By David Cronin | Collusion between European Union governments and a secret U.S. torture and kidnapping programme has damaged the EU’s efforts to promote human rights throughout the world, an internal paper drawn up by Brussels officials has admitted.
In 2001, the EU approved guidelines on how diplomats representing it should raise concern over the ill-treatment of detainees with the authorities in foreign countries. These guidelines stemmed from a stated commitment to “carry out systematic and sustained action in the fight against torture.”
A new EU assessment of how the guidelines are being applied acknowledges that some governments have accused the Union of double standards because some of its member states have been implicated in the so-called extraordinary rendition scheme operated by the Central Intelligence Agency of the U.S.
The internal paper, seen by IPS, recommends special efforts to “strengthen EU credibility”.
It says that “coherence needs to be assured” between the EU’s stance against torture during its foreign policy work and its own track record on protecting human rights within the Union’s own borders. “Full respect” for human rights should be guaranteed when formulating policies designed to fight terrorism, and expulsion of foreigners should not occur in cases where there is a likelihood they will be tortured, persecuted or murdered once they return to their home countries, the paper adds.
David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, confessed in February that two CIA planes used in the kidnapping and torture programme had landed in Diego Garcia, a British-controlled island in the Indian Ocean, in 2002. This was a reversal of previous denials by the London government that CIA flights had landed on British territory.
Several other EU governments, including Germany, Sweden, Portugal, Ireland and Italy have been accused of allowing their countries be used by the CIA for covert operations. Poland and Romania have both been criticised by the European Commission for their reluctance to provide information about claims that the CIA ran secret detention centres on their soil.
A 2007 report by an inquiry committee in the European Parliament concluded that at least 1,245 CIA flights passed through European airspace or stopped at the continent’s airports between the end of 2001 and the end of 2005.
Claude Moraes, a British Labour politician who sat on the Parliament’s committee, said that the result of the EU’s collusion with the CIA is “a credibility gap when we lecture other countries about torture.
“The allegations are not going away,” he added, referring to reports in late April that the British security service MI5 had “outsourced” torture of United Kingdom citizens to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI).
Several British nationals arrested in Pakistan have been quoted as saying they were severely beaten by ISI agents before being interrogated by men believed to work for MI5.
Chloe Davies from Reprieve, an organisation that has carried out detailed research into the CIA’s activities, said that Europe’s reputation as a defender of human rights has been tarnished.
“Little by little European powers’ collusion in the kidnap, rendition and torture of terrorist suspects is coming to light,” she said. “We now know that the CIA operated ‘black sites’ in Poland, Romania and apparently even on British territory in Diego Garcia.
“On many occasions CIA aircraft have been allowed to land on or cross European territory, en route to the kidnap and rendition of ghost prisoners to torture in secret prisons in countries like Syria, Jordan and Egypt. In addition European governments have allowed hundreds of prisoners to be ferried through their jurisdiction to illegal imprisonment, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in Guantanamo Bay (the U.S.-run camp in Cuba).”
The internal EU paper also recognises that there has been criticism of flaws in the EU rules aimed at preventing the export of equipment used for torture or the death penalty.
While these rules were introduced in 2005, a report by Amnesty International published last year found that loopholes in them meant that spiked batons known as ‘sting sticks’ used by the Chinese police and ‘hanging ropes’ used for executions in Sri Lanka, India, and Trinidad and Tobago could still be traded.
Since the Amnesty report was issued, the British government has undertaken to ban export of spiked batons and to work with other EU governments to curb the export of torture tools not explicitly covered by the 2005 rules. Amnesty had cited examples of British-made hanging ropes being used to execute prisoners in Trinidad and Tobago and of handcuffs engraved ‘made in England’ used to shackle detainees in Guantanamo Bay to walls and ceilings.