July 6, 2006

Pressure mounts over Europe-CIA collaboration

By Mark Trevelyan, Security Correspondent

BERLIN (Reuters) - For two years, European investigators
probing alleged CIA abuses in the war on terrorism have been
searching for a "smoking gun" and someone to put in the dock.

With Wednesday's arrest of two Italian intelligence
officials suspected of involvement in the alleged CIA kidnap of
a terrorism suspect, they have set out on a new and significant
track that could embarrass both Rome and Washington.

The two men appear to be the first to be arrested anywhere
in the world in connection with CIA operations known as
"extraordinary renditions," where suspects were delivered in
secret to third countries and allege that they suffered

An Italian judge also raised to 26 the number of Americans
-- most believed to be CIA agents -- who are suspected of
carrying out the 2003 kidnapping of a Muslim cleric and his
transfer from Milan to Egypt.

But whereas there is zero chance of the United States
handing over the Americans, the Italian officials' arrests --
if followed by charges -- create the possibility of defendants
appearing in court for the first time.

Any proof of Italian involvement would confirm one of the
chief accusations leveled by Council of Europe investigator
Dick Marty in a report last month -- that European governments
colluded with the United States in secret prisoner transfers.

"The Americans have always said that they had not violated
Italian sovereignty. We'll have to see. Maybe they were not
completely wrong," Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema
told Corriere della Sera newspaper in an interview.


While proof of an Italian role would absolve the CIA of the
charge that it trampled on the sovereignty of a friendly
country, a court case that laid bare the workings of such an
operation would certainly embarrass Washington.

Until now, the United States and European governments have
brushed off Marty's charges as mere allegations -- a line that
would be unsustainable if they stood up in a court of law.

Developments in an unrelated French case this week also
cast an awkward light on European cooperation with the United
States in a sensitive area of the war on terrorism.

The trial of six terrorism suspects in Paris was thrown
into turmoil by a newspaper report that French agents had
secretly interviewed them during their detention at Guantanamo
Bay, the U.S. prison camp in Cuba.

A top French court has already ruled that the detention of
suspects there was illegal. Defense lawyers claimed a violation
of their clients' rights, saying the prosecution evidence was
largely based on information from the secret interviews.

The French foreign ministry said the visits were of an
"administrative nature," to identify French citizens held at
Guantanamo and gather information for counter-terrorism.

Similar controversy has raged in Germany over the
questioning of terrorist suspects by German security officials
in 2002, both in Guantanamo Bay and in Syria.

Critics charge that this amounts to collusion with abusive
practices or torture, and the episodes are due to come under
scrutiny from a parliamentary panel investigating the German
security services.