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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

6.       Attitude of governments

230. It has to be said that most governments did not seem particularly eager to establish the alleged facts. The body of information gathered makes it unlikely that European states were completely unaware of what was happening, in the context of the fight against international terrorism, in some of their airports, in their airspace or at American bases located on their territory. Insofar as they did not know, they did not want to know. It is inconceivable that certain operations conducted by American services could have taken place without the active participation, or at least the collusion, of national intelligence services. If this were the case, one would be justified in seriously questioning the effectiveness, and therefore the legitimacy, of such services. The main concern of some governments was clearly to avoid disturbing their relationships with the United States, a crucial partner and ally. Other governments apparently work on the assumption that any information learned via their intelligence services is not supposed to be known191.

231. The most disturbing case – because it is the best documented – is probably that of Italy. As we have seen, the Milan prosecuting authorities and police have been able, thanks to a remarkably competent and independent investigation, to reconstruct in detail the extraordinary rendition of the imam Abu Omar, abducted on 17 February 2003 and handed over to the Egyptian authorities. The prosecuting authorities have identified 25 persons responsible for this operation mounted by the CIA, and have issued arrest warrants against 22 of them. The then Justice Minister in fact used his powers to impede the judicial authorities’ work: as well as delaying forwarding requests for judicial assistance to the American authorities, he categorically refused to forward the arrest warrants issued against 22 American citizens192. Worse still: the same Justice Minister publicly accused the Milan judiciary of attacking the terrorist hunters rather than the terrorists themselves193. Furthermore, the Italian Government did not even consider it necessary to ask the American authorities for explanations regarding the operation carried out by American agents on its own national territory, or to complain about the fact that Abu Omar’s abduction ruined an important anti-terrorism operation being undertaken by the Milan judiciary and police. As I stated in my January 2006 memorandum, it is unlikely that the Italian authorities were not aware of this large-scale CIA operation. As mentioned above (, the investigation in progress shows that Italian officials directly took part in Abu Omar’s abduction and that the intelligence services were involved.

232. In an effort to be impartial, I shall also discuss the example of my own country, Switzerland. As we shall see, a number of aircraft described as suspect and mentioned in the questionnaires sent to the member states landed in Geneva (and Zurich, as Amnesty International investigations subsequently showed). The United States did not respond to the Swiss authorities’ requests for explanations for several months. A few hours before the annual clearance for aircraft flying on behalf of the American Government to overfly Swiss territory was due to expire, an American official apparently gave a Swiss Embassy representative in Washington verbal assurances that the United States had respected Switzerland’s sovereignty and had not transported prisoners through Swiss airspace, thus simply reiterating the statement made by Ms Rice in Brussels on 5 December 2005. This assurance was very belated and, above all, not particularly credible in the light of the established facts: the Italian judicial authorities have established, on the basis of some very convincing evidence, that Abu Omar, abducted in Milan on 17 February 2003, was flown the same day from the Aviano base to the base at Ramstein in Germany, transiting through Swiss airspace; this flight has been confirmed, moreover, by Swiss air traffic controllers. The Italian investigation also establishes that the head of the Milan operation had stayed in Switzerland. The Swiss Government deliberately ignored these allegations194 – despite their detailed and clearly serious nature – and settled for that vague, somewhat informal response from an official. It has taken a formalistic position, claiming that it did not have any evidence and, under international law, had to rely on the principle of trust. It clearly wished to renew the overflight clearance, which it quickly did without asking any further questions. The Confederal Prosecutor’s Office has nevertheless opened a preliminary investigation to establish whether there have been violations of the law under Swiss jurisdiction in the Abu Omar case. At the same time, the Military Prosecutor’s Office has begun an investigation aimed at identifying and punishing the perpetrator(s) of the leak enabling the Egyptian fax intercepted by the intelligence services to be made public. The journalists who published this are also being prosecuted, on the basis of rules whose compatibility with the principles of the freedom of the press in a democratic system seems highly doubtful. A revelation made these days rekindles the criticism directed at the authorities, which are accused of slavish obedience towards the United States: according to press reports, based on apparently well-informed sources, the Swiss authorities are said to have deliberately failed to execute an international arrest warrant brought by the Italian judicial authorities following the abduction of Abu Omar in February 2003. Robert Lady, the head of the detail wanted by the police, who was at the time in charge of the CIA in Milan holding the title and status of Consul of the United States, is said to have stayed in Geneva very recently; the police had been ordered to merely carry out discrete surveillance.

233. The principle of trust has also been invoked by other governments. This is the case with Ireland, for example: the government has stated that there was no reason to investigate the presence of American aircraft, since the United States had given assurances195. In Germany, the government and the ruling parties opposed – ultimately in vain – the establishment of a parliamentary commission of inquiry, despite the significant questions being raised about the role of the intelligence services, particularly in the case of the abduction of El-Masri. Lastly, in November 2005 I sent a request for information to the United States Ambassador (an observer with the Council of Europe). The Ambassador responded by sending me the public statement made by the American Secretary of State on 5 December 2005. In particular, the latter had stated that the United States had not violated the sovereignty of European states, that ‘renditions’ had saved human lives and that no prisoners had been transported for the purpose of torture196. European ministers, meeting in the framework of NATO, hastened to declare themselves satisfied with these assurances197. Or almost198.

234. It should be pointed out that some governments have deliberately assisted in ‘renditions’. This is especially well established with regard to Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has rendered six persons to the American forces outside of any legal procedure, as established by the national judicial authorities, as we have noted above. This certainly deserves to be stressed and welcomed. It is true that the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina was regrettably not particularly determined, but it should not be forgotten that this young republic had been strongly pressured by a great power present on its territory. We have already criticised the Macedonian authorities, which have locked themselves up in categorical denial without having carried out any serious enquiry. Sweden has also rendered two asylum seekers to American operatives for ‘rendition’ to the Egyptian authorities, as formally condemned by the UN Committee against Torture. The Swedish authorities, despite this international condemnation and parliamentary requests to this effect have yet to commence a proper inquiry into these facts199.

235. When the previous memoranda, which set out interim summaries, were published, criticisms were voiced that the evidence given referred primarily to NGO reports and accounts related in the press. It should be pointed that without the work undertaken by these organisations and the investigations of competent and tenacious journalists, we would not be talking about this affair – which, nobody can now dispute, has some basis in fact – today. Indeed, governments did not spontaneously or autonomously take any real action to seek evidence for the allegations, despite their serious and detailed nature. Critics included those who, given their existing or previous positions and responsibilities, could have helped to establish the truth. Furthermore, it is shocking that some countries put pressure on journalists not to publish certain news items (I have mentioned the cases of the ABC and the Washington Post) or prosecuted them for publishing documents deemed confidential200. Such zeal would have been better employed in seeking to ascertain the truth – a fundamental requirement in a democracy – and prosecuting those guilty of perpetrating or tolerating any kind of abuse, such as illegal abductions or other acts contrary to human dignity.

236. The American administration’s attitude to the questions being raised in Europe about the CIA’s actions was, once again, clearly illustrated during the fact-finding visit to the United States by a delegation from the European Parliament’s Temporary Committee (TDIP): no or few replies were given to the numerous questions. I have already discussed the response to my request from the United States Ambassador to the Council of Europe (3.1.4). It is obvious that if the American authorities did not constantly raise the objection of secrecy for national security reasons, it would be far easier to establish the truth. We find that today, this secrecy is no longer justified. In a free and democratic society, it is far more important to establish the truth on numerous allegations of serious human rights violations, many of which are proven to a large extent.

191 Some states’ legislation expressly prohibits them from using or releasing information gathered by their intelligence services. This is the case in Hungary, for example.

192 Article 4 of the extradition treaty between the United States and Italy also provides for the extradition of each country’s own nationals. It should be added, however, that warrants issued by the Italian judiciary are enforceable in EU countries, as European arrest warrants do not have to be forwarded by the Ministry via diplomatic channels.

193 ANSA agency, 27 February 2006, widely published in the Italian press.

194 The Swiss federal prosecuting authorities have, however, instituted a preliminary investigation into these allegations.

195 We would not see any reason to because we have received categorical assurances from the US that they are not using Shannon in this way (Irish Examiner, 22 February 2006).

196 The United States does not transport, and has not transported, detainees from one country to another for the purpose of interrogation using torture (statement of 5 December 2005).

197 The German Foreign Minister, Mr Steinmeier, emphasised the need for such clarification, because, he said, we should not diverge from one another on the interpretation of international law (AP 8 December 2005).

198 Only Bernard Bot, the Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister, considered the American explanations “inadequate”; Scandinavian diplomats also protested against the American services’ use of “methods on the edge of legality”. On the whole, however, the Europeans, headed by Britain’s Jack Straw, kept a low profile so as not to offend the “iron lady” of American diplomacy. (Le Figaro of 8 December 2005).

199 As condemned by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights in his statement on “fight against terrorism by legal means” published on the Council of Europe’s website on 3 April 2006.

200 In particular, this is what happened to the two Swiss journalists who, in early January 2006, published the content of the Egyptian fax, intercepted by Swiss intelligence services, mentioning the existence of detention centres in Eastern Europe. The two journalists have published a book outlining the circumstances by which they came into possession of the document: Sandro Brotz, Beat Jost, CIA-Gefängnisse in Europa – Die Fax-Affäre und ihre Folgen, Orell Füssli, 2006.