15 June 2006 Edition

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International: PACE report - Fourteen states linked to US "spider's web" and Intenational News in Brief

No excuses for involvement in "rendition" flights

On Wednesday 7 June 2006, the Legal Affairs Committee of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) announced that its investigation confirmed that the US has woven a clandestine "spider's web" of disappearances, secret detentions and unlawful inter-state transfers with the collaboration or tolerance of 14 Council of Europe member states, among them the 26 Counties.

PACE also said there are no excuses member states can use for their decision to allow US rendition flights for stop-overs or even air-space use. The fact that US authorities may have misguided European states cannot be accepted, under international law, as a justification not to carry out investigations into the possibility of the illegal transfer of detainees.

In a draft resolution adopted at a meeting in Paris, based on a report by Dick Marty (Switzerland, ALDE), the committee said hundreds of persons had become entrapped in this "spider's web" - in some cases merely because they were suspected of sympathising with a particular organisation.

The document also denounced the lack of collaboration in the investigation by governments that are legally obliged to comply with international human rights legislation, and how they have opted for a culture of denial, "in many cases without actually having carried out any inquiries or serious investigations".

On 17 March this year, member states had to be reminded by the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe's group of legal experts, of their legal obligations under the human rights treaties to which they are signatories: "Under the Human Rights Convention, Council of Europe member states should refuse to allow transit of prisoners where there is a risk of torture. If this is suspected, they should search civil planes or refuse overflight to state planes. Agreements on military bases should be made conditional on respect for human rights."

The Assembly is calling for its member states to carry out a proper investigation on the US military activity in their territory; to re-examine their bilateral agreements with the US; to protect possible whistle-blowers; and to urge the US to finish with their "rendition" flights.

A good definition of 'rendition' has been given by Washington Post commentator David Ignatius: "Rendition is the CIA's antiseptic term for its practice of sending captured terrorist suspects to other countries for interrogation. Because some of those countries torture prisoners- and because some of the suspected terrorists "rendered" by the CIA say they were in fact tortured- the debate has tended to lump rendition and torture together. The implication is that the CIA is sending people to Egypt, Jordan or other Middle Eastern countries because they can be tortured there and coerced into providing information they wouldn't give up otherwise."

Forms of collusion

The PACE report highlights the different forms that collusion by some Council of Europe member States has taken, among these are: secretly detaining a person on European territory for an indefinite period of time, whilst denying that person's basic human rights and failing to ensure procedural legal guarantees such as habeas corpus; capturing a person and handing them to the US, in the knowledge that they would be unlawfully transferred into a US-administered detention facility; permitting the unlawful transportation of detainees on civilian aircraft carrying out "renditions" operations, travelling through European airspace or across European territory; passing on information or intelligence to the United States where it was foreseeable that such material would be relied upon directly to carry out a "rendition" operation or to hold a person in secret detention; participating directly in interrogations of persons subjected to "rendition", or held in secret detention; accepting or making use of information gathered in the course of detainee interrogations, before, during or after which the detainee in question was threatened or subjected to torture or other forms of human rights abuse; making available civilian airports or military airfields as "staging points" or platforms for rendition or other unlawful detainee transfer operations, whereby an aircraft prepares for and takes off on its operation from such a point; and making available civilian airports or military airfields as "stopover points" for rendition operations, whereby an aircraft lands briefly at such a point on the outward or homeward flight, for example to refuel.

The Council of Europe is meant to be a point of reference and guardian for human rights, democracy and respect for the rule of law in Europe. It draws its legal and moral authority from, inter alia, the common standards of human rights protection embodied in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the European Convention on the Prevention of Torture (ECPT), to which all of its 46 member States subscribe.

One of the the Council's functions is to raise the alarm internationally whenever human rights are ignored. The Council of Europe's Assembly, that gathers parliamentary representation from all member states, has found that under the excuse of the so-called "war on terrorism" many states have come to accept "systematic human rights abuses". To hide these abuses from the public, the US has created a new terminology and new legal concepts, such as "enemy combatant" and "rendition", so to avoid traditional criminal law and procedure and laws of war such as the Geneva Convention that would oblige US military to treat their detainees in a humane and dignified way.

The controversy around US rendition flights and European involvement started on 4 November 2005, with comments in the Washington Post and Human Rights Watch on the existence of CIA detention centres in Romania and Poland. It was then that PACE President, René van der Linden, announced the opening of an investigation. Senator Dick Marty, a Swiss parliamentarian and former prosecutor, was chosen to conduct the inquiry three days later.

By 21 November 2005, Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis, invoked Article 52 to request that 45 governments explain by 21 February 2006 how their laws prevent "unacknowledged deprivation of liberty" and how it aids foreign agencies to carry out such acts.

By 13 December last year, Marty had found that the information he had obtained reinforced the credibility of the allegations concerning the illegal detention and transfer of individuals in European countries, allegations never denied by the US administration.

Guantanamo suicides

It was not inhumane treatment that drove three men detained at infamous Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to kill themselves. At least, that is the argument presented by Colleen Graffy, a top US official, who described the suicides as a "good PR move to draw attention". However, lawyers say the men who hanged themselves had been driven by despair.


An internet website has carried a statement claiming to come from Al-Qaeda in Iraq following the death of notorious, alleged sectarian killer and leader of the Al-Qaeda groups in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in a US air-raid on 8 June. The statement said the group would launch "major attacks" to avenge the death of its leader.


Seven members of a Palestinian family were killed while on a beach outing in Gaza on Friday, 9 June by Israeli shelling. The Israeli Government has ordered the military to conduct an inquiry into the deaths. There were emotional scenes in Beit Lahiya as thousands of people attended the funeral of the victims- a couple and five of their children. This latest Israeli attack has prompted the end of Hamas ceasefire.


Nepal's King Gyanendra has been stripped of his right to veto laws, after a unanimous vote by parliament. He will no longer be able to reject legislation passed by parliament, and lawmakers will not need to seek his approval when signing bills into law. King Gyanendra agreed to reinstate parliament in April, after giving in to popular demonstrations that he cede absolute rule of the country.

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