by Julio Godoy
(IPS) PARIS -- Revelations that the U.S. government maintained illegal camps to detain Muslims on European territory has led to a wave of protests across the continent and diplomatic tensions between several European capitals and Washington.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was urged by opposition and government parties alike before his first visit to Washington this week to demand information on U.S. military flights that transported illegally held detainees through German airports.
Reinhard Buetikofer, leader of the opposition Green party, said that "all parties in the German parliament have jointly called for the clearing up of the reports," and added that Steinmeier's visit to Washington was "a good occasion" for a clarification.
Steinmeier is the foreign minister in the new German coalition government formed by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party. He flew to Washington Monday on his first visit to the U.S. capital in his new capacity.
"Germany will never cross the red line of torture," minister of the interior Wolfgang Schaeuble said. "I am sure that our (U.S.) friends will do their best to correct whatever error might have been committed."
According to several reports, U.S. secret services, including the CIA, frequently used European airports in Belgium, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain between 2002 and 2005 to transfer Muslim prisoners from one secret imprisonment camp to another.
Other reports quoted firm government sources to say that the U.S. army and secret services had maintained illegal prisons for Muslim detainees in European countries, especially in Eastern Europe, in countries of the former Soviet bloc.
The aircraft used by the U.S. military and secret services flew under the cover of civilian flights, government sources have said. The U.S. government has offered no clarification on the reports published widely in the media.
Officials in Germany and in the Netherlands have admitted that such flights have continued this year. According to reports from the Netherlands, a CIA flight landed last week in Schiphol, the international airport at Amsterdam.
Dutch Minister for Foreign Affairs Ben Bot said he was not informed of such a flight, and called on the U.S. government "to clear up the affair completely."
In Hungary and Romania, heads of government Ferenc Gyurcsany and Calin Popesuc-Tareceanu have denied that the U.S. secret services and military maintain any secret prisons on their territory.
"No, there are no such prisons in Hungary," Gyurcsany told reporters. "If the U.S. government would ask U.S. for permission to build such prisons here, we would not give it."
The reports have led European Union authorities to call for sanctions against member states cooperating with the U.S. government in maintaining such camps.
Franco Frattini, European commissioner for justice, said in Berlin earlier this week that he will be obliged "to propose to the council of EU ministers serious consequences, including the suspension of voting rights in the council."
The Council of Europe has asked Swiss prosecutor Dick Marty to investigate the reports about the U.S. government. Marty is evaluating among other evidence satellite material to establish whether the U.S. government has kept secret camps in Europe.
Human rights groups claim that the U.S. government intentionally "rotates" the prisoners from one secret prison to another to avoid their identification, and that it inflicts treatments on the prisoners that amount to torture.
UN special envoy against torture Manfred Nowak says "we have since June 2004 called on the U.S. government to give U.S. access to all their camps and prisons where alleged terrorists are detained, in the U.S. territory or abroad."
The French daily Le Monde reported last week that the U.S. government had maintained a "Guantanamo-like" prison at the military base Camp Bondsteel near the Kosovo capital Pristina since 2001.
Le Monde based its revelations on statements by human rights commissioner of the European Council Alvaro Gil-Robles, who said he had seen the Camp Bondsteel prison in September 2002.
"I saw (up to) 20 prisoners in there, all wearing orange outfits like those given to detainees in Guantanamo," Gil Robles told the newspaper. He added that the whole complex, "seen from above, resembled a small-scale reconstruction of the Guantanamo prison. I was shocked by what I saw."
The U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba has been used to jail Muslim prisoners captured in Afghanistan, away from all legal jurisdictions.
Gil Robles said the U.S. authorities had given an assurance that the Camp Bondsteel prison would be immediately dismantled.
Although Camp Bondsteel is officially a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) facility, it has been described as the "largest U.S. military base (outside U.S. territory) since the Vietnam war." The camp was built in 1999, in the wake of the U.S.-led war against the Serbian leadership. It has been the main prison used by NATO forces deployed in Kosovo for the past six years.
NATO attacked Serbia in 1999 on the grounds that Serbian forces were carrying out ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and committing massive human rights violations. Now it seems that the U.S. government has abused this military facility to violate the rights of prisoners.
Amnesty International says NATO forces in Kosovo continue to violate international norms through extra-judicial detentions. It said in a report last year that "questions remain" about the access of the European Committee to Prevent Torture to Camp Bondsteel.
Marik Antoni Nowicki, the ombudsman for Kosovo, has said the prison at Camp Bondsteel "was for a long period beyond all civilian control," and that the European Committee to Prevent Torture was never allowed to visit the camp.
November 30, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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