On the anniversary of the al Qaeda attack on America, 11 years ago, the European Parliament debated a report into one of the most controversial responses to the terrorist attacks, rendition. This inoffensive word describes the process of seizing suspects, often on flimsy evidence, detaining them and transporting them, often via European countries and a network of ‘secret prisons’ to Guantanamo in Cuba.
From the earliest days of the rendition operation there were serious concerns and allegations of torture, used as a matter of routine. Since then, the evidence has slowly mounted and several EU member states have been accused of involvement in a network of secret prisons and aiding rendition.
The report, by Hélène Flautre MEP (Greens/EFA, FR) on alleged transportation and illegal detention of prisoners in European countries by the CIA was adopted by MEPs who voted overwhelmingly in favour, 568 votes in support, 34 against and 77 abstentions.
The report, five years after Parliament's own inquiry which documented the use of European airspace and territory by the CIA, notes that “counter-terrorism strategies can be effective only if they are conducted in strict compliance with human rights obligations, in particular the right to due process” and calls on Member States to hold full inquiries into any allegations of complicity in rendition.
“This is an excellent outcome,” said Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office. “The report has now been overwhelmingly endorsed by MEPs from all political groups, so it sends a very powerful signal”, he added. “We’ve been campaigning for urgent attention to this issue since the last report in 2007. But much remains to be done. We now need to see tangible action by the various governments, and an end to their evasion of responsibility.”
Speaking during the debate on the report, Marie-Christine Vergiat MEP (GUE/NGL, FR) said, “stressed that " media and NGOs have repeatedly stressed the dramatic consequences for human rights of covert operations conducted by the CIA. At least a dozen member states are involved. They did everything and some of them continue to try to prevent the sad truth from emerging. All credit to the European Parliament for continuing to demand accountability while the Union's credibility is at stake."
These sentiments had support from across the political spectrum. Sajjad Karim MEP (ECR, UK), who first raised the issue seven years ago said, “Now we discover the CIA has conducted more the 1,000 secret flights over European territory since 2001, many of them to destinations where suspects could face torture. This is shameful for a union which stands for democracy and has the respect of human freedom enshrined in its treaty. The 'War on Terror' was done carried out in our names and we should be ashamed of what has been carried out and ashamed of those who have participated. As an elected parliamentarian, I will campaign to reset the moral authority in the European Parliament and not allow it to become an institution of double standards."
Also concerned with double standards is Sophie in't Veld (ALDE, NL) said, "Asking for an inquiry is not a witch-hunt but a collective responsibility to hold to account human rights violations. Refusing to investigate the European role in the CIA renditions and black sites programme makes us lose moral authority and credibility".
"There is a bitter irony in the fact that we help to unseat dictators like Gaddafi, like Mubarak, who not so long ago were our allies in shipping people to their countries where they have been illegally detained and tortured for us to get the information that we want", in't Veld concluded.
The report recognizes the contradiction between what the EU and its members say and what some may have done, and that there is a risk of compromising the reputation of the union and its commitment to ‘European values’.
The report asks Council to “issue a declaration acknowledging Member States' involvement in the CIA programme” and “to give its full support to the truth-finding and accountability processes in the Member States by formally addressing the issue.”
It also demands that Council “hold hearings with relevant EU security agencies, in particular Europol, Eurojust and the EU Counter-terrorism Coordinator, to clarify their knowledge of Member States' involvement in the CIA programme and the EU's response.”
The report also calls on the Commission to investigate if EU law has been broken by Member States and “to adopt within a year a framework, including reporting requirements for Member States, for monitoring and supporting national accountability processes, including guidelines on human-rights-compliant inquiries, to be based on the standards developed by the Council of Europe and the UN.”
Amnesty International and other bodies have pledged to continue their investigations and are expecting more revelations in the near future.