Human rights chief warns Europe over CIA 'terror flights'

The head of Europe’s human rights watchdog said “appropriate action” would be taken against countries who did not take legal steps to prevent their airports being used for CIA flights of terror suspects or their territory for secret detention centres.

But Terry Davis, secretary-general of the 46-nation Council of Europe, did not spell out what “appropriate action” meant, saying he would make recommendations to Europe’s Council of Ministers.

Allegations surfaced last year of the CIA spiriting terror suspects to countries where they might face harsh interrogation methods and possibly torture. In November, Davis began inquiries in the 46 council nations on whether they had taken legislative steps to protect individuals against abductions and renditions.

“If we discover such laws are not in place, or are inadequate, or are not effectively enforced, we will take appropriate action,” Davis told a United Nations press conference in New York.

In a statement from the council’s headquarters in Strasbourg, France, he said the European watchdog would also “make this clear to everyone”.

Davis told the UN briefing he would report on the answers to his inquiries on March 1.

All 46 nations have now responded but five missed the February 21 deadline - Belgium, Bosnia, Georgia, Italy and San Marino, he said. The answer of at least one nation was unsatisfactory and the responses of some others were brief, but he refused to name them.

When Davis mentioned that San Marino was tardy in its response, he wondered aloud whether it even had an airport – an allusion to claims that European airports were used to move terror suspects along.

Swiss senator Dick Marty, who is investigating renditions on behalf of the Council of Europe, said on January 24 that more than 100 suspects might have been transferred by US agents to countries where they faced torture or ill treatment in recent years and it was highly likely that European governments knew about it.

But he said there was no proof so far of the existence of clandestine detention centres in Romania or Poland as alleged by the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

After the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, US president George Bush gave the CIA authority to conduct “renditions” and permitted the agency to act without case-by-case approval from the White House or other administration offices.

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