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Thursday, April 27, 2006 

Rendition: MEP report says member states knew of abductions.

Somewhat buried by yesterday's "Black Wednesday" for Labour, the investigation by MEPs into "extraordinary rendition" has raised some difficult questions for the government.

The CIA has operated more than 1,000 secret flights over EU territory in the past five years, some to transfer terror suspects in a practice known as "extraordinary rendition", an investigation by the European parliament said yesterday.

The figure is significantly higher than previously thought. EU parliamentarians who conducted the investigation concluded that incidents when terror suspects were handed over to US agents did not appear to be isolated. They said the suspects were often transported around Europe on the same planes by agents whose names repeatedly came up in their investigation.

They accused the CIA of kidnapping terror suspects and said those responsible for monitoring air safety regulations revealed unusual flight paths to and from European airports. The report's author, Italian MEP Claudio Fava, suggested some EU governments knew about the flights.

He suggested flight plans and airport logs made it hard to believe that many of the stopovers were refuelling missions. "The CIA has, on several occasions, clearly been responsible for kidnapping and illegally detaining alleged terrorists on the territory of [EU] member states, as well as for extraordinary renditions," said Mr Fava, a member of the European parliament's socialist group.

His report, the first interim report by EU parliamentarians on rendition, obtained data from Eurocontrol, the European air safety agency, and gathered information during three months of hearings and more than 50 hours of testimony by individuals who said they were kidnapped and tortured by American agents, as well as EU officials and human rights groups.

"After 9/11, within the framework of the fight against terrorism, the violation of human and fundamental rights was not isolated or an excessive measure confined to a short period of time, but rather a widespread regular practice in which the majority of European countries were involved," said Mr Fava.

Data showed that CIA planes made numerous secret stopovers on European territory, violating an international air treaty that requires airlines to declare the route and stopovers for planes with a police mission, he said. "The routes for some of these flights seem to be quite suspect. ... They are rather strange routes for flights to take. It is hard to imagine ... those stopovers were simply for providing fuel."

The report really doesn't tell us that much that we don't already know. Since the first allegations emerged last year, a number of jets were identified as being responsible for the transporting of kidnapped terrorist suspects, sometimes without the knowledge of the country from which the suspect was taken's knowledge.

What is new is that the MEP's report has now directly accused some of the countries of knowing full well what was going on. The question for Jack Straw and the government is what they knew and when they knew it. Straw has been evasive from the start. Giving evidence to a committee, he said some of the allegations were in the region of conspiracy theories. He has continually denied that there have been any rendition flights gone through the country since around 1998, when the Clinton administration last asked permission. This was somewhat undermined when Alistair Darling, the Transport minister, eventually admitted that both CIA and chartered jets had landed at airports a lot more than they have originally thought. It's still possible that all those flights could have been just here to refuel, although as the report states, the jets have sometimes went on such strange routes that it makes that difficult to believe.

It's time that the government came completely clean and states exactly what it knows. The Bush administration has apparently not asked permission from the government to use its airspace for renditions, but it also hasn't seemed to have bothered to ask permission from the European countries whose airspace seems most definitely to have been used for exactly that purpose. Other member states apparently knew about the abductions despite this. Was Britain among these? If those jets which landed here that have been linked to rendition were not carrying kidnapped terrorist suspects, what were they doing here? If the government was not aware until the allegations came to light, were the security services? If they were, why was the government not made aware that international law was being broken? If they were made aware, why has the government repeatedly lied about what the flights purposes were, and tried to move the argument on, as the memo leaked to the New Statesmen suggested they try to do? From a government that is meant to find torture utterly abhorrent and that considers Guantanamo an "anomaly", it seems odd that is willing to turn a blind eye to the United States transferring prisoners to where torture has been used during their interrogation. We need answers, and any further delay should be bitterly resisted.

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