European countries knew about U.S. secret jails for terrorism suspects and have obstructed an investigation into the transport and illegal detention of prisoners, a draft European Parliament report said Tuesday.
It criticized a string of top European Union officials including foreign policy chief Javier Solana and counter-terrorism coordinator Gijs de Vries, and complained of lack of cooperation from nearly all member states.
The report said Nicolo Pollari, a former head of Italy’s SISMI intelligence agency, “concealed the truth” when he told European Parliament lawmakers in March that Italian agents played no part in the CIA kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric.
On the contrary, SISMI officials played an active role in the abduction of Abu Omar, and it was “very probable” that the Italian government knew of the operation, it said.
The government of Silvio Berlusconi, in power at the time, repeatedly denied any knowledge. His successor Romano Prodi last week replaced Pollari, who faces possible indictment over the Abu Omar affair but denies any wrongdoing.
The case is one of the best known of a suspected CIA “rendition,” or secret transfer of a terrorist suspect between countries, a practice rights groups say often leads to torture.
The European Parliament report said Abu Omar, abducted in Milan in 2003 and flown to Egypt, had been “held incommunicado and tortured ever since”.
Solana’s spokeswoman said his office had very little responsibility for the issues raised in the report. “These are questions for the EU member states,” Cristina Gallach said.
Rights group Amnesty International said in a statement it was time for politicians to accept their responsibilities.
“European leaders cannot continue to deny them just as the EU cannot maintain that it is not its business,” Amnesty said.
Europeans called complicit
The draft, obtained by Reuters, echoed charges from the Council of Europe human rights body that European states were complicit in U.S. abuses during the war on terrorism.
It said records, from a confidential source, of an EU and NATO meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last December confirmed “member states had knowledge of the (U.S.) program of extraordinary rendition and secret prisons”.
President Bush confirmed in September the CIA held high-level terrorism suspects at secret overseas locations, but Washington denies using torture or handing over prisoners to countries that practice it.
The EU and Council of Europe inquiries were launched partly in response to media reports last year that the United States ran secret prisons in Poland and Romania.
Both countries strongly deny that. But Tuesday’s report complained of a lack of cooperation from the Polish government and regretted Romania’s reluctance to investigate thoroughly.
Among other criticisms in the draft report:
- It was “totally unacceptable” that the EU Council first hid, then provided only partial information on regular discussions with senior U.S. administration officials.
- Solana’s evidence to the committee contained “omissions and denials” which prompted deep concern.
- De Vries’s evidence lacked credibility and the committee questioned the point of his counter-terrorism coordinator role.
- The committee was frustrated that neither Europol criminal intelligence boss Max-Peter Ratzel nor NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer had agreed to speak to it.
- It “deplored” poor cooperation from Britain, as represented before the committee by Europe Minister Geoff Hoon.