EU govts 'reluctant to help secret prisons probe'

European governments are not willing to reveal what they know about US intelligence service activities on their territory, effectively obstructing an investigation into allegations of CIA secret prisons and flights in Europe, Human Rights Watch said it planned to tell the European Parliament tomorrow.

“There are very daunting obstacles to carry out this investigation successfully. They have little interest in revealing these activities that are covert,” said Joanne Mariner, director of the New York-based human rights watchdog’s terrorism and counter-terrorism programme.

“No country wants this info to be revealed,” she said today.

“What you need is an official that will come forward.”

Mariner spoke ahead of a hearing organised by the European Parliament’s committee of inquiry into allegations that US agents interrogated al Qaida suspects at clandestine prisons in eastern Europe and transported some on secret flights that passed through Europe.

The allegations were first reported by The Washington Post in early November. The paper did not name the countries involved.

Human Rights Watch identified Romania and Poland as possible hosts of secret US-run detention facilities. Both countries have denied involvement. Clandestine detention centres would violate European human rights treaties.

Swiss senator Dick Marty, who is leading a separate probe by the Council of Europe, the continent’s leading human rights watchdog, will participate in the hearing in Brussels, informing the EU assembly of his findings so far.

The EU assembly will also hear Italian prosecutor Armando Spataro, who has issued European arrest warrants for 22 purported CIA operatives in connection with the alleged kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric from Milan in 2003.

The 22 purported agents allegedly were involved in the kidnapping of cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar.

The operation was believed to be part of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” programme in which terror suspects are transferred to countries where some allegedly are subjected to torture.

The Italian government denied prior knowledge of the operation, and prosecutors said it was a severe breach of Italian sovereignty that compromised their anti-terrorism efforts.

The parliament’s inquiry committee was created last month, after EU MEPs got frustrated with the lack of progress in the various national investigations into the issue.

The Council of Europe said today that Italy and four other European countries have missed a deadline to explain what they know about foreign intelligence agencies working in their countries.

The council requested the information in November as part of its probe into the reports of CIA secret prisons.

Council of Europe chairman Terry Davis set a February 21 deadline, but Italy, San Marino, Belgium, Bosnia and Georgia have not replied, the Strasbourg, France-based Council said in a statement.

Under Article 52 of the European Convention on Human Rights – a treaty that is legally binding on all 46 Council of Europe members – the chairman is authorised to request information from national governments on any issue, and the governments are obliged to respond.

Davis will disclose the content of the replies next week.

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