By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 27, 2006
BERLIN, April 26 -- European Parliament investigators said Wednesday they had uncovered evidence that the CIA has organized more than 1,000 flights through European airspace since 2001 as part of a secret program to transfer and detain terrorism suspects.
A parliamentary committee investigating CIA counterterrorism tactics in Europe reported that it had obtained records of the flights from Eurocontrol, the continent's primary air traffic management agency. The flights were by U.S.-registered aircraft that investigators believe were chartered by the CIA or owned by front companies working for the agency.
Investigators acknowledged that they had no idea how many of the flights were actually used to transport terrorism suspects. But they accused the CIA of violating human rights conventions and European law by concealing the purpose of the flights and not reporting passenger manifests to local authorities.
"The routes for some of these flights seem to be quite suspect," Italian lawmaker Giovanni Claudio Fava, head of the Parliament committee, told reporters in Brussels. "They are rather strange routes for flights to take. It is hard to imagine those stopovers were simply for providing fuel."
The preliminary report also criticized several European countries -- including Sweden, Italy and Macedonia -- saying they had allowed CIA officers to apprehend or detain terrorism suspects on their soil and then covered up their presence.
"No one among the national security authorities -- save for a few exceptions -- has ever cared to verify what was the real aim of those flights, who were in their crew and passengers, or rather prisoners," Fava said.
The European Parliament has been investigating the CIA flights as well as reports that the CIA detained suspected high-ranking al-Qaeda members in secret prisons in Eastern Europe.
The Washington Post reported in November that the CIA had been interrogating some of its most important al-Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe as part of a covert prison system that at various times has included sites in several democracies in Eastern Europe. The Post did not identify the Eastern European countries at the request of senior U.S. officials, who said the disclosure could disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation.
The Parliament has few powers to compel testimony or obtain documents, but is scheduled to hold hearings throughout Europe during the rest of the year. On Thursday, the committee is scheduled to question authorities in Macedonia about the case of a German citizen, Khaled al-Masri, who has said he was kidnapped by security officials in Macedonia in early 2004, handed over to the CIA and taken to Afghanistan.
The committee is also scheduled to hold a hearing in Washington next month and has invited former CIA officials to testify.