April 13, 2006

Crunch weeks ahead for Europe’s CIA probes

By Mark Trevelyan, Security Correspondent

BERLIN (Reuters) - After months without a breakthrough,
European investigators probing alleged CIA abuses in the war on
terrorism are starting to sound more hopeful and will seek new
evidence in the next few weeks.

A Washington Post report last November that the U.S.
Central Intelligence Agency had run secret prisons in Eastern
Europe for al Qaeda suspects unleashed a spate of
investigations which have so far failed to produce a "smoking

But after several months when the issue largely faded from
view, two developments in the past eight days have generated
new headlines.

First Amnesty International detailed the case of three
Yemeni men who were held for 13 months until May 2005 at a
secret U.S. facility, possibly in Eastern Europe.

Then the Council of Europe, a human rights organization,
said on Wednesday at least one European state had admitted to
handing over terrorism suspects to foreign agents.

"We have received official acknowledgement of 'handing
over' individuals to foreign officials" in violation of the
European Convention on Human Rights, Council head Terry Davis
said, declining to name the country involved.

He may have been referring to Sweden, where a parliamentary
ombudsman has criticized the security services over the
expulsion of two Egyptian terrorism suspects who were handed
over to U.S. agents and flown home aboard a U.S.
government-leased plane in 2001. Human Rights Watch has said
there is credible evidence they were later tortured.

The Swedish government declined this week to comment, but
opposition lawmaker Cecilia Wikstrom told Reuters: "I would put
some money on Sweden. I would not be surprised if it's Sweden
that he (Davis) meant."

Sarah Ludford, a British Liberal Democrat member of a
European Parliament committee investigating CIA prisons and
secret flights across Europe, agreed Sweden was an obvious
possibility but it would be "intriguing" if Davis was on to
something new.


Ludford said the parliament committee was making some
headway and she expected its interim draft report next month to
say there were strong grounds to probe deeper.

"We'll say there is enough material to go on investigating
and to keep up the pressure," she told Reuters.

"We've got this vast jigsaw and we're filling in bits of
the jigsaw ... I think we're making a few people a bit

The committee will send a delegation in late April to
Macedonia, where German citizen Khaled el-Masri was arrested on
December 31, 2003, and from where he was flown to Afghanistan
and held for months as a terrorist suspect by the United
States. Masri, later freed without charge and dumped without
explanation in Albania, is now suing the former head of the

Another group of Euro-MPs will head to Washington in early
May, seeking meetings with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
and CIA chief Porter Goss.

Meanwhile a German parliamentary inquiry will start work on
May 11, examining among other things the Masri case, the CIA
prison allegations and the use of German airports for dozens of
unexplained CIA flights.

Critics suspect some of these may have been used by the
United States to transport terrorist suspects, outside proper
legal channels, to countries where they would face torture.
Washington acknowledges it has used secret transfers, known as
renditions, but denies "outsourcing torture."

Opposition Free Democrat member of parliament Max Stadler
told Reuters the German inquiry would probably seek to question
Council of Europe chief Davis and his special investigator,
Dick Marty, who has said he suspects European governments or
their intelligence services were aware of CIA abuses.

Euro-MP Ludford said that even if investigations to date
had not produced conclusive proof of such abuses, they had
thrown up enough strong circumstantial evidence to force
governments to provide answers, and to take steps to stop any

"We have got to the point of reversing the burden of
proof," she said. "The ball is in the court of the governments
... They have to prove now that they were not involved in
illegal rendition."