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Last Updated: Friday, 16 February 2007, 14:25 GMT
CIA flights controversy here to stay
By Stephen Mulvey
EU reporter, BBC News

Suspected rendition flight in Prague, April 2005
The CIA is believed to have flown at least 1,200 flights
The European Parliament's approval of a report accusing EU states of turning a blind eye to CIA rendition flights is not the end of the story.

Although the parliament's committee investigating the flights, and reports of secret CIA prisons, is now being wound up, other investigations are under way which will ensure the issue stays in the news.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is liable to face calls for his resignation when he gives evidence to a German parliamentary committee next month about a German-born Turkish citizen held in the US's Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

The question he has to answer is why Germany failed to accept a US offer to release the man, Murat Kurnaz, in 2002, instead of allegedly trying to cancel his right of entry into Germany.

In 2002, Mr Steinmeier was ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's chief of staff and intelligence co-ordinator, and opposition parties and human rights groups have scented blood.

Mr Kurnaz, who was arrested in Pakistan in 2001 before being transferred to US prisons in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, had to wait until 2006 for his release.

Prodi and Berlusconi

Another headline-grabbing story is now gathering steam in Italy, after a court decided on Friday to prosecute 35 people for the kidnapping of an Egyptian imam on a Milan street in 2003.

There must be people in different European countries who know a lot more than they have let on so far
Anne Fitzgerald, Amnesty International
The accused include 25 CIA agents and the former head of the Italian military intelligence service, Gen Nicolo Pollari. His lawyer has warned that he will call as witnesses the present and former Italian prime ministers, Romano Prodi and Silvio Berlusconi.

Other legal investigations are under way in Germany, Spain, Portugal, and Switzerland.

"There must be people in different European countries who know a lot more than they have let on so far," says Anne Fitzgerald of Amnesty International.

"So if any of the inquiries would force people to say what they know publicly, it would help uncover the facts of what happened."

The European Parliament report condemned national governments, which it accused of failing to co-operate, especially Austria, Italy, Poland, Portugal and the UK.

It called on the Council of the EU to demand full and thorough information from member states, and "where necessary, to start hearings and commission an independent investigation without delay".

UK stopovers

Committee member Baroness Sarah Ludford said she doubted this appeal would have much effect, but was hopeful at least of further investigations by national parliaments.

Germany: Parliamentary investigation; arrest warrants issued by Munich court for 13 suspected CIA agents
Italy: Judge to decide on whether to try suspects in case of kidnapped imam
Portugal: Investigation opened in January by public prosecutor
Romania: Parliamentary investigation into secret prison claims
Spain: Judge investigating whether CIA flight stopovers violated human rights law
Switzerland: Criminal probe into use of Swiss airspace to fly kidnapped imam from Italy to Germany
"I would like to see a focused and effective inquiry in Westminster," she told BBC News.

"We need them to investigate in a forensic way, flight by flight, what exactly happened with the 170 stopovers made by CIA-operated aircraft at UK airports."

The chances of a thorough investigation in the US increased after the Democratic Party took control of Congress last year.

The new chairman of the Senate armed services committee Carl Levin has said the rendition system "needs a thorough review".

Patrick Leahy, the new chairman of the judiciary committee, has also said the US must "renounce" the practice. On 5 February he cited it as one of a number of examples of "important and difficult legal issues" that would be tackled by a new sub-committee on human rights.

Anne Fitzgerald has noted "noises" from senators suggesting the possibility of a serious investigation and sees Republicans as well as Democrats under pressure from their voters to review the rendition policy.

However, she cautions that it will take a lot of political will, possibly more than the senators possess, to overcome the problem of gaining access to highly classified material.

'Drive for truth'

Her colleague Dick Oosting, director of Amnesty's European Union office, argues that the EU has come out of the latest saga looking two-faced.

The [European Parliament] report is part of the drive for truth that makes me persevere in my ongoing work to establish the full facts and determine the necessary action to prevent such violations occurring in future
Swiss senator Dick Marty
It preaches human rights and "European values" to the rest of the world, he says, but flounders when it comes to confronting difficult issues closer to home.

Not only did member states refuse to reveal all they knew, but MEPs in some cases voted to water down or reject the report for party political reasons, or on instructions from their national governments, he alleges.

He sees a possibility that the US Senate might even teach Europe a lesson, and give it an incentive "to do a proper job".

Meanwhile Swiss senator Dick Marty who began researching rendition flights and secret prisons for the Council of Europe before the European Parliament committee was created is still plugging away.

He published a report last June referring to a "global spider's web" of rendition and is working on a follow-up.

He described the European Parliament's report as "part of the drive for truth that makes me persevere in my ongoing work to establish the full facts".

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