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Renditions Row

DW staff (sp)February 23, 2008

Britain's admission that the US used its territory to transfer terror suspects has rekindled debate in Europe over secret renditions. The EU is urging Romania and Poland to respond to charges that they hosted CIA jails.

A Boeing 737
The US practice of spiriting away terror suspects to prisons abroad has been criticizedImage: AP

A day after London said the US had confirmed using British territory to transport suspected terrorists on secret flights, the European Commission said Poland and Romania needed to clarify their roles in the US extraordinary rendition program.

The term "extraordinary rendition" has been used to describe the secret transport of prisoners from one country or jurisdiction to another without formal extradition proceedings. The practice gained notoriety after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks when Washington is suspected of having transferred terrorism suspects to a network of CIA prisons outside the US.

Human rights groups accuse the United States of having used extraordinary rendition in order to interrogate suspected terrorists under methods not allowed in the US itself, including torture.

EU still awaiting replies

EU Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger told a daily news briefing on Friday, Feb. 22, that EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini had renewed an appeal to Warsaw and Bucharest to respond to a Council of Europe report last year that said detention centers in the two countries were used to question leading al Qaeda suspects from 2003 to 2005.

The Mihail Kogalniceanu airfield in Romania
Romania country has not shed light on its role in the CIA jails affairImage: AP

Frattini sent the two countries letters last July and reminders on Jan. 29 last month, to which the EU still has not received an adequate response, Laitenberger said.

"They (the letters) reminded the two countries…of the obligation to carry out effective investigations and asked for detailed information as to how this has been implemented and in particular what the outcome of the investigation is," he added.

Romania and Poland have both strongly denied allegations of running secret CIA prisons on their territories or aiding the US to hustle terror suspects into illegal detention facilities.

Swiss politician Dick Marty, who authored the Council of Europe report, said Poland and Romania hosted secret jails under a special CIA program created after the Sept. 11 attacks "to kill, capture and detain" terrorism suspects considered of "high value."

Marty said Poland had held some of the CIA's most sensitive prisoners, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Angry protests in Britain

The US extraordinary rendition program is deemed illegal under EU human rights laws and has sparked heated debate in Europe in recent years. Many EU member states have been unwilling to come clean on their involvement in aiding the US with renditions by offering their airspace or bases for refueling.

The Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase
A few EU nations are suspected of hosting CIA jails on their soilImage: AP

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband prompted angry protests from members of parliament in London and from British human rights groups when he said the US had confirmed using the British-ruled island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean for the refueling of two American rendition flights carrying terrorist suspects in 2002.

The British government, Washington's leading ally in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has repeatedly said in recent years that it knew of no American rendition flights involving British airspace or airfields and had no reason to doubt the denials by Washington that any such flights had taken place.

In Nov, 2006, the European Parliament committee said in a draft report that 11 European countries that knew about secret US jails for terror suspects and obstructed the investigation into the transport and illegal detention of prisoners within Europe. The list included countries such as Germany and Italy.

"A moral duty"

Claudio Fava, who led the European Parliament's investigation, told Reuters news agency on Friday that the EU needed to follow up on the latest developments in Britain.

"Yesterday's revelations confirm that the European Parliament has a moral duty to continue its inquiry," Fava said. "… We still don't know everything that we have the right to know about this issue."

Fava told Reuters his efforts so far to follow-up on that report in the light of new evidence, and reopen the investigation have been opposed by some European lawmakers and governments, including Portugal, Germany and Britain.