aircraft allegedly belonging to entities with direct or indirect links to the CIA and believed to have been used by the CIA to transport detainees,’ Amnesty said.

It added there is ‘no secure mechanism’ in place, ‘by which European governments can guarantee that their airports and airspace are not being used to support and facilitate the multiple human rights violations encompassed by renditions’.

The Blair government especially has been condemned for not checking suspect planes landing at British airports to stop the ‘rendering’ of detainees through British airspace.

Amnesty insisted: ‘States have an absolute obligation not to transfer anyone to a country where they face a significant risk of torture.

‘AI therefore recommends that, pending the outcome of the Council of Europe’s investigations, the operators of all 31 planes identified by Mr Marty should be forced to provide detailed information every time they land at an airport in Europe or enter European airspace.

‘This would include, at minimum, the full flight plan of the aircraft, including onward stops from Europe and full itinerary since leaving the US, and the full names and nationalities of all passengers on board, and the purposes of their travel.

‘If any passengers are listed as prisoners or detainees, more detailed information would have to be provided.

‘European governments should refuse access to airspace and airfields if such information is not forthcoming.’

Amnesty said the publication of the Council of Europe’s interim report ‘is a step towards uncovering the truth about the extent to which US agents are carrying out renditions and related practices in Europe.

‘However, it makes clear that serious questions still need to be answered by a number of European governments.’

Dick Marty’s report recognises that there is ‘a great deal of coherent, convergent evidence pointing to the existence of a system of “relocation” or “outsourcing’’ of torture.’

‘What is needed now’, said Amnesty, ‘is the cooperation of all countries, to ensure that they actively look at what is happening within their territory which may facilitate torture, and take appropriate action.’

Claudio Cordone, Amnesty’s Senior Director of Regional Programmes, commented: ‘European countries have the duty to fully collaborate in the investigations of gross human rights violations committed in their own territory.

‘Not cooperating with those investigations is tantamount to collaborating with the abuses.’

Amnesty urged the EU to immediately implement the call from Dick Marty (the Council of Europe’s rapporteur), for a full committee of inquiry ‘with extensive investigatory powers’.

Cordone said: ‘The allegations that secret detention centres have existed in Europe, as Dick Marty has pointed out, come from varied and credible sources.

‘Not even the US government has denied their existence.

‘The issue now is what will be done about it.’

• During the four years between September 2001 and September 2005, 17 suspect airplanes analysed by Amnesty International recorded 2,238 movements in 270 airports in 62 countries and territories.

This included ‘more than 800 flights in and out of Europe and the CIS’.

‘Such planes have landed in Azerbaijan, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Macedonia, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Uzbekistan,’ Amnesty said.