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EU Parliament condemns CIA flights, reopening split

The European Parliament demanded more vigilance over US secret-service flights to curb the transport of terrorist suspects to clandestine destinations, ending a yearlong probe that reopened splits over American foreign policy.

The European Union assembly accused EU governments of “turning a blind eye” to flights operated by the Central Intelligence Agency as part of a US program of sending untried terrorist suspects to other countries for interrogation. The practice, known as “extraordinary rendition,” also involves abductions. “We want to make sure that what has happened over the past five years can never happen again,” Claudio Fava, an Italian Socialist member of the Parliament, told the assembly today in Strasbourg, France.

Lawmakers approved the non-binding resolution by a vote of 382 to 256, with 74 abstentions. The Parliament's report highlights concerns in Europe that President George W. Bush's administration is undermining the international fight against terrorism by breaching human rights and weakening the West's moral authority. The resolution also shows the assembly's limited influence over foreign policy, the obstacles to uncovering evidence of wrongdoing by secret services and the readiness of some EU governments to assist the US The US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein divided European governments and eroded European support for the country that emerged after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

Germany and France led EU opposition to the Iraq war and the UK, Italy and Poland backed it. The Parliament decided in December 2005 to create a temporary committee to examine newspaper reports - based at least partly on allegations by US-based Human Rights Watch - that the CIA used European countries for the illegal transport and detention of prisoners. The committee met 33 times, sent delegations to visit seven countries and heard evidence from about 200 people including victims of extraordinary rendition. At least 1,245 CIA-operated flights flew into European airspace or landed at European airports between late 2001 and the end of 2005, according to the resolution, which says extraordinary rendition occurred “on some occasions.”

“It is unlikely that certain European governments were unaware of the extraordinary rendition activities taking place in their territory,” the resolution says. “Extraordinary rendition in fact damages and undermines regular police and judicial procedures against terrorism suspects.” The Parliament said the EU's 27 nations should make permission for secret-service flights over their territory conditional on respect for human rights. “Overflight clearances for military and/or police aircraft should be granted only if accompanied by guarantees that human rights will be respected and monitored,” the assembly said. Lawmakers also demanded that “a ban or system of inspections be introduced for all CIA-operated aircraft known or suspected to have been involved in extraordinary rendition.”

The Parliament's 80-page report accuses EU governments including Italy and Poland of inadequate cooperation with the committee's work. The resolution also recycles information from news organizations and echoes criticisms by the Council of Europe, a human-rights-promoting organization that began its own probe in 2005 and released a report last year. Jas Gawronski, an Italian member of the European People's Party, the Parliament's biggest faction, said the assembly should have spared itself the effort and approved a one-page resolution endorsing the Council of Europe's findings. “It was pointless,” he said. “Obviously the United States did something wrong in these cases, but they are the only ones who are doing something against terrorism. If you do lots of things, you are prone to make mistakes.”

Gawronski, who was responsible for coordinating his Christian-Democratic group's response to the report, called the temporary committee a “circus” and said “there's a lack of objectivity in the report.” Ignasi Guardans, a Spanish Liberal, disagreed. He said the"splendid” report "proves an illegal, sometimes criminal scheme” to fight terrorism and sends a message to national governments that "you cannot fight terrorism through a dirty war in our name.” "We cannot support the idea that the only way to protect our freedom is through a dirty war,” Guardans said. "We do not like dirty wars. What is at stake here today is Europe's credibility.”

The Socialists and the Liberals, the Parliament's second-and third-biggest groups, along with the Greens and the European United Left, the fifth- and sixth-largest factions, had pledged to support the resolution. Deputy Foreign Minister Guenter Gloser of Germany, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, said the report should have been more restrained."A more reticent form of words would have been more appropriate,” he told the Parliament. "There are allegations and assumptions and sometimes they are turned into facts.” (Bloomberg)