Rights chief: Europe "complicit" in U.S. torture

Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, gives a press conference in Moscow Sept. 10, 2009. AFP/Getty Images

BRUSSELS - Europe's human rights chief launched a blistering attack Thursday on European governments' counterterrorism actions, accusing them of helping the United States commit "countless" crimes in the past 10 years.

The 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks is an occasion to analyze whether the official responses have been proper and effective, said Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's rights commissioner.

"In attempting to combat crimes attributed to terrorists, countless further crimes have been committed in the course of the U.S.-led 'global war on terror,'" he said in a statement. "Many of those crimes have been carefully and deliberately covered up."

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European governments were "deeply complicit" in U.S. counterterrorism strategies, including torture, Hammarberg said. In a 2007 probe, Swiss politician Dick Marty accused 14 European governments of permitting the CIA to run detention centers or carry out rendition flights between 2002 and 2005.

"They permitted, protected and participated in CIA operations which violated fundamental tenets of our systems of justice and human rights protection," Hammarberg said, adding that the governments involved have blocked proper investigations into rendition cases in line with Washington's wishes.

"The message is clear — good relations between the security agencies are deemed more important than preventing torture and other serious human rights violations," he said.

The 47-nation Council of Europe believes more than a dozen European nations colluded in the CIA's rendition program, in which suspects were secretly sent to be held in nations that allow torture.

On Monday, the Council will publish a list of CIA "black sites" in Poland, Lithuania and Romania where detainees are believed to have been held covertly, said an official who asked not to be named because of the sensitive nature of the report.

Hammarberg cited the cases of several victims, including German car salesman Khaled El-Masri who underwent two renditions, first to Afghanistan and then to Albania, where he was dumped on a remote hillside in an apparent effort to cover up what officials later conceded was an error.

Hammarberg urged European governments to allow judicial scrutiny of abuses arising from the rendition operations, and to stop shielding those who collaborated with U.S. intelligence agencies in organizing the operations.

"So far Europe has granted effective impunity to those who committed crimes in implementing the rendition policy. An urgent rethink is required to prevent this misjudged and failed counterterrorism approach from having a sad legacy of injustice," he said.

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