The United States hit back Thursday at allegations that the CIA had flown thousands of planes with suspects aboard through Europe to countries where they might be tortured, as claimed by two European investigations.
Assuming all the flights had prisoners aboard is "absurd," according to the US
With the investigations into secret flights carrying detainees in the US war on terror ongoing, a legal advisor to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed the claims as absurd.
"These allegations that there have been thousands of flights with the implication that they all have got detainees on them and worse, detainees bound for mistreatment, is simply absurd," advisor John Bellinger said in Brussels. "Many of these flights that have occurred may be carrying analysts, officials engaged in counter-terrorism cooperation ... forensic evidence."
Last week an Italian member of the European Parliament, Claudio Fava, said the US Central Intelligence Agency had carried out more than 1,000 secret flights in Europe since 2001 without any EU governments raising questions.
I n vestigatio n harmi n g tra n satla n tic relatio n ship
An EU report said over 1,000 CIA flights crossed European airspace
"The suggestion that the flights themselves are somehow engaged in illegal activity really undermines the cooperation between the US and Europe," Bellinger said. "Responsible European government officials simply need to say this has gotten out of hand."
The United States has come under intense fire over the last year following press reports that the CIA had made several flights across European airspace since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The prisoners were reported mainly to have been transited through Europe to third countries in a process known as "rendition." Bellinger did acknowledge that some of these flights had taken place.
"There have not been thousands of flights," he said. "There have been, as we have said, very few cases of rendition."
EU lawmakers are scheduled to arrive in Washington next week to look into allegations of secret terror prisons and flights in Europe. Bellinger is among the American officials they will meet.
Re n ditio n practiced by US a n d other cou n tries
On Wednesday, US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the United States has the right to send prisoners to other countries but it also has the legal obligation to ensure they were not dispatched to places where they would be tortured.
Solana said the accusations were important issues for transatlantic relations
"Rendition is an activity that is practiced by the United States and other countries," Gonzales said. "It is a practice that certainly has been exercised or used by this administration and previous US administrations."
The US would not transfer people to a country where it is more than likely they would be tortured, Gonzales added.
The Council of Europe, largely a human rights watchdog, has been investigating the allegations, as has a European Parliament special committee.
On Tuesday, EU foreign policy envoy Javier Solana told the parliamentary inquiry he had no certain information about the flights, and that he did not have the power to demand that EU member states provide details about them.
"I have no information -- no information whatsoever -- that tells me with certainty that any of the accusations, allegations, rumors, et cetera that have taken place in the last year's time are true," he said.