"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," MEP Giovanni Claudio Fava said in his first interim report into the CIA practice.
Data showed that CIA planes made numerous stopovers on European territory that were never declared, violating an international air treaty that requires airlines to declare the route and stopovers for planes with a police mission, said the Italian lawmaker. "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 Council of Europe, a human rights organization also investigating the issue, has earlier said that at least one European state had admitted to handing over suspects to foreign agents, and that there was evidence pointing to the existence of secret flights. Reports of clandestine CIA interrogation centers and transport flights for terror suspects emerged in November, along with suggestions of on-board torture sessions. The European Union has threatened sanctions against any of its member states found to have been operating such secret prisons, or allowing their territory to be used for the transport of the phantom detainees.
Fava said it was unlikely several European governments were unaware of the CIA activities, specifically pointing at Italy, Sweden and Bosnia. "Over 1,000 flights operated by the CIA transited through our territory," with Spain being the only EU country to ask questions about these flights, he told a news conference.
Fava said his assertions on CIA flights came from data given by Eurocontrol, Europe's civil and military air safety navigation organization, and information gathered during three months of hearings and more than 50 hours of testimony by individuals who said they were kidnapped and tortured by US agents.
Milan Prosecutor Armando Spataro has said a CIA team seized Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr off a Milan street in 2003 before flying him to Egypt, where he would have been tortured. The senior lawmaker, responsible for drafting the European Parliament's committee report, said it was hard to believe the Italian authorities were unaware.
An Italian court issued last December a European arrest warrants for 22 CIA agents accused of abducting the Muslim imam. A European Union warrant is automatically valid across the 25-nation bloc and does not require approval of any government. Fava's report criticizes Sweden for handing over in 2001 two Egyptian suspects to US agents, who flew them to Egypt.
Human Rights Watch said there is credible evidence they were later tortured. The senior lawmaker also criticized Bosnia for handing over six men of Algerian origin to the CIA. "These men have been taken illegally to Guantanamo, where they have been since January 2002," Stephen Oleskey, their lawyer who testified on Tuesday before the EU lawmakers, told Reuters.
EU lawmakers will go to Macedonia later this week to probe the arrest of German citizen Khaled el-Masri in 2003. The US has admitted it made a mistake in abducting the German national and flying him to a secret prison in Afghanistan for questioning. He was released five months later. Another group of European lawmakers will head to Washington in early May, seeking meetings with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and CIA chief Porter Goss.
Former US President Bill Clinton was the first to use the CIA's rendition program to capture, transfer and question terror suspects on foreign soil. The rendition program was first authorized by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. But the program changed under President George W. Bush to detaining the suspects in US detention centers in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo. Bush and Rice have strongly defended the practice as a "vital" tool in their so-called war on terror.