Finland: CIA rendition probe findings ‘disappointing’

The failure of an official investigation to uncover hard evidence of Finland’s alleged role in the US-led programmes of rendition and secret detention a decade ago is deeply disappointing, said Amnesty International today. 

While the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s investigation found no evidence that Finnish officials had any knowledge of rendition flights by the CIA in Finland, it “could not give any guarantees” as some flight information was not included in the probe because it is simply no longer available. 

“The Finnish investigation is a classic example of too little, too late. Victims of CIA renditions and secret detention operations must have access to an effective remedy. While the Ombudsman worked hard to uncover the truth, the Finnish process is incomplete and inconclusive, leaving potential victims with no access to justice,” said Susanna Mehtonen, Legal Adviser at Amnesty International Finland. 

Had the Finnish government responded to the Council of Europe’s inquiries in 2005 about CIA rendition operations, the relevant information would have been accessible. 

“Finnish government negligence has now left gaping holes in the body of available information to determine conclusively that Finland was not involved in these operations. Until that hole is filled, Finland remains vulnerable to allegations that its airspace and airports may have been used for CIA renditions,” Susanna Mehtonen said.

The Ombudsman’s investigation began in October 2012 and covered flights passing through Finnish territory from 2001-2006. Due to flaws and deficiencies in various data and tracking systems in Finland, the Ombudsman could not conclusively rule out Finland’s involvement in CIA rendition and secret detention operations. He has called for reform of those systems and greater oversight to ensure that aviation and other agencies’ operations ensure that human rights are guaranteed. The Finnish authorities are to report back to the Ombudsman on this progress by the end of the year.

“The Ombudsman has rightly called for reform of various systems governing aviation and data collection and retention,” said Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s expert on counter-terrorism and human rights. 

“Such reform should move forward. Never again should Finland be in the position of not knowing whether and when its airspace and territory may have been used in ways that violated people’s human rights.” 

The Ombudsman’s investigation also fails to clarify some of Amnesty International’s key concerns. For instance, whether the Finnish authorities knowingly permitted Finland to be used as a destination in “dummy” flight plans. A UN study conducted in 2010 noted that such plans were drawn up to conceal the real destination of rendition flights. It has been reported in media that Finland was used as a dummy destination for flights that may have been en route to a secret detention site in Lithuania. 

The Lithuanian authorities – who have previously admitted their involvement in the US renditions programme – declined to respond to the Finnish Ombudsman’s request for information as part of his investigation.

“This silence is deafening, especially given the fact that Finland’s alleged involvement in the rendition programme arose in the context of a flight we discovered that raised questions about Finland’s possible links to rendition and secret detention operations in Lithuania. Lithuania should respond to the Finnish government’s inquiry as a matter of urgency,” said Julia Hall. 

Lithuania is currently investigating the USA’s rendition of Mustafa al-Hawsawi, detained at Guantánamo Bay. That investigation should be broadened to include any and all Lithuanian complicity in the CIA operations. 

The September 2011 Amnesty International report Unlock the truth in Lithuania: Investigate secret prisons now first identified Finland as a country possibly linked to the Lithuanian secret sites and called on the Lithuanian authorities to re-open investigations into its own and the USA’s involvement in these operations in Lithuania. A September 2012 European Parliament report subsequently called on Finland and Lithuania to conduct and/or conclude effective investigations into their alleged roles in the CIA operations.