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Eu terror chief protects cia prisons { April 21 2006 }

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EU terror chief lacks proof of CIA prisons
By Dan Bilefsky International Herald Tribune

FRIDAY, APRIL 21, 2006

BRUSSELS The European Union's anti-terrorism chief told a hearing Thursday that he had not been able to prove that secret CIA prisons existed in Europe.

"We've heard all kinds of allegations," the official, Gijs de Vries, said before a packed Chamber of Deputies. "It does not appear to be proven beyond reasonable doubt."

But de Vries came under criticism from some legislators who called the hearing a whitewash.

"The circumstantial evidence is stunning," said Kathalijne Buitenweg, a Dutch member of Parliament from the Greens. "I'm appalled that we keep calling to uphold human rights while pretending that these rendition centers don't exist and doing nothing about it."

Allegations that the CIA hid and interrogated Al Qaeda suspects at compounds in Eastern Europe, reported Nov. 2 in The Washington Post, has raised trans-Atlantic tensions and embarrassed European governments.

De Vries said the European Parliament investigation, and a similar probe by the Council of Europe, had not uncovered rights abuses, despite more than 50 hours of testimony by rights activists and people who say they were abducted by CIA agents.

A number of legislators challenged de Vries, saying he did not take seriously earlier testimony by a German and a Canadian, both of whom gave accounts of being kidnapped and kept imprisoned by foreign agents.

The committee also heard Thursday from a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan who said, "I can attest to the willingness of the U.S. and the U.K. to obtain intelligence that was got under torture in Uzbekistan. If they were not willing, then rendition prisons could not have existed."

But Craig Murray, who was recalled from his job in 2004 after condemning the Uzbek authorities and criticizing the British and American governments, told the committee that he had no proof that detention centers existed within Europe.

He said he had witnessed such rendition programs in Uzbekistan, but he seemed to back up de Vries's assertion when he said he was not aware of anyone being brought to Uzbekistan from Europe.

"As far as I know, that never happened," he said.

While he was ambassador, Murray made many public statements condemning the regime of President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan for its human rights record. At the time, Washington was using Uzbekistan as a base for U.S. operations in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Murray, who has been criticized by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of Britain for breaching diplomatic protocol, has written an account of his experiences called "Murder in Samarkand" that is to be made into a film by the British director Michael Winterbottom.

Murray said that Washington and London used intelligence extracted by torture in countries ranging from Syria to Morocco, but that American and European officials did not conduct the torture themselves.

In January, Dick Marty, a Swiss investigator for the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog organization, said there was evidence that the United States was engaged in a system of "outsourcing of torture." But he, too, did not offer irrefutable proof of clandestine CIA prisons in Europe.

He said it was "highly unlikely" that European governments or their intelligence services were not aware of a system of "relocation" or "outsourcing of torture."

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