Mon, May 08, 2006 - Page 7 News List

EU group to meet US officials over CIA flights


A group of EU lawmakers will travel to the US today to try and shed light on allegations of secret CIA prisons and flights for terror suspects in Europe, the EU Parliament said.

The 13-member delegation will meet US Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Daniel Fried, former CIA director James Woolsey, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Pete Hoekstra and representatives Mac Thornberry, Robert Wexler and Ed Markey during the four-day visit, according to a list released by the European Parliament.

They will also meet John Bellinger, legal adviser to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, non-governmental organization representatives, as well as lawyers and journalists.

Allegations that CIA agents shipped prisoners through European airports to secret detention centers, including compounds in eastern Europe, were first reported last November by the Washington Post.

Clandestine prisons and secret flights via or from Europe to countries where suspects could face torture would breach the continent's human-rights conventions.

A European Parliament committee launched an inquiry into the reports, getting firsthand testimony from people who say they were kidnapped by US intelligence agents and from human rights activists and EU anti-terror officials to get a better picture of the reported US "extraordinary rendition" flights.

"EU member states seem to have placed a lot of trust in the US administration in the context of this issue and one of the purposes of the delegation is to determine if this trust was misplaced," British deputy Jean Lambert said.

The committee traveled to Macedonia last month to look into allegations by a Kuwaiti-born German citizen who said that he was detained by foreign agents in Macedonia while on holiday in 2003.

He claimed to have been held and interrogated in a hotel in Skopje and flown to Afghanistan, where he said he was tortured before being flown back to Europe and released in Albania five months later.

Last month, the lawmakers said data from the EU's air traffic agency show there have been more than 1,000 clandestine CIA flights stopping on European territory since the Sept. 11 attacks in the US. But they said it was not clear if or how many detainees were on board.

In Brussels last week, Bellinger did not deny that there have been CIA flights over Europe or ones with stopovers, but he dismissed implications that they all carried detainees.

He said the flights may have carried intelligence experts, counterterrorism officials or forensic evidence.

He urged European governments to break their silence and challenge allegations of widespread illegal CIA activities in Europe, which he said were hurting trans-Atlantic intelligence cooperation.

No senior EU official or government leader has confirmed any questionable or illegal CIA activities on European territory, and very few have even spoken on the issue.

The committee has no legal power to subpoena people, and relies on voluntary testimonies.

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