Europe in ‘state of denial’ over role in US rendition and secret detention

Amnesty International today warned that not a single measure has been taken to prevent further European involvement in rendition and secret detention, and called for independent investigations to be initiated urgently.

Amnesty International’s report, State of denial: Europe’s role in rendition and secret detention, published today, shed further light on the extent of Europe’s role in the US-led rendition and secret detention programmes, and on the continuing failure of European states to admit or investigate violations carried out by their nationals or on their territory

“European governments are in a state of denial and have been sidestepping the truth for too long,” said Amnesty International. “Their involvement in renditions and secret detention runs in stark contrast to their claims to be responsible actors in the fight against terrorism.”

The report highlights six cases – involving 13 individuals — and details the involvement of European states – ranging from allowing CIA flights headed for rendition circuits to use European airports and airspace to hosting secret detention centres, or “black sites” – and calls for concerted action, Europe-wide, to ensure non-repetition of these violations.

Six of those rendered from Europe remain in illegal detention in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, another is being held in Egypt after an unfair trial before a military court. All of the victims of rendition and secret detention interviewed by Amnesty International say they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated.

 “The growing evidence of Europe’s partnership in the US rendition programme reinforces the urgent need for measures to prevent further complicity,” said Amnesty International

The organization pointed out that a state is responsible for a violation of international law if it knowingly helps another state to commit a human rights violation. Any European agent who knowingly participated in the CIA’s rendition or detention programme has violated their state’s legal obligations – whether the role they played was active or passive, whether or not others in their government authorized their activities.

“There is an accountability gap: those responsible for abductions and unlawful transfers have yet to be held to account,” said Amnesty International.

German national Khaled el-Masri, for example, was seized in Macedonia before being turned over to the US and rendered to Afghanistan, where he says he was held in secret, beaten and interrogated by US agents, and questioned by a native German speaker called “Sam”. After four months, US agents flew him by night to Albania, drove him to a remote country lane, and told him to walk away: “as I walked I feared that I was about to be shot in the back and left to die.” Instead, he was met by armed Albanian officials who put him on a plane for Germany. More than four years later, he has yet to receive any official acknowledgement of his detention, let alone reparations for the violations he suffered. Those responsible — in Europe and the US — have never been held to account.   “Despite individual prosecutors making efforts to investigate and ensure accountability for past violations, European governments have invoked national security or state secrecy grounds to stymie investigations.”

Amnesty International said that in some cases, while family members in Europe did not know where or even if their missing relative was being detained, European states had actually interrogated the detainee in foreign prisons – and concealed his fate and whereabouts.

“A European interrogator who poses questions to a detainee knowing that he is in a situation of ongoing pain and suffering risks complicity in the torture,” said Amnesty International. “When a state refuses to acknowledge the detention of a person who has disappeared, or disclose their whereabouts, this refusal also violates the rights of the families of those missing.”

Amnesty International issued a six-point plan for ending European involvement in renditions and secret detention that calls on states to condemn rendition and secret detention; initiate independent investigations into all cases implicating European agents or territory; bring the perpetrators to justice; ensure oversight of intelligence agencies; refuse to carry out or facilitate the transfer of any detainee to another state without appropriate judicial supervision; and provide reparations for victims.

Other recommendations include requiring that any aircraft seeking permission to travel across or land in European territory indicate whether any passengers on board are deprived of their liberty, and if so, their status, destination and the legal basis for their transfer.

Amnesty International reiterated that governments have an obligation to protect people from terrorist attacks, but must do so within the framework of human rights and the rule of international law.  Rendition and secret detention undermine such measures by restricting the ability of states to bring to justice those responsible for acts of terrorism.

“Government support for activities designed to evade public scrutiny weakens the rule of law, which is the foundation for genuine security,” said Amnesty International.