Friday, November 04, 2005

E.U. Inquiry into CIA's 'secret European Torture Chambers

By David Rennie in Brussels
(Filed: 04/11/2005)

European countries alleged to have allowed the CIA to open secret prisons to interrogate al-Qa'eda suspects using methods outlawed in the United States were warned yesterday that they could face severe action by the European Union.

The European Commission said it was investigating unconfirmed reports that US officials had established several secret detention centres, known as ''black sites'', in one or more eastern European nations. The justice commissioner, Franco Frattini, made clear that potentially severe legal and political consequences awaited any EU country, or any country seeking EU membership, if it was confirmed that its government had co-operated with the CIA programme.

Human Rights Watch, a New York-based group, alleged this week that the bases might be in Poland, which joined the EU last year, and Romania, which is in line to join in 2007, pending last minute improvements of its human rights and legal systems. Official denials flooded in from Romania, Poland and the Baltic nations yesterday.

While the White House has neither confirmed nor denied the allegations, the Czech Republic, which joined the EU last year, said that it had recently refused a request from American officials to set up a detention centre.

Mr Frattini said that all member states ''are bound'' by international legal obligations, in particular the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the Convention against Torture. In theory, nations can be suspended from the EU for grave breaches of such fundamental principles.

While a country of the size and standing of Poland is unlikely to be expelled, the dangers are acute for countries trying to join the EU.

European public opinion is already deeply hostile to President George W Bush and his war against terrorism, while the leaders of "Old Europe", such as Jacques Chirac of France, have not hesitated to rebuke eastern and central European nations for supporting US policies such as the invasion of Iraq.

Baroness Ludford MEP, a vocal human rights activist, predicted last night that the issue would not only be taken up by Euro-MPs concerned about rights abuses but also by "less principled colleagues" keen to delay the EU entry of countries such as Romania and Bulgaria.

Lady Ludford, a Liberal Democrat member for London, said she hoped there would be EU pressure to shut down any secret prisons but she blamed the United States more than co-operative European governments.

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