European Inquiry Says C.I.A. Flew 1,000 Flights in Secret

From the New York Times

BRUSSELS, April 26 ‘ Investigators for the European Parliament said Wednesday that data gathered from air safety regulators and others found that the Central Intelligence Agency had flown 1,000 undeclared flights over European territory since 2001.

Sometimes the planes stopped to pick up terrorism suspects who had been kidnapped to take them to countries that use torture, the investigators added.

The operation used the same American agents and the same planes over and over, they said, though they could not say how many flights involved the transport of suspects.

The investigation, by a committee looking into C.I.A. counterterrorism activities in Europe, also concluded that European countries, including Italy, Sweden and Bosnia and Herzegovina, were aware of the abductions or transfers and therefore might have been complicit.

“The European Parliament deplores the fact that the C.I.A. has on several occasions clearly been responsible for kidnapping and illegally detaining alleged terrorists on the territory of member states, as well for extraordinary renditions” to third countries, wrote Giovanni Fava of Italy, a Socialist member of the European Parliament who led the committee.

The report, the first of several planned by the Parliament, grew out of three months of hearings, including testimony by human rights advocates and individuals who said they had been kidnapped by United States agents and flown to other countries, including Egypt and Afghanistan, where they were tortured.

As for the question of secret C.I.A. detention centers in Europe, the new report offered no hard evidence.

Its estimate of 1,000 undeclared flights exceeds the numbers previously discussed, including those in an analysis by The New York Times late last year that said the agency operated about 300 flights in Europe between November 2001 and the summer of 2005.

The report’s conclusions are likely to heighten trans-Atlantic tensions at a time when Europe and the United States are already at odds over how to balance civil liberties with the fight against terrorists.

The inquiry was opened in January after The Washington Post reported that the C.I.A. had hidden and interrogated suspected members of Al Qaeda at secret prisons in Eastern Europe.

Mr. Fava said the committee hoped to send a fact-finding mission to Poland and Romania in September. Both countries have been cited as possible locations for prisons.

Mr. Fava said the investigation showed that agency planes had made hundreds of flights and several secret stopovers in Europe, violating a treaty that requires airlines to declare routes for police missions.

The C.I.A. declined to comment on the specifics, but an agency spokesman defended the practice of taking suspects to third countries, a process known as rendition.

“Renditions are an antiterror tool that the United States has used for years, consistent with its laws and treaty obligations,” said the spokesman, Paul Gimigliano. “The C.I.A does not condone or tolerate torture, transport individuals to other countries for the purpose of torture or knowingly receive intelligence obtained by torture.”

Mr. Fava emphasized that it was most likely that some authorities in Europe had been aware that suspects were being detained on their territories. He pointed to testimony by a senior prosecutor in Milan, Italy, Armando Spataro, that a C.I.A. team had abducted a suspect, Abu Omar, in February 2003 in broad daylight before he was flown to Egypt.

Mr. Fava also criticized Sweden for handing over two Egyptian suspects, Muhammad al-Zary and Ahmed Agiza, to American agents who flew them to Egypt in December 2001. Their case was brought to light by Swedish television in 2004.

“Sweden has been criticized for this on numerous occasions, and we have taken a number of steps in order for it not to happen again,” Barbro Holmberg, the minister for migration and asylum policy, said.

Mr. Fava said the Parliament found that Bosnian authorities had handed over six suspects of Algerian origin to C.I.A. agents without assurances that they would not be tortured, and in defiance of a ruling by the human rights court in Bosnia and Herzegovina.