A senior U.S. administration official on Wednesday warned that ongoing inquiries into secret CIA activities in the European Union may undermine intelligence cooperation between the United States and European nations.
People are imprisoned without being tried first. That is unacceptable. (The U.S.) should open up to us and tell us where they’re flying and who they’re carrying.
Kathalijne Buitenweg, a Dutch member of the European Parliament
The European Parliament accused Britain, Poland, Italy and other nations in mid-February of colluding with the CIA to transport terror suspects to clandestine prisons in third countries.
In a report that concluded a yearlong investigation, the parliament identified 1,254 secret CIA flights that entered the European airspace since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States.
It said that these flights were against international air traffic rules and suggested some of them may have carried terror suspects on board in violation of human rights principles.
John Bellinger, legal adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, called the European Parliament report ”unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair” and called on the EU governments to challenge the suggestion that Europeans need to be concerned about secret CIA flights.
”I can understand concerns about specific incidents but we should not somehow suggest that all intelligence activity is something illegal or suspicious,” he said.
Germany, Italy and several other EU countries have been carrying out their own inquiries into secret CIA activities in Europe, probes Bellinger said ”have not been helpful with respect to necessary cooperation between the United States and Europe.”
”I do think these continuing investigations can harm intelligence cooperation, that’s simply a fact of life,” Bellinger told reporters after meeting legal advisers to EU governments in Brussels.
EU parliamentarians have rejected Bellinger’s criticism and called on the United States to address concerns that some flights have carried kidnapped terror suspects.
”People are imprisoned without being tried first. That is unacceptable. (The U.S.) should open up to us and tell us where they’re flying and who they’re carrying,” said Kathalijne Buitenweg, a Dutch member of the European Parliament.
The EU legislature has given no direct proof that the CIA ran secret prisons in Europe, an accusation that prompted the inquiry in November 2005. Bellinger refused to comment on reports that Poland and Romania housed clandestine detention centers, but said a lot of allegations concerning U.S. intelligence activities have been ”just rumors.”
Bellinger also said the United States would refuse any Italian extradition request for CIA agents indicted in the alleged abduction of an Egyptian cleric in Milan, one of the cases the European Parliament focused on in its inquiry.
”We’ve not got an extradition request from Italy. If we got an extradition request from Italy, we would not extradite U.S. officials to Italy,” he said.
Milan prosecutors want the Italian government to forward their request for the extradition of the 26 Americans, mostly CIA agents. The previous government in Rome — led by Silvio Berlusconi — refused, and Premier Romano Prodi’s center-left government has indicated it would not press Washington on the issue. The Americans all have left Italy, most before prosecutors sought their arrest.
Their trial opens in June. It will be the first criminal trial stemming from the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program to secretly transfer terror suspects to third countries, where critics say they may have been tortured.
Bellinger also said the U.S. government was keen on closing the Guantanamo detention center in Cuba but has not yet figured out what to do with the inmates.
The base began receiving terror suspects in 2002, and its treatment of the detainees has come under strong criticism from human rights groups. The EU has repeatedly called for immediate closure of Guantanamo.
”We have not seen Europe has been willing to help. We have seen many statements from European governments saying Guantanamo must be closed immediately. It’s not clear how Guantanamo would be immediately closed. Europe has been prepared to criticize … but has not been prepared to offer a constructive suggestion,” Bellinger said.
He added that the United States has been looking to Europe for help with inmates from the Middle East who cannot, for various reasons, return to their home countries, but has not received any offers from European countries to accept these people.