CIA officials have corroborated reports that extraordinary renditions – transfers of prisoners from one country to another bypassing due judicial rule – have taken place on European soil with the blessing of EU governments.
A delegation from the European Parliament committee investigating allegations of US kidnappings and secret prison camps in Europe, on Wednesday (17 May) reported the information after a recent visit to the US.
“More than one source in the CIA…told us that between 30 and 50 people have been transported by extraordinary rendition,” Italian Socialist MEP and committee rapporteur Giovanni Claudio Fava told reporters in Strasbourg.
According to Mr Fava, the information MEPs received when meeting with the US state department’s top legal advisor, John Bellinger, assistant secretary of state Daniel Fried, members of the US Congress, lawyers and NGO representatives had been “patchy and inconsistent.”
But one clear point did emerge from the conversations, MEPs said.
“The only point in common from the officials we spoke to was that it was not possible to organise extraordinary rendition such as this without the active complicity of European governments,” said Carlos Coelho MEP, chair of the temporary committee.
Mr Fava also said that “a first hand source” in the US had confirmed “the existence of seven black sites operated by the CIA in countries of Asia, Europe and Africa.”
According to the source, “the secret centres in Europe were closed down following the public pressure exerted by the media, but there is a black site still operating in a North African country.”
The rapporteur also explained that the state department legal advisor John Bellinger “neither confirmed nor denied the existence of extraordinary renditions” but appeared to justify them politically.
“Without confirming individual cases Mr Bellinger said that renditions are ‘probably indispensable'”, the MEP said.
Not valid proof
The parliament committee late last month presented its mid-term findings, concluding that over 1,000 CIA flights had transited the EU carrying illegally abducted and detained terrorist suspects in the context of “the war on terror.”
Most of the report was based on data from air safety regulators, human rights groups, journalists and eyewitnesses.
The testimonies have not been recognised by EU member states or the European Commission as valid proof of US wrong-doing, let alone of the involvement of EU governments.
“I have no information whatsoever that tells me with certainty that any of the accusations, allegations, rumours?are true,” EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said when quizzed by the committee earlier this month, echoing previous statements from the EU anti-terror coordinator Gijs de Vries.
Similar comments have throughout the committee’s sittings created frustration among members, with Dutch Green MEP Kathalijne Buitenweg recently asking “Are we waiting for the home videos or what?”
The parliament inquiry, launched in January has attracted little testimony from top-level officials, and has no powers to subpoena EU leaders against their will, with MEPs accusing national governments of wanting to sweep the affair under the carpet.
Committee credibility questioned
On Monday, Italian conservative Jas Gawronski told committee colleagues that unless they can come up with recognisable proof, people would question the worth of its work.
Liberal MEP Sara Ludford told EUobserver earlier that “we have never said we are a court of justice” saying the committee could only rely on public awareness and opinion to put pressure on politicians.
After the April report a member of the Italian carabinieri came forward to say he had taken part in a CIA abduction of a suspect, Abu Omar, in Milan in 2003, Ms Ludford said.
Swedish Liberal MEP Cecilia Malmstrom said “I do not think that any major scandals will be revealed by this committee, but we can try to fit the pieces of the puzzle together and put pressure on governments.”