By Daniel Dombey in the Financial Times
Italy and Poland have failed to dispel suspicions that they have broken European law by colluding with the US over “secret prisons” and extra-legal abductions, the 46-nation Council of Europe said yesterday.
The human rights watchdog said the two countries had failed to give clear answers to questions about their possible involvement in illegal activities by foreign intelligence agencies. Council of Europe member states are legally bound to respond to such inquiries.
“I would have expected both of them to use the opportunity to clear the air,” said Terry Davis, Council of Europe secretary-general.
The organisation also said that Europe had next to no safeguards to restrain foreign intelligence agents nor any way of monitor-ing that its airports andairspace were not used for illegal abductions.
Only Hungary had any legal provisions to oversee foreign security services’ actions on its territory, Mr Davis said. “What’s the point of controlling your own security services if other people can do their dirty work unhindered?”
The Council of Europe began looking into the issue last year amid a blaze of publicity about the US practice of “extraordinary rendition”, as well as records of Central Intelligence Agency flights in Europe and reports – denied by both countries – that Poland and Romania had hosted covert CIA jails.
Other focuses of attention have included the abduction of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen, from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the abduction of Abu Omar, an Egyptian citizen, from Italy. The Italian government says it was not involved in the case of Mr Omar, but has declined to back Italian prosecutors’ calls for 22 CIA agents to be extradited from the US.
Mr Davis said Rome had failed to answer a specific question about whether government officials had been involved in the “unacknow-ledged deprivation of liberty of any individual”.
“Similarly, the reply received from Poland – a country mentioned in the initial allegations on the existence of secret prisons – is disappointing and with the best of will cannot be qualified as adequate.”
Warsaw declined to respond to a query about whether it was involved in the transport of abductees, although it declared last year that there “are no such secret prisons in Poland”.
The European Convention on Human Rights, which the Council of Europe seeks to uphold, bans torture, inhuman and degrading punishment and the extradition of individuals to states where they are likely to suffer such treatment.
Mr Davis said he would be formally requesting fresh responses from countries that had failed to provide adequate information. He criticised Nato for not admitting the Council of Europe to a facility in Kosovo. The military alliance replied that the International Committee of the Red Cross has regular access to the military camp.