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EU official: No evidence of illegal CIA action

Antiterror chief advises committee

BRUSSELS -- Investigations into reports that US agents shipped prisoners through European airports to secret detention centers have produced no evidence of illegal CIA activities, the European Union's antiterrorism coordinator said yesterday.

The investigations also have not turned up any proof of secret renditions of terror suspects on EU territory, Gijs de Vries told a European Parliament committee investigating the allegations.

The European Parliament's probe and a similar one by the continent's leading human rights watchdog are looking into whether US intelligence agents interrogated Al Qaeda suspects at secret prisons in Eastern Europe and transported some on secret flights through Europe.

But so far investigators have not identified any human rights violations, despite more than 50 hours of testimony by human rights activists and individuals who said they were abducted by US intelligence agents, de Vries said.

''We've heard all kinds of allegations, impressions; we've heard also refutations. It's up to your committee to weigh if they are true. It does not appear to be proven beyond reasonable doubt," he said. ''There has not been, to my knowledge, evidence that these illegal renditions have taken place."

De Vries was invited to appear before the investigating committee yesterday and made his comments in response to members' questions. It was his first update since the investigation began in January.

De Vries came under sharp criticism from the EU parliamentarians for refusing to consider earlier testimonies from a German and a Canadian who described to the committee how they were kidnapped and imprisoned by foreign agents, and from a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan who alleged that British intelligence services used information obtained under torture.

''There is so much circumstantial evidence, you can't close your eyes from the fact that this is probably happening," Dutch deputy and civil liberties activist Kathalijne Buitenweg said.

The US has never confirmed or denied the renditions. The committee plans to go to Washington to interview former and current CIA officials and Bush administration officials.

The parliament committee is seeking firsthand testimony from people who say they were kidnapped by US intelligence agents and from human rights activists and EU antiterrorism officials to get a better picture of the reported US ''extraordinary rendition" flights.

The legislators also are investigating news reports of secret detention centers in Eastern Europe. They are expected to publish a final report on their findings in June.

Clandestine detention centers and secret flights via or from Europe to countries where suspects could face torture would breach the continent's human rights conventions.

De Vries told the committee no EU-US agreement authorized secret renditions of terror suspects, that hundreds of CIA flights did not occur over Europe as reported by various media organizations, and that he has no news of European countries using intelligence obtained under torture.

Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray, who was fired after alleging Britain knowingly received intelligence extracted under torture, repeated his allegations to the committee yesterday. He said the British foreign service had confirmed to him that Britain had such a policy.

''I am not privy to details of cooperation between national services, whether inside the EU or with third partners. That is under full control of national parliaments," de Vries said.

De Vries said EU governments would wait for the European Parliament and Council of Europe investigations to finish before responding to them.

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