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Press release

US secret prisons in Europe: a "law of silence" among governments

Justice and home affairs - 28-03-2012 - 18:18
Committee : Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
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Further evidence is emerging of the possible complicity of some European governments in the CIA's secret detention programme. At a public hearing of experts on Wednesday, Civil Liberties Committee MEPs deplored the lack of cooperation from EU Member States and are preparing a new report.

Hélène Flautre (Greens/EFA, FR), recalled the "serious breaches of human rights, kidnapping, torture, secret detentions, with the complicity of Member States" on which Parliament had sought to shed light until 2007.

Today, "new information has emerged on secret detention sites in Europe (...) there is a great deal of evidence upon which we can build in our work", said Ms Flautre, who is preparing an own-initiative report. She denounced the "law of silence among governments" on these allegations.

"We regret that those responsible for national inquiries in Denmark, Lithuania, Poland and Romania, who had been invited to the hearing, "could not accept", she said.

The rampart of state secrecy

"Many new elements have emerged since 2007, and especially in the past two years" said Julia Hall, an Amnesty International counter-terrorism and human rights expert, citing recent developments in Lithuania, Finland, Denmark, Romania, Poland and the UK.

She deplored the refusal of governments to co-operate on the grounds that information was classified as secret, which, she said, was unjustified.

"Speaking of allegations is counterproductive"

"The European Parliament can rely on the evidence that we have obtained", said Reprieve researcher Crofton Black, adding that "Parliament must recognise that it is useless and counterproductive to describe perfectly demonstrable facts as 'allegations'. There is a puzzle to be put together, a puzzle whose pieces are scattered among countries", he said, suggesting that the European institutions contact the European air navigation safety organisation Eurocontrol to obtain data "at the source". He also stressed that the logistics of the American programme would have required the complicity of private companies. 

"Collective responsibility" of Member States

For the time being, "there is no pressure from public opinion" on governments, "so they don't care", said Sophie In't Veld (ALDE, NL). Furthermore, "we concentrate on countries, but I maintain that there is a collective responsibility", she added, proposing that all Member States should therefore be covered by the future report.

"There is a clear complicity of the [European] authorities", said Ana Gomes (S&D, PT), adding that in Portugal, the authorities "had either been incompetent and had been derided, or had been in league" with the US authorities. The latter possibility "was the likeliest", she added. Adam Bodmar, of the Helsinki Foundation, observed that Poland "was in denial" on this issue.

"A follow-up report seems absolutely necessary" in the light of the new evidence, said Michèle Striffler (EPP, FR),  adding that "if it is established that Member States cooperated actively, the EU will have to take the necessary measures.

"There have been delays even within our institutions, where there are people who want no progress on the dossier" regretted Carlos Coelho (EPP, PT).

Amrit Singh, a lawyer representing the Open Society Justice Initiative, presented the cases of Messrs El-Masri et Al-Nashiri, victims of CIA rendition and secret detention in Europe, implicating the authorities of Poland, Romania, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The second is being held at Guantanamo and "could be sentenced to death by military tribunals that do not respect due process rules", said Ms Flautre. Ms Singh urged MEPs to "take their responsibility" and respond collectively  to ensure that the USA does not single out a country for possible reprisal measures.

Fighting terrorism "saves lives"

"Human rights and freedom are important values (...) but does this mean we must consider individual cases and divulge details of our struggle against terrorism, which saves lives?" said Mirosław Piotrowski (ECR, PL).

In Romania, "many inquiries have been made by MPs and independent media. They have contributed no clarifications, only presumptions", said Ioan Enciu (S&D, RO).


In 2005, prompted by press reports of CIA activities on European soil, the European Parliament set up a temporary committee of enquiry. Its report, drafted by Claudio Fava, deplored the passivity of certain Member States in the face of the CIA's illegal operations on their territory and called for an independent inquiry. MEPs pledged to follow up.

In the chair: Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D, ES)

REF.: 20120326IPR41840