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Alleged secret detentions and unlawful inter-state transfers involving Council of Europe member states

Parliamentary Assembly
Assemblée parlementaire

AS/Jur (2006) 16 Part II
7 June 2006

Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights

Draft report – Part II (Explanatory memorandum)
Rapporteur: Mr Dick Marty, Switzerland, ALDE

C.       Explanatory memorandum

      by Mr Dick Marty, Rapporteur

1.       Are human rights little more than a fairweather option?

1.1.       11 September 2001

1. The tragedies that took place on 11 September undoubtedly marked the beginning of an important new chapter in the terrible, never-ending history of terrorism. It is a history of indiscriminate violence, instigated in order to create a climate of insecurity and fear with the intention of attacking the existing political and social system. For the first time, spectacular and extremely lethal acts struck highly symbolic targets at the very heart of the United States of America, the most powerful state in the world. Europe, for its part, already has a long and painful experience of terrorism, involving numerous victims and large-scale attacks, particularly in Italy1, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, France and, more recently, Russia.

2. While the states of the Old World have dealt with these threats primarily by means of existing institutions and legal systems2, the United States appears to have made a fundamentally different choice: considering that neither conventional judicial instruments nor those established under the framework of the laws of war could effectively counter the new forms of international terrorism, it decided to develop new legal concepts. The latter are based primarily on the Military Order on the Detention, Treatment, and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in the War against Terrorism signed by President Bush on 13 November 20013. It is significant that, to date, only one person has been summoned before the courts to answer for the 11 September attacks: a person, moreover, who was already in prison on that day, and had been in the hands of the justice system for several months4. By contrast, hundreds of other people are still deprived of their liberty, under American authority but outside the national territory, within an unclear normative framework. Their detention is, in any event, altogether contrary to the principles enshrined in all the international legal instruments dealing with respect for fundamental rights, including the domestic law of the United States (which explains the existence of such detention centres outside the country). The following headline appears to be an accurate summary of the current administration’s approach: No Trials for Key Players: Government prefers to interrogate bigger fish in terrorism cases rather than charge them5.

3. This legal approach is utterly alien to the European tradition and sensibility, and is clearly contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Cicero’s old adage, inter arma silent leges, appears to have left its mark even on international bodies supposed to ensure the rule of law and the fair administration of justice. It is frankly alarming to see the UN Security Council sacrificing essential principles pertaining to fundamental rights in the name of the fight against terrorism. The compilation of so-called “black lists” of individuals and companies suspected of maintaining connections with organisations considered terrorist and the application of the associated sanctions clearly breach every principle of the fundamental right to a fair trial: no specific charges, no right to be heard, no right of appeal, no established procedure for removing one’s name from the list6.

1.2.       Guantanamo Bay

4. At Guantanamo Bay, on the island of Cuba, several hundred people are being detained without enjoying any of the guarantees provided for in the criminal procedure of a state governed by the rule of law or in the Geneva Conventions on the law of war. These people have been arrested in unknown circumstances, handed over by foreign authorities without any extradition procedure being followed, or illegally abducted in various countries by United States special services. They are considered enemy combatants, according to a new definition introduced by the American administration7.

5. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has strongly criticised this state of affairs: on 26 April 2005, with no votes against and just five abstentions, it adopted a resolution (1433/2005) and recommendation (1699/2005) in which it urges the United States Government to put a stop to this situation and to ensure respect for the principles of the rule of law and human rights. It also concludes that the United States has engaged in the unlawful practice of secret detention. In its reply of 17 June 2005 (doc. 10585), the Committee of Ministers expresses its full support to all such efforts and to all efforts to obtain a prompt release or fair trial of persons detained at Guantánamo Bay by an independent and impartial court. It urges the United States Government to ensure that the rights of all detainees are ensured and that the principle of the rule of law is fully respected. For its own part, it expresses the determination of the member states to ensure that the rights of persons released and returned to their jurisdiction are fully respected. The Committee of Ministers has conveyed a message in these terms to the Government of the United States of America8. To our knowledge, no reply has been received to date.

6. The UN Committee against Torture has also called for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in recent times, criticising its secret character and the denial of access to the ICRC9.

1.3.       Secret CIA prisons in Europe?

7. This was the news item circulated in early November 2005 by the American NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Washington Post and the ABC television channel. Whereas the Washington Post did not name specific countries hosting, or having allegedly hosted, such detention centres, simply referring generically to ‘eastern European democracies’, HRW reported that the countries in question are Poland and Romania. On 5 December 2005, ABC News in turn reported the existence of secret detention centres in Poland and Romania, which had apparently been closed following the Washington Post’s revelations. According to ABC, 11 suspects detained in these centres had been subjected to the harshest interrogation techniques (so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’) before being transferred to CIA facilities in North Africa.

8. It is interesting to recall that this ABC report, confirming the use of secret detention camps in Poland and Romania by the CIA, was available on the Internet for only a very short time before being withdrawn following the intervention of lawyers on behalf of the network’s owners. The Washington Post subsequently admitted that it had been in possession of the names of the countries, but had refrained from naming them further to an agreement entered into with the authorities. It is thus established that considerable pressure was brought to bear to ensure that these countries were not named. It is unclear what arguments prevailed on the media outlets in question to convince them to comply. What is certain is that these are troubling developments that throw into question the principles of freedom and independence of the press. In this light, it is worth noting that just before the publication of the original revelations by the reporter Dana Priest in early November 2005, the Executive Editor of the Washington Post was invited for an audience at the White House with President Bush10.

1.4.       The Council of Europe’s response

9. The Council of Europe responded straight away. The President of the PACE immediately took a very firm position, and asked the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights to look into the matter without delay. The latter did so at its meeting of 7 November 2005. The Secretary General of the Council, for his part, set in motion the procedure established by Article 52 of the ECHR. The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights also requested the Venice Commission to prepare an opinion on the international legal obligations and duties of Council of Europe member states in respect of secret detention facilities and inter-state transport of prisoners. Cooperation was likewise established with the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner.

10. The European Union Commission, via its Vice-President Franco Frattini, expressed its full support for the Council of Europe. The EU Commission’s support proved invaluable in obtaining the necessary information from Eurocontrol and the European Union Satellite Centre. The reference to named European countries suddenly aroused huge media interest. Yet these incidents – secret detentions and renditions – had already been attracting condemnation for some time, both from the PACE itself, inter alia through the aforementioned resolution and recommendation concerning Guantanamo Bay, the re-reading of which I cannot recommend highly enough, and in extremely detailed reports by NGOs, university professors and journalists known for their very painstaking work11. These revelations had met with curious indifference from both the media and governments and political circles in general.

1.5.       European Parliament

11. Members of the European Parliament also became alarmed at the mounting evidence that European countries, or at least facilities located on European territory, had been the scene of systematic human rights violations. In early 2006, a 46-member Temporary Committee was set up and instructed to investigate the alleged existence of CIA prisons in Europe in which terrorist suspects had allegedly been detained and tortured12.

12. I welcomed this initiative in my previous memorandum, considering it wholly consistent with the Council of Europe’s desire to ascertain the truth. Co-operation with the Temporary Committee has been extremely satisfactory, both at the level of our respective secretariats and with its Chairman, Carlos Miguel Coelho, and rapporteur, Claudio Fava. I had the opportunity to address members of the European Parliament’s committee during one of its first public hearings.

13. On 24 April 2006 the Temporary Committee presented its draft interim report, which confirmed strong indications of illegal actions carried out by the CIA in Europe. Its in initial analysis, the report largely supported the observations we made in our own Information Memorandum II on 24 January 2006. The TDIP rapporteur Claudio Fava, in presenting his interim report, spoke of “more than a thousand flights chartered by the CIA [that] have transited through Europe, often in order to carry out extraordinary renditions”13. In a press conference, Mr Fava clarified that, according to information given to him in confidence by an intelligence source, “30 to 50 people have been rendered by the CIA in Europe” and that “the CIA could not have carried out such renditions without the agreement of European states”14. The Temporary Committee proposes to continue its work15.

1.6.       Rapporteur or investigator?

14. I have often been described as an investigator, or even a special investigator. It might be helpful to point out, therefore, that I do not enjoy any specific investigatory powers and, in particular, am not entitled to use coercive methods or to require the release of specific documents. My work has consequently consisted primarily of interviews and analysis. I submitted a set of questions to governments via their national parliamentary delegations, and asked the latter to take the debate to the national level. Parliamentary questions were thereby tabled in many states with a view to obtaining information from the various governments. Special parliamentary commissions of inquiry were set up in some countries. The work undertaken by a number of NGOs has proved invaluable and even, in many cases, more detailed and reliable than the information supplied by governments. A significant contribution was also made by many journalists investigating on the ground, often for months on end. I also received information entrusted to me only on the assurance that I would keep it confidential and protect my sources. The information thus received clearly cannot be presented as evidence; it did, however, point my research in certain more specific directions, and enables me to state with certainty that the search for the truth about what really happened to terrorist suspects in Europe will not end with the present report.

15. I received considerable assistance in this task from the head of the secretariat of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights and one of his colleagues – both of whom were already very busy with other tasks connected with the committee’s operation and work with other rapporteurs – as well as from another young colleague who, in the end, was temporarily assigned specifically to this investigation (and whose help proved invaluable). I am extremely grateful to them for their outstanding competence and exceptional readiness to assist.

16. I was formally designated as Rapporteur on 13 December 2005. Within the Council of Europe it was considered that the report should be presented as quickly as possible. Taking into account the breadth and complexity of the subject, as well as the extremely modest means put at my disposal, I have certainly not been able to present a complete overview of the different aspects of what has really occurred. Moreover, we are still far from knowing all the details of “extraordinary renditions” and the conditions in which abducted persons have been detained and interrogated in Europe. It is thus highly likely that the Council of Europe should remain seized with this subject matter. Elements presently in the public domain - which are supplemented with new information as every week goes by - not only justify, but require that member States finally decide to open serious inquiries on the extent to which they were directly or indirectly implicated in such activities.

17. As I stated in my previous memorandum, serious consideration must be given to whether the Assembly should equip itself with other resources for dealing with such complex matters. Where investigations relate to possible human rights violations that are not confined to individual cases (for which the European Court of Human Rights has jurisdiction) and transcend borders, thereby sidestepping national procedures, one is justified in questioning the effectiveness of existing instruments. Instead of appointing a single member as rapporteur with the support of the normal resources of the Committee’s secretariat, which is already overwhelmed by other reports in preparation, we might seriously consider whether setting up a proper commission of inquiry, assisted by experts and enjoying genuine investigatory powers, might not be a better solution for dealing with these new and important challenges.

18. We have tackled this problem with determination and a constant concern for objectivity, mindful of both the enormity of the task entrusted to me and the frankly derisory resources available and the risk of being manipulated. My aim was by no means to amass evidence for the purpose of condemning or stigmatising. On the contrary, I was guided by a desire to ascertain the truth in order to reaffirm the values the Council of Europe has always striven to uphold, and to guard against the repetition of such incidents.

1.7.       Is this an Anti-American exercise?

19. I consider this reproach, made fairly frequently when criticisms are voiced about violations of fundamental rights committed in the context of the fight against terrorism, downright ridiculous and wholly inaccurate. It overlooks the fact that the initial criticisms, relating to the establishment of the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay as well as the use of extraordinary renditions and torture, were first forcefully expressed by American journalists, NGOs and politicians, often thanks to detailed information released by sources within the administration, and indeed the intelligence services themselves. The debate has been, and in my view still is, considerably more heated in the United States than in Europe, at least in certain circles and media.

20. Moreover, the United States Supreme Court itself pointed out, in an extraordinary June 2004 judgment, that at stake in this case is nothing less than the essence of a free society. (…) For if this Nation is to remain true to the ideals symbolized by its flag, it must not wield the tools of tyrants even to resist an assault by the forces of tyranny16. This is a sharp reminder of the great democratic tradition of the United States and its exemplary commitment to human rights. The United States is, and remains, a deeply democratic country. Indeed, criticisms of some of the current administration’s decisions also reflect a concern that a country which unquestionably serves as an example to the rest of the world is committing what we consider to be mistakes that not only violate fundamental principles, but also constitute a counterproductive anti-terrorism strategy.

1.8.       Is there any evidence?

21. It is paradoxical to expect bodies without any real investigatory powers – the Council of Europe and the European Parliament – to adduce evidence in the legal sense. Indeed, these European bodies have been prompted to undertake such investigations owing to a lack of willingness and commitment on the part of national institutions that could, and should, have completely clarified these allegations which from the outset did not appear to be totally unfounded.

22. There is no formal evidence at this stage of the existence of secret CIA detention centres in Poland, Romania or other Council of Europe member states, even though serious indications continue to exist and grow stronger. Nevertheless, it is clear that an unspecified number of persons, deemed to be members or accomplices of terrorist movements, were arbitrarily and unlawfully arrested and/or detained and transported under the supervision of services acting in the name, or on behalf, of the American authorities. These incidents took place in airports and in European airspace, and were made possible either by seriously negligent monitoring or by the more or less active participation of one or more government departments of Council of Europe member states.

23. In the light of the silence and obvious reluctance on the part of the bodies that could have provided the necessary information, it is legitimate to assume that there are more such cases than can be proven at present. In effect, the facts as would appear to be established today – and as will be illustrated throughout the report – as well as the total absence of serious inquiries by the national authorities concerned, implies, in my view, the reversal of the burden of proof: in such a situation it is incumbent on the Polish and Romanian authorities to conduct an independent and in-depth inquiry and to make public not only its results but also the method and the different stages of the enquiry17. Even if proof, in the classical meaning of the term, is not as yet available, a number of coherent and converging elements indicate that such secret detention centres did indeed exist in Europe. Such an affirmation does not pretend to be a judgment of a criminal court, necessitating “proof beyond reasonable doubt” in the Anglo-Saxon meaning of the term; it rather reflects a conviction based on a careful balance of probabilities, as well as logical deductions from clearly established facts. The intention is not to determine that the authorities of these countries are “guilty” for having tolerated secret detention sites, but rather to hold them "responsible" for failing to comply with the positive obligation to investigate serious allegations.


1 More than 14 500 politically motivated acts of violence were recorded in Italy between 1969 and 1987, causing 419 deaths and 1181 casualties (Interior Ministry figures).

2 We may recall the words of the former President of Italy, Sandro Pertin (albeit translated in paraphrased form): “Italy can proudly say that it has defeated terrorism in the law courts, rather than resorting to “stadium” justice”.

3 Regarding the various decisions taken by the American administration following the 11 September attacks, I refer readers to the excellent report by Kevin McNamara, Lawfulness of Detentions by the United States in Guantanamo Bay, accompanying the resolution and recommendation adopted by the PACE on 26 April 2005.

4 The person in question is Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, sentenced to life imprisonment by a Virginia grand jury on 3 May 2006; the jurors did not impose the death penalty sought by the federal prosecutors (thereby avoiding the trap set by the defendant, who clearly wished to be sentenced to death so as to appear a martyr). According to an American government document, now declassified, six important Al-Qaeda members directly involved in the organisation and funding of the 11 September attacks have apparently been captured by the United States. Although more heavily involved than Moussaoui, they have not been summoned before the American courts to answer for their actions (see also Le Monde of 22 April 2006).

5 Los Angeles Times of 4 May 2006.

6 A motion raising the issue of the UN black lists (Doc 10856) has been referred to the PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, which is to submit a report on the subject in the near future.

7 Following an injunction by an American court, based on the provisions of press law, in April 2006 the Pentagon published, for the first time, a list of the names and nationalities of 558 people detained at Guantanamo. However, no details are given for some 140 people previously detained but no longer imprisoned at Guantanamo on that date. Furthermore, no outside body can confirm whether this list is actually comprehensive.

8 The United States has enjoyed observer status with the Committee of Ministers since 10 January 1996.

9 See Press Release of the United Nations Office at Geneva, CAT Concludes Thirty-Sixth Session, 19 May 2006: “The Committee was concerned by allegations that the State party had established secret detention facilities, which were not accessible to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Committee recommended that the United States cease to detain any person at Guantánamo Bay and that it close that detention facility, permit access by the detainees to judicial process or release them as soon as possible, ensuring that they were not returned to any State where they could face a real risk of being tortured”; available at:

10 This meeting, along with several similar instances, was reported in a column in the Washington Post at the end of 2005. Leonard Downie, the Executive Editor of the Washington Post said: “We met with them on more than one occasion… The meetings were off the record for the purpose of discussing national security issues in [Dana Priest’s] story”. See Howard Kurtz, “Bush Presses Editors on Security”, The Washington Post, 26 December 2005; available at

11 These include the Human Rights Watch Breifing Paper of October 2004 entitled The United States’ ‘Disappeared’: The CIA’s Long-Term Ghost Detainees; and the Amnesty International report AMR 51/051/2006 of 5 April 2006, entitled Below the radar: secret flights to torture and ‘disappearance’, as well as numerous articles describing in detail the new techniques for fighting terrorism, such as extraordinary renditions; for instance, the articles in the Corriere della Sera by Paolo Biondani and Guido Olimpio, which the latter has compiled and edited in a well-researched book (Operazione Hotel California, Feltrinelli, 2005), along with articles by Stephen Grey (America’s Gulag, The New Statesman, 17 May 2004; US Accused of Torture Flights, The Sunday Times, 14 November 2004; Les Etats-Unis inventent la délocalisation de la torture, Le Monde Diplomatique, April 2005); Alfred McCoy (Cruel Science: CIA Torture and U.S. Foreign Policy, New England Journal of Public Policy, Boston, 2004, an article subsequently expanded and published in book form, and also published in German under the title Foltern und foltern lassen, Zweitauseneins, 2005; Torture by Proxy: International and Domestic Law Applicable to “Extraordinary Renditions”, report published in 2004 by the Committee on International Human Rights of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, New York University School of Law, the conclusions of which could not be clearer: Extraordinary Rendition is an illegal practice under both domestic and international law, and that, consistent with U.S. policy against torture, the U.S. government is duty bound to cease all acts of Extraordinary Rendition, to investigate Extraordinary Renditions that have already taken place, and to prosecute and punish those found to have engaged in acts that amount to crimes in connection with Extraordinary Rendition.

12 Temporary Committee on the Alleged Use of European Countries by the CIA for the Transport and Illegal Detention of Prisoners (TDIP;

13 See Le Monde, 27 April 2006.

14 See Le Monde, 18 May 2006.

15 The draft resolution of the European Parliament, produced as an annex to the interim report, can be consulted at:

16 These are the words of Judge Sandra Day O’Connor in the case of José Padilla, judgement of the United States Supreme Court, 28 June 2004.

17 Reversal of the burden of proof if the authorities concerned do not discharge their positive duty to investigate is not a new idea: Article 39 of the Rules of Procedure of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights provides that "The facts alleged in the petition, the pertinent parts of which have been transmitted to the State in question, shall be presumed to be true if the State has not provided responsive information during the maximum period set by the Commission under the provisions of Article 38 of these Rules of Procedure, as long as other evidence does not lead to a different conclusion". At the Council of Europe, this idea was applied in the Independent Experts' report to the Secretary General (by Mr Alkema and Mr Trechsel) on political prisoners in Azerbaijan (doc. SG/Inf (2001) 34 Addendum I), in which it was stated that the cases concerned had been submitted to the authorities for comments and observations and that, in the absence of substantive observations by the authorities, the experts had had to base their findings on plausible allegations from other sources (idem, p. 20).