Sat, May 06, 2006 - Page 7 News List

US set to brief EU officials on secret CIA rendition flights

AFP , VIENNA

EU officials will be briefed in the US "shortly" in response to charges the CIA secretly flew thousands of prisoners through Europe to countries where they might face torture, US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said on Thursday.

At the same time John Bellinger, legal advisor to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said the affair that has soured relations between the EU and the US had been overplayed.

"Allegations that there have been thousands of flights with the implication that they all have got detainees on them, and worse, detainees bound for mistreatment, is simply absurd," he said on a visit to Brussels.

He urged European officials to speak out, saying that many of the flights "may be carrying analysts, officials engaged in counter-terrorism cooperation ... forensic evidence."

Two EU investigations are in full swing into the secret flights carrying detainees in the US so-called "war on terror."

In Vienna, Gonzales told reporters after meeting with EU officials that "representatives from the EU ... will be coming to the United States shortly, and we will have representatives from the US government who will be meeting with them to provide whatever additional details we can give, consistent with of course the national security of our country."

Gonzales said US officials would not comment publicly on the issue because "obviously the United States as with every country is not engaged in a public debate or discussion about intelligence activities because you don't want to alert your enemies about what you're doing."

He reiterated that in the briefings, the US would "give as much information as we can, obviously consistent with our national security."

Gonzales did not give details on the delegation but an inquiry committee from the European parliament is to visit Washington May 8-12.

The US has come under intense fire following press reports about CIA flights across European airspace since the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US.

The prisoners were reported mainly to have been transported through Europe to third countries in a process known as "extraordinary rendition."

European lawmakers probing the alleged CIA flights said Thursday they were met with a "wall of silence" by Macedonian authorities during a fact-finding mission to the Balkans country.

The members of a European Parliament investigating committee said they had travelled to Skopje to find out if a German man had been abducted in Macedonia and taken to Afghanistan by US agents for questioning.

"We asked a lot of questions but we didn't get very many answers to those questions," said Claudio Fava, the Italian lawmaker leading the inquiry, in Brussels.

"We noted there was a certain amount of reluctance and a few contradictions as well," he said.

Gonzales insisted that "renditions by themselves are not extraordinary. The United States, as well as other countries, engages in renditions."

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