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Europe Must Face Up to Its Role in CIA Torture, Campaigners Say

By failing to acknowledge how they facilitated CIA torture, several European countries are more likely to become involved in future abuses, say Amnesty International.
January 20, 2015, 12:05pm
Image via AP/Czarek Sokolowski

When the US Senate released the report on CIA torture in December, the world reacted with shock and outrage. The document detailed the "program of indefinite secret detention and the use of brutal interrogation techniques" that the agency embarked upon in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. These techniques included mock executions, waterboarding, and "rectal rehydration," along with threats to family members, sleep deprivation, and forced nudity. One detainee is thought to have died from excessive cold.

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Now campaigners are warning that if certain European countries fail to fully acknowledge the role they played in aiding the CIA's abuse of prisoners, they may act similarly in the wake of other major terrorism attacks, such as this month's massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris.

An Amnesty International briefing paper, released on Tuesday, details the role that several European countries played in enabling and facilitating CIA torture through both the global rendition network and by allowing secret detention sites to be set up on their territory.

The report specifically calls out six countries: Poland, Romania, Lithuania, the UK, Macedonia, and Germany.

Though the 525-page Senate summary document was heavily redacted, removing all mentions of specific countries, Amnesty believes that — by matching up publicly available information with the details given in the Senate report — they have correctly identified the European countries that were involved in the program.

Senate torture reports finds the CIA was less effective and more brutal than anyone knew. Read more here.

Julia Hall — Amnesty's expert on counter-terrorism and human rights, and the author of the briefing — told VICE News that this is the clearest they've managed to be about "pairing the open-source information with the classified information that the US government had."

She has followed others in identifying Poland as "Detention Site Blue," Romania as "Detention Site Black," and Lithuania as "Detention Site Violet." In return for allowing secret detention sites to be set up, those countries were allowed to compile "wish lists" of "proposed financial assistance," resulting in the the US providing "millions of dollars in cash payments."

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The other three named countries are accused of being complicit in the CIA program, though Hall notes that this list of the CIA's European "partners in crime" is far from exhaustive.

'Without a full accountability process it can happen again.'

Hall added that the mass of evidence, when compiled, proved was that Europe was absolutely essential to the CIA operations. "Without European assistance and facilitation and complicity the US government would not have been able to hold these people and torture them to the extent that they did," she said.

Hall told VICE News that not investigating and acknowledging exactly what went on makes European countries more likely to become involved in abuses again, particularly during the period of fear following a major terror attack. "Without a full accountability process it can happen again," she said.

"The message should be that there should not be an overreaction. There should not be this kind of dispensing with rights and liberties in the interest of national security without the proper safeguards."

The Senate report's release in December led to several confessions and admissions, with one of the most immediate coming from Poland. Aleksander Kwasniewski, Polish president between 1995-2005, along with former Prime Minister Leszek Miller, called a press conference a day after the report came out, during which he admitted that he had allowed the CIA to run a secret interrogation site in their country.

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"The US side asked the Polish side to find a quiet site where it could conduct activity that would allow it to effectively obtain information from persons who had declared readiness to cooperate with the US side," Kwasniewski said. "We gave our consent to that."

Kwasniewski also claimed to have asked the US government to sign a memorandum requiring them to treat detainees in accordance with both Polish and international law, but that the US didn't sign it. Both Miller and Kwasniewski had previously denied any knowledge of the site.

However, other countries have been more reluctant to admit involvement. On the UK's role, Hall said that "there's been no independent inquiry" and "virtually no one has been held responsible." There has also been speculation that the absence of almost all information in the Senate report on the UK's role is the result of requests from British leadership.

Hall said this means that a lot of questions remain unanswered. For example, "we haven't got anywhere near the truth about how Diego Garcia has been used."

The Senate report was part of a larger 6,700-page document that remains classified. Activists and prosecutors across Europe have been calling for the CIA to release the full report, but Hall said that even without this she believes that there is enough information for prosecutors to begin to build cases against those individuals and states who have so far avoided trial.

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The Senate is not happy that the CIA censored its report on CIA torture. Read more here.

The release of the Senate's report led to a loss of moral standing for the US internationally, as states lined up to point out the hegemony's hypocrisy.

North Korea accused the US of applying "double standards," while China said they needed to "clean up their own backyard" before pontificating to others. Iran called their treatment of detainees "shameful." However, the report also implicated other countries, and globally at least 54 countries have been involved with the CIA rendition program.

Ruth Blakeley, co-director of the Rendition Project, told VICE News that the extent to which so many states were networked into a CIA-led program is "intriguing," and added that no one would be held accountable without further investigation. She said that, because of the structure of state security processes, it is still unclear which personnel within each state knew the extent of the torture.

"It is normal for the intelligence agencies of states to try and shield executive power from the dirty work that is done in the name of national security," Blakeley said. In the case of then Prime Minister Tony Blair and his foreign secretary Jack Straw, she said that even if they remained ignorant, "there is an argument that they should have known, and that… they are ultimately responsible for ensuring that all agents of the British state uphold domestic and international law, which prohibits torture in all circumstances."

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A source familiar with the redactions told VICE News in August that the removal of the names of complicit countries was initially done because of a fear of the consequences of revealing them.

"Exposing details of past intelligence cooperation with specific foreign governments could jeopardize current relationships with those governments, cause domestic political upheaval in those countries, and undermine the willingness of foreign intelligence services to work with America in the future," the source said.

VICE News exclusive: The architect of the CIA's enhanced interrogation program. Watch here.

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd

Follow Maddie Smith on Twitter: @mddiesmith

The image above shows a watch tower overlooking the area near the intelligence school just outside of Stare Kiejkuty, Poland, in December 2005. The installation has been the focal point of allegations of secret CIA prisons in the country.