Europeans knew of CIA flights, say US officials

STRASBOURG, France - A wave of CIA flights that secretly transferred terrorist suspects across Europe could only have been carried out with the knowledge of host nations, EU investigators today quoted US officials as saying.

Up to 50 people were moved across the continent to jails in third countries where they faced torture and other abuses, officials from a European Parliament probe into the flights, known as renditions, told a news conference.

"All the people we met (in the United States) suggested or confirmed that the programme of renditions in Europe could not have been carried out without the knowledge and support of the governments," said Carlos Coelho, a Portuguese member of the European Parliament commission probing the flights.

"Officials from the US State Department told us, in more diplomatic terms, that the United States had never violated the sovereignty of European Union member states.

"Others admitted the European governments' involvement more directly," said Coelho of meetings during the commission's trip to the United States from May 8 to 12.

Fellow investigator Claudio Fava of Italy said 30 to 50 people had been handed over by the United States since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and the launch of the US-led war on terrorism.

"We also have confirmation from a reliable source within the CIA that the sequestration of Abu Omar in Milan could not have happened without the knowledge of the Italian intelligence services," Fava said.

Italian and German prosecutors are investigating the case of Omar, an Egyptian man they believe was snatched on a Milan street by a team of CIA agents in February 2003 and flown via Germany to Egypt, where he later said he was tortured.

A German national, Khaled el-Masri, is suing the former head of the CIA over his alleged rendition from Macedonia to Afghanistan, where he says the United States held him in jail for months as a terrorist suspect in 2004. German prosecutors are also probing that case.

Sweden's parliamentary ombudsman has criticised the security services over the expulsion of two Egyptian terrorism suspects who were handed over to US agents and flown home aboard a US government-leased plane in 2001.

Dick Marty, a Swiss investigator from the Council of Europe human rights watchdog which is separately probing the renditions, has branded the transfers as "outsourcing of torture".

- REUTERS

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