Council of Europe human rights chief urges full probe of CIA renditions

Council of Europe human rights chief urges full probe of CIA renditions
The EU and the US should fully investigate the CIA’s “extraordinary” and “lawless” rendition program, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner said in a statement marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

“Twelve years ago, almost 3,000 people were killed by the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Commemorative events provide an occasion to pay respects to the innocent victims, but also to reflect on the anti-terrorist response adopted by the USA and Europe,” Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks said in a forthright statement Wednesday.

“By allowing unlawful detentions and interrogation techniques amounting to torture, this response caused further suffering and violated human rights law,” Muižnieks said.

He added that governments had thus far been unable to establish the truth or “ensure accountability for their complicity in the unlawful program of ‘extraordinary renditions’ – involving abduction, detention and ill-treatment of suspected terrorists – carried out by the CIA in Europe between 2002 and 2006.”

Although the human rights commissioner accepted the necessity of secrecy to protest state interests, he said it should never be used as an excuse to cover up human rights abuses.

He urged the court to further expose “the lawlessness that has characterized the CIA program” by examining complaints lodged by Guantanamo Bay detainees Abu Zubaydah and Al Nashiri against Poland and Lithuania, and Poland and Romania, respectively.

The suspected terrorists, both of whom are being held in the Guantanamo prison camp, claim that the aforementioned states had failed to properly conduct investigations “into the circumstances surrounding their ill-treatment, detention and transfer to the USA.”

Citing a report published by Open Society Justice Initiative, Muižnieks added that 25 European countries have collaborated with the CIA, but Italy was the only state thus far to hand down a conviction for the kidnapping and rendition of a Muslim cleric. 

An aerial view shows a watch tower of an airport in Szymany, close to Szczytno in northeastern Poland, September 9, 2008. The European Union, human watchdogs, domestic and foreign media identified the airport as a potential site which the CIA used to transfer al Qaeda suspects to a nearby prison. (Reuters/Kacper Pempel)

“It is imperative to take urgent political and judicial initiatives in member States to lift the veil of secrecy Governments have drawn over their responsibilities,“ Muižnieks said in a call to action.

“The CIA program of rendition and secret detention is not simply a grave political mistake: it is above all a serious violation of fundamental human rights. The continued impunity breeds contempt for democracy and the rule of law, as well as disrespect for the victims and values in whose name the fight against terrorism was carried out. It is high time to set the record straight.”

The efficacy of Muižnieks’ call remains to be seen, as the Council of Europe is a separate body from the European Union and its 47 members include Russia and other non-EU members.

All Council of Europe members subscribe to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, which in its landmark judgment “El-Masri v. the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” held Macedonia responsible for the abduction and torture of German car salesman Khaled El-Masri. Masri was forcibly taken to Afghanistan and set free only after the CIA admitted he had been taken by mistake, Gabriele Steinhauser wrote for the Wall Street Journal.

In interview with The Voice of Russia, Muižnieks said the West cannot sacrifice its “own values and human rights on the altar of national security.”

“We saw this from 2001-02 to 2006 but I think that now with new revelations about surveillance in the context of counterterrorism we have to keep reminding ourselves and everybody in Europe that human rights come first,” he said.

“If we compromise human rights, we will be doing a disservice not only to the struggle against terrorism but to the victims of terrorism as well.”

The CIA’s post 9/11 extraordinary rendition and secret detention programs are believed to have involved upwards of 136 people. The US government has identified 16 “high value detainees” who were secretly held in CIA detention prior to being transferred to U.S. Defense Department custody in Guantanamo Bay.

Up to 54 foreign governments aided the CIA in its operations in a variety of ways, including hosting CIA black sites on their territories, detaining, interrogating and torturing suspects, allowing the use of domestic airspace and airports for secret flights transporting detainees, and providing intelligence which aided efforts to the detain and rendition individuals.