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European lawmakers and human rights officials bashed the US government Thursday after President Bush admitted for the first time to the existence of secret CIA prisons in Europe.
Bush said that 14 suspects imprisoned abroad have been moved
Europe's top human rights official called the US government's actions in fighting the so-called war on terror "criminal" Thursday and said that Washington's admission of secret CIA prisons has justified European suspicions.
"Kidnapping people and torturing them in secret -- however tempting the short-term gain may appear to be -- is what criminals do, not democratic governments," said Council of Europe President Rene van der Linden. "In the long term, such practices create more terrorists and undermine the values we are fighting for. Europe will have no part in such a degrading system."
US President George W. Bush's admission that secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) exist vindicated the council's months-long investigation, Van der Linden said.
"Our work has helped to flush out the dirty nature of this secret war, which we learn at last, has been carried out completely beyond any legal framework," he said. "Human rights violations committed in the fight against terrorism are in fact victories for the terrorists, whose very aim is to destroy the rule of law."
Bush on Wednesday for the first time acknowledged that the CIA was running secret prisons where high-level al Qaeda figures captured since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were held and interrogated. He did not name their locations.
Khaled el Masri says he was kidnapped and tortured by the CIA
Since media reports revealed the CIA operation last November, Bush and other members of his administration have refused to publicly discuss the program.
The US president also said that 14 high-profile terror detainees had been transferred from CIA custody to Guantanamo Bay, for possible prosecution, adding that they would be protected by the Geneva Conventions. Most other detainees held abroad -- less than 100 since 2001 -- have been released or turned over for prosecution.
Breaching human rights
The 46-member Council of Europe in Strasbourg is the continent's main human rights watchdog and is independent from the EU.
Its final report on a six-month inquiry into the CIA charges said that several European states had helped the US carry out "extraordinary rendition" flights, the US practice of transporting detainees to other states for interrogation.
Conducting a separate probe into the controversial issue, European lawmakers in June agreed to extend their investigation with a focus on trying to find out whether Romania and Poland have hosted illegal CIA prisons. Both countries have denied the allegations.
Poland and Romania have allegedly hosted secret prisons
Clandestine detention centers, secret flights via or from Europe to countries where suspects could face torture or extraordinary renditions would all breach the continent's human-rights conventions.
Exposed to ridicule
The vice-chair of the European Parliament's special committee investigating CIA prisons in Europe said Bush's disclosure also puts European leaders in a bad light.
"By his admission that the CIA has indeed practiced illegal kidnapping and detention, Bush exposes not only his own previous lies," said Sarah Ludford. "He also exposes to ridicule those arrogant government leaders in Europe who dismissed as unfounded our fears about extraordinary rendition."
EU lawmakers and civil rights campaigners have long called on US officials to admit the US used a network of secret prisons and have transferred prisoners between them on covert flights. In July the EU parliament voted to continue its investigation into CIA secret prisons for another six months.