BURGDORF, Switzerland – The head of a European investigation into alleged CIA prisons on the continent on Friday accused the United States of violating international human rights law in its war on terror.
Dick Marty, the Swiss lawmaker leading the probe on behalf of the Council of Europe, said there was no question the CIA was undertaking illegal activities in Europe in its transportation and detention of terror suspects.
"The strategy in place today respects neither human rights nor the Geneva Conventions," Marty said at a news conference in the Swiss town of Burgdorf. "The current administration in Washington is trying to combat terrorism outside legal means, the rule of law."
The Council of Europe, the continent's main human rights watchdog, began its investigation after allegations surfaced in November that U.S. agents interrogated key Al Qaeda suspects at clandestine prisons in Eastern Europe and transported some suspects to other countries via Europe.
New York-based Human Rights Watch identified Romania and Poland as possible sites of secret U.S.-run detention facilities. Both countries have denied involvement.
Marty said European countries had "a fairly shocking attitude" toward U.S. policies and that attention should not be focused solely on Romania and Poland.
"The question is: Was the CIA really working in Europe? I believe we can say today, without a doubt, yes," he said.
"All the indications are that this 'extraordinary rendition' was already known about," Marty said, referring to the CIA program of transferring terrorism suspects to third countries where harsher interrogation methods, including torture, are allowed.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has refused to address questions about clandestine CIA detention centers but says the United States acts within the law.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday he did not have a particular comment on Marty's remarks, adding that the U.S. has publicly addressed the issues in the past.
"The secretary had a good set of discussions with her foreign minister counterparts during her most recent trip to Europe, and I would expect that dialogue would continue," McCormack said in Washington. "It is a dialogue of mutual respect."
Marty referred to the case of the Egyptian cleric and terrorist suspect Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, to support his claim.
Italian prosecutors claim he was abducted from a Milan street in 2003 and taken by the CIA to a joint U.S.-Italian air base, flown to Germany and then to Egypt. Prosecutors have sought to extradite 22 purported CIA operatives from the United States, although the Justice Ministry in Italy has not yet decided whether to forward the requests to Washington.
Italy also has issued European arrest warrants for them, meaning they could be detained if they travel to any of the 25 member countries of the European Union.