European Head of Counter-terrorism Criticises Impact of US Policies on Torture and Rendition

From The Financial Times

European governments must take a principled stand on the issue of human rights as a key part of the global strategy for combating terrorism, Gijs de Vries, the European Union’s counter-terrorism co-ordinator, said on Thursday.

He told a seminar organised by the Centre for European Reform that, while he had ‘no doubt’ violent extremists and terrorist recruiters could be beaten, an essential tool of the strategy had to be ‘winning the battle for hearts and minds’, and engaging the support of moderate Muslim opinion worldwide.

‘We need to engage with them [Muslims] on the basis of the values we share: respect for human life, respect for democratic standards, respect for individual liberty and dignity.’ He went on: ‘This means that our policies to combat terrorism must respect the rights and values we have pledged to defend, including the rights of prisoners.’

While he used his speech to refer also to the improved co-operation on intelligence and law enforcement between European governments and the US, Mr de Vries’s central comments underlined the extent to which alleged mistreatment of prisoners and the US strategy of rendition has provoked tension between the EU and the US.

Mr de Vries was pressed by delegates to comment specifically on the US strategy. He said: ‘If you look at the affect Abu Ghraib, Guant’namo and the policy of [extraordinary] rendition [has had] on public opinion, it is quite clear that it has been negative.’

His comments came as the UK government was accused of ignorance about the true nature and number of requests for rendition by the US following the leak of an official memo expressing uncertainty about the scale and legality of the practice of transporting terrorist suspects.

Tony Blair, UK prime minister, faced opposition demands that he seek immediate answers from Washington as to whether the US used British airspace or airports with or without the authorisation of the UK government. Mr Blair was advised by the British Foreign Office that officials were concerned there could have been more requests for rendition than previously revealed. ‘The papers we have unearthed so far suggest there could be more such cases,’ officials advised in the leaked memo, whose authenticity was confirmed by the government.

The memo also warned that the practice of rendition would rarely be legal under UK law. But the document did not contain the kind of specific information on abductees and flight records that has led authorities in Spain, Germany and Italy to start judicial investigations into the CIA’s activities.

Last week Dick Marty, the Swiss politician who is heading the main pan-European investigation into rendition, said he had no doubt the CIA had maintained illegal prisons in Europe, although he had yet to produce any clear proof. Next week he will present an update on his investigation to the Council of Europe, the 46-member human rights organisation.