PlaneThe Council of Europe report into the rendition flights across Europe was released on Tuesday this week. The press across Europe was filled with details of the claims that were made by author of the report, Dick Marty, that Europe was complicit in deportation of suspects to locations where they may have been tortured. The text of Dick Marty’s report is here.

[UPDATE – 12.06.06] The guys over at Taurillon have posted this article on their site (with my permission! :-)) Fingers crossed I’ll manage to reply to comments in French!

In summary, the allegations are as follows:

  • Spain, Turkey, Germany, Cyprus: “staging posts” for rendition operations
  • UK, Portugal, Ireland, Greece: “stop-off points”
  • Italy, Sweden, Macedonia, Bosnia & Herzegovina: allowed the abduction of residents from their soil
  • Poland, Romania: suspicions that CIA secret prisons were established

Marty is frank in his assessment, especially with regard to the issue of secret prisons, stating in his report:

“Even if proof, in the classical meaning of the term, is not as yet available, a number of coherent and converging elements indicate that such secret detention centres did indeed exist in Europe.”

Yet what should we make of all of this?

First of all, the Council of Europe and Dick Marty, the author of the report. Marty is an unassuming Swiss politician, formerly a law academic – is there any reason to suspect he would over-exaggerate claims? I find that hard to believe. Yet on the other hand, the Council of Europe is a diverse and under-funded organisation of 46 member states with little power to formally investigate what its members are doing. While Marty makes allegations that jails were established, he had at his disposal neither the financial nor the investigative means to get to the bottom of the issue.

On the other hand, thanks to the work of the European Court of Human Rights, the reputation of the Council of Europe is strong in human rights issues. It is unlikely that Marty would wish to put the Council of Europe’s reputation in danger.

So then, what do we make of the reaction in the countries that were alleged to have participated? Shooting from the hip as seems typical of the reactionary government he leads, Polish Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz simply stated:
"These accusations are slanderous… They are not based on any facts."

Tony Blair was more measured, stating that Marty’s final report revealed nothing new, and that the UK government was aware of the policy of rendition. The Greek and Cypriot governments stated that – as far as they were concerned – all the US activities were legitimate. A complete list of quotes is available from the BBC here.

This leads to one of three conclusions:

  1. The states named in Marty’s report did not know what was going on
  2. Marty’s report and allegations are wrong
  3. The states in question know Marty has too little evidence, and they want to tough this one out

I suspect that conclusion 3 is the right one in this case. I think that there is a general acceptance, both in the press, and among populations of European countries that something was going on. However, the Council of Europe does not have the power to investigate the issue and – judging by the silence from national politicians since the report was published – the governments of the states in question think they are just going to be able to tough this one out. Who, after all, is going to want to really conduct detailed investigations into all of this?

Further – and somewhat cynically – all of this should be seen in the context of two other more major human rights issues facing the United States: Guantanamo Bay and the ongoing military activity in Iraq. Now, while it is wrong to relativise human rights abuses – abuse is abuse, should be stamped out, and is wrong – the allegations Dick Marty makes are relatively minor in comparison to both Guantanamo and Iraq.

What can we hope will happen now? With luck, some national parliaments in EU countries, and perhaps also the European Parliament can step up its investigations and more credence can be given to Dick Marty’s claims. I do not think there is much reason to disbelieve what the Swiss senator has written; I simply think that the report’s impact is lost on a population weary of governments doing far more evil things.

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