Brussels: A senior US official warned on 28 February that ongoing inquiries into secret CIA activities in the European Union (EU) could undermine intelligence cooperation between the US and Europe.
John Bellinger, legal adviser to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, also criticized Europe as unwilling to help Washington solve the problem of the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The European Parliament accused Britain, Poland, Italy and other nations in mid-February of colluding with the CIA to transport terror suspects to clandestine prisons in third countries.
A parliamentary report identified 1,254 secret CIA flights that entered European airspace after the 11 September, 2001, terror attacks on the US. It said the flights violated international air traffic rules, and suggested that some may have carried terror suspects on board in violation of human rights.
Germany, Italy and several other EU countries have been carrying out their own inquiries into secret CIA activities in Europe. The probes Bellinger said “have not been helpful with respect to necessary cooperation between the US and Europe”.
“I do think these continuing investigations can harm intelligence cooperation; that’s simply a fact of life,” Bellinger told reporters after meeting in Brussels with legal advisers to EU governments.
He called the European Parliament report “unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair”, and called on EU governments to challenge the suggestion that Europeans need to be concerned about secret CIA flights.
“I can understand concerns about specific incidents but we should not somehow suggest that all intelligence activity is something illegal or suspicious,” he said.
But EU parliamentarians rejected Bellinger’s criticism and called on the US to address concerns that some flights transported kidnapped terror suspects.
“People are imprisoned without being tried first. That unacceptable (The US) should open up to us and tell us where they’re flying and who they’re carrying,” said Kathalijne Buitenweg, a Dutch member of the European Parliament.
The European Parliament gave no direct proof that the CIA ran secret prisons in Europe, an accusation that prompted the inquiry in November 2005.
Bellinger refused to comment on reports that Poland and Romania housed clandestine detention centres, but said a lot of allegations concerning US intelligence activities have been “just rumours”.
Bellinger said the US would refuse any Italian extradition request for CIA agents indicted for the alleged abduction of an Egyptian cleric in Milan, one case investigated by the European Parliament.
“We’ve not got an extradition request from Italy. (But) if we got an extradition request from Italy, we would not extradite US officials to Italy,” he said.
Milan prosecutors want the Italian government to forward their request for the extradition of the 26 Americans, mostly CIA agents. The previous government in Rome led by Silvio Berlusconi refused, and Premier Romano Prodi’s centre-left government has indicated it would not press Washington on the issue. The Americans all have left Italy, most before prosecutors sought their arrest.
Their trial, which opens in June, will be the first criminal trial stemming from the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme to secretly transfer terror suspects to third countries.
On Guantanamo, Bellinger said the US government wants to close the detention centre in Cuba but has not figured out what to do with the inmates.
The US began housing terror suspects at Guantanamo in 2002, and its treatment of the detainees has come under strong criticism from human rights groups. The EU has repeatedly called for its immediate closure.
“We have seen many statements from European governments saying Guantanamo must be closed immediately. It’s not clear how Guantanamo would be immediately closed,” Bellinger said. “Europe has been prepared to criticize but has not been prepared to offer a constructive suggestion.”
He added that the US has been looking to Europe for help with inmates from the Middle East who cannot, for various reasons, return to their home countries, but has not received any offers from European countries to accept them.
He also said he would like to see Europe and the US cooperating on defining the rules for fighting terrorism, which he said were “hazy” at present.