Europe grows a pair, criticizes U.S. on Guantanamo and mass surveillance

gtmo-by-zina-saunderFollowing an official visit to the Guantanamo detention facility this week, a delegation of parliamentarians from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called the prison “a dark spot on the United States’ reputation in the spheres of human rights and rule of law.”

In a joint statement, the chair and vice-chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s human rights committee, Isabel Santos and Mehmet Sevki Kulkuloglu, said,

The detention of people under the traditional laws of war is not compatible with the modern fight against terrorism. The unfortunate application of this legal theory by the United States means that inmates could be held indefinitely, awaiting the end of a fight that does not have a clear-cut end point.

Even those who have faced charges in front of military commissions were subject to a changing legal context and serious restrictions related to classified material, all of which raises additional concerns regarding the transparency of the process and detainees’ ability to mount a defense in a fair trial.

Only a limited number of the remaining 122 detainees at Guantanamo have been charged or are expected to face charges in front of a military commission, the delegation noted. Citing the laws of war, the U.S. government has asserted that detainees can be held until the end of hostilities, a potential life sentence given the unclear and amorphous goals of the war on terror.

Although the delegation traveled to Guantanamo partly to ascertain the status and treatment of remaining detainees, it was not authorized to speak to inmates. Instead, they were given a tour of the facilities by military personnel on January 27 and met with officials from the Joint Task Force. They also viewed part of the military commission trial of Abd al Hadi al-Iraqi by closed circuit and met with senior officials from the Department of State and the Department of Defense in Washington ahead of their visit to Guantanamo Bay.

While recognizing progress has been made in relocating detainees from Guantanamo, the delegation noted that much remains to be done. “We applaud the commitment of the U.S. government to close the facility, but the United States cannot achieve this alone. It requires the support of all OSCE countries,” said Santos and Kulkuloglu.

Earlier in the week, another European body, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, issued a report blasting the NSA’s mass surveillance practices disclosed by whistleblower Edward Snowden as threats against “fundamental human rights” that do not substantially contribute to the prevention of terrorist attacks.

It further said it is “deeply concerned” by the “far-reaching, technologically advanced systems” used by the United States to collect, store and analyze the data of private citizens. It describes the scale of spying by the NSA as “stunning.”

The report and resolution approved by the assembly’s Legal Affairs Committee calls for:

  • the collection of personal data without consent only following “a court order granted on the basis of reasonable suspicion”
  • “credible, effective protection” for whistle-blowers exposing unlawful surveillance
    better judicial and parliamentary control of intelligence services
  • an “intelligence codex” defining mutual obligations that secret services could opt into
  • an inquiry into member states’ use of mass surveillance using powers under the European Convention on Human Rights

It also criticizes “the reluctance of the competent US authorities and their European counterparts to contribute to the clarification of the facts, including their refusal to attend hearings organised by the Assembly and the European Parliament, as well as the harsh treatment of whistle-blower Edward Snowden, [that] does not contribute to restoring mutual trust and public confidence.”

Despite these welcome moves by Europeans to compel greater U.S. compliance with international norms, the continent as a whole continues to fall short of what is needed to rein the world’s rogue superpower, particularly as it relates to torture and extraordinary rendition. As Amnesty International points out in a briefing paper issued Jan. 20,

European states implicated in the US Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) rendition and secret detention programmes have equivocated about their roles in these operations, relied on secrecy laws to decline comment, or simply flatly denied any involvement in them. Not one has conducted a genuinely effective, broad-based investigation into the role their government played in these operations, let alone held state actors fully accountable and provided victims with an effective remedy. Europe’s assistance in facilitating the human rights violations attendant to the US operations – illegal abduction and transfer, secret detention, enforced disappearance, and torture and other ill-treatment — has long been an “open secret,” with various governments seeking to shield themselves from accountability based on unsubstantiated “national security” grounds, the dubious invocation of “state secrets,” or outright lies.

Amnesty calls on

all European governments implicated in the CIA’s illegal rendition, secret detention and interrogation operations – including, among others, Germany, Lithuanian, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, and UK – to:

Conduct an effective, broad-based investigation as a matter of urgency into their involvement in these operations, with a view toward reforming the laws, policies, and practices that permitted such cooperation;

Ensure that those state actors and any foreign agents responsible for crimes under domestic and international law such as torture and enforced disappearance on the territories of European states are criminally charged and held accountable after fair trials;

Afford victims of the human rights violations attendant to these operations a full and effective remedy.

“Without European help, the USA would not have been able to secretly detain and torture people for so many years. The Senate report makes it abundantly clear that foreign governments were essential to the ‘success’ of the CIA operations – and evidence that has been mounting for nearly a decade points to key European allies,” said Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s expert on counter-terrorism and human rights.

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3 responses to “Europe grows a pair, criticizes U.S. on Guantanamo and mass surveillance”

  1. boomerbob says :

    Until the US stops its torture practices, we cannot comment on any human rights failures elsewhere.

  2. нако минчев says :

    Practical measures need to be undertaken for the investigations into CIA secret prisons in Europe
    Nako MINCHEV*

    It is common knowledge that at end-January 2015 the global movement Amnesty International published a report, titled “Breaking the conspiracy of silence: USA’s European “partners in crime” must act after Senate torture report”, which throws further light upon the information gathered within the US Senate investigation into torture methods, applied by the Central Intelligence Agency, by referring to media reports on the way CIA-operated secret detention sites were run in Europe – in particular, on the territory of Lithuania, Poland and Romania. As a matter of fact, it was several years ago when it first became known that CIA tortured terror suspects not only in these countries but also on the territory of another EU Member State – namely, Great Britain. According to the Lawrence Wilkinson, former Chief of Staff to the US Secretary of State, after the terror attack of 11th September 2001 the CIA used the US military base on the island of Diego Garcia, located in the British Indian Ocean Territory, to conduct interrogations and torture terror suspects who had been abducted from various countries without any court order whatsoever.
    After the US Senate report got published, the European Parliament adopted a special resolution on 11th February 2015 in which it “expresses its deep condemnation of the gruesome interrogation practices that characterized these illegal counterterrorism operations; underlines the fundamental conclusion by the US Senate that the violent methods applied by the CIA failed to generate intelligence that prevented further terrorist attacks; recalls its absolute condemnation of torture”. The resolution also highlights the fact that “the climate of impunity regarding the CIA programme has enabled the continuation of fundamental rights violations, as further revealed by the mass surveillance programmes of the US National Security Agency and secret services of various EU Member States”. In this context, the US Government is called on “to investigate and prosecute the multiple human rights violations resulting from the CIA rendition and secret detention programmes, and to cooperate with all requests from EU Member States for information, extradition or effective remedies for victims in connection with the CIA programme”.
    The European Parliament also “reiterates its calls on Member States to investigate the allegations that there were secret prisons on their territory where people were held under the CIA programme, and to prosecute those involved in these operations, taking into account all the new evidence that has come to light”. At the same time it “expresses concerns regarding the obstacles encountered by national parliamentary and judicial investigations into some Member States’ involvement in the CIA programme, the abuse of state secrecy, and the undue classification of documents resulting in the termination of criminal proceedings and leading to de facto impunity of perpetrators of human rights violations”. Furthermore, the resolution “calls for the findings of existing inquiries relating to Member States’ involvement in the CIA programme, in particular the Chilcot inquiry, to be published without further delay”.
    Considering the above, we are unpleasantly impressed by the fact that the Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) have hitherto failed to demonstrate the due will to discuss the refusal of the governmental authorities in Vilnius, Warsaw and Bucharest to investigate the multiple occasions of human rights violations, ensuing from the agreement of these countries to host the establishment of CIA black sites on their territory. Such an attitude erodes the very foundations of the European Union, weakens the belief of European citizens that their fundamental rights are truly guaranteed, divests the EU of its moral authority and discredits its allegiance to the universal human values.
    The US Senate report and the one issued by Amnesty International, unequivocally point out that the above three EU Member States, as well as Great Britain, played a key role in the implementation of this CIA “operation” on the territory of the Old Continent. Without the help of these governments the USA would not have been in the position to detain and torture people for so many years, applying such inhumane methods as waterboarding and mock execution, sleep deprivation, use of coffin-sized confinement boxes or sexual threats.
    It is high time that Europe became aware of the fact that the time for paying lip service to the condemnation of these crimes or the attempts at their covering up is over for good. The governments of Lithuania, Poland and Romania can no longer hide behind the unconvincing “national security reasons” and “state secret” arguments, thus refusing to bring to light the entire truth about their role for the torture and abduction of people in their countries. Jozef Pinior, one of the legendary leaders of the Polish “Solidarity” trade union, member of the European Parliament in the period 2004 – 2009 and of the Parliamentary committee on secret CIA prisons in Europe, now a Polish senator, points out: “The information in Washington Post about the fact that Polish intelligence services received USD 15 million to “host” a secret CIA prison in the country compromises the entire Polish state which should elucidate this issue as quickly as possible. This unquestionably confirmed the grimmest hypothesis that under Leszek Miller Poland turned into a “banana republic” to the USA. Another deplorable fact is that our national services have contributed in no way whatsoever to the disclosure of this conspiracy. This is an extremely disgraceful situation. The Polish state, the judicial system and the Government should publish the investigation findings as soon as possible. Otherwise we are going to become Europe’s laughing stock. It turns out that we while we give lessons in democracy to countries like the Ukraine, we take money from the US to allow them to practice illicit torture of people on our territory”.
    In its turn the Bulgarian Government should state its official support for the appeal of Amnesty International and the European Parliament and urge the authorities in Vilnius, Bucharest and Warsaw to undertake an immediate and full investigation of this case and to prosecute those involved in the tortures. Let us be reminded that most of the victims of these malpractices are Muslims and in the context of surging anti-Islam mood after the terror attacks in Paris and Copenhagen it becomes even more important to find out the truth about the secret CIA “black sites” in Europe.
    * Human Rights Center, Sofia, Bulgaria

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