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RIGHTS: CIA Flights Haunt Romania

Claudia Ciobanu

BUCHAREST, May 7 2008 (IPS) - Romania has still not convincingly answered repeated calls from the European Commission and others to clarify allegations that it hosted CIA detention centres and that rendition flights passed through its territory.

Authoritative investigations conducted by the Council of Europe, the European Parliament (EP), Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as numerous journalistic reports, claim that Romanian air space was transited by flights used for extraordinary rendition by the CIA (the Central Intelligence Agency of the U.S.).

Some of the investigators, such as Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty, further maintained that secret detention facilities run by the CIA – often referred to as “black sites” – were located in Romania.

On Apr. 22, the Romanian Senate validated by vote the final report of a special parliamentary commission investigating Romania’s connections with the CIA rendition scheme. The report denies allegations that CIA detention centres existed in this country, that civilian flights operated by the U.S. or other states transported, dropped off or picked up detainees on the territory of Romania, or that Romanian institutions participated, either actively or through omission or negligence, in the illegal transport of prisoners through the country.

Most of the proof that the commission says supports these conclusions is classified at the moment. The European Commission (EC) has repeatedly asked the Romanian government to provide details of the parliamentary investigation. But, while members of the Romanian commission say they have called for the declassification of the documents, Frisco Roscam-Abbing, spokesperson for the EC on matters of justice, freedom and security, told IPS the EC has not yet received an answer to its demands.

In its report, the Romanian commission repeatedly states that allegations concerning Romania stem mostly from media reports and are not founded on sound evidence. “Both (Dick) Marty reports and the final (EP rapporteur Claudio) Fava report paid particular attention to Poland and Romania, bringing serious accusations against our country based on “clues”, “opinions”, “probabilities”, “extrapolations”, “logical deductions”, thus reaching conclusions considered to be “certain”, write the Romanian parliamentarians.

But Romanian MEP (Member of European Parliament) Renate Weber (from the Alliance of Liberal and Democrats for Europe, ALDE) says questioning the strength of the evidence presented by Marty and Fava is no defence for Romania.

“The parliamentary commission invoked the claim that those who make the allegations must provide the evidence, and often accused the Fava and Marty reports of being unsubstantiated, but they also did not provide access to those documents which could make such substantiation possible,” Weber told IPS. “These documents must be made available to the European Commission and Parliament. This is the only way Romania can clear its name in relation to these allegations.”

The Romanian report says that the members of its commission have personally visited the alleged locations of detention centres, and sought the help of analysts to read satellite images of those sites. Of particular interest were the Mihail Kogalniceanu airport and U.S.-run military base in Constanta, next to the Black Sea. A new building, which could have been used as a “black site”, had been erected in the military sector at Kogalniceanu in the period detainees were allegedly held in Romania. But the commission concluded that none of the suspected sites could have been used for the detention of prisoners.

The report further states that “Romania granted access to any investigators and journalists to the airport (Kogalniceanu) facilities, as soon as allegations appeared in the media.” Romanian President Traian Basescu had similarly stated that locations of alleged “black sites” are open for anyone to visit.

But Renate Weber says such statements are cynical. As she explains, “a detention centre needn’t be a prison built by a contracted company, it can be even a barrack built in the desert and brought down after 24 hours.

“Therefore, from this point of view, I do not think that all possible investigations regarding the existence of detention centres in Romania were completed,” Weber said.

Although it denies prisoners being transferred through this country, the parliamentary report does acknowledge that CIA flights passed through Romania. The classified annexes of the report are said to answer questions posed by Dick Marty regarding 43 such flights, most of them transiting the country between 2003 and 2004. The publicised part of the report refers to only eight of them.

The report mentions N313P among the planes transiting Romania. According to Amnesty International and others, this Boeing 737, then owned by Premier Executive Transport, one of the CIA front companies, carried prisoner Khaled El-Masri from Skopje (Macedonia) to Kabul (Afghanistan) Jan. 24, 2004. The parliamentary report shows this plane entered Romania the following day, Jan. 25, en route from Kabul to Palma de Mallorca (Spain), and stopped to refuel at Baneasa airport in Bucharest. The same plane had previously transited Romania Sept. 22, 2003, coming from Szymany (an airport in Poland considered to be a part of the rendition scheme) and going to Rabat (Morocco).

Also passing through Romania was N379P, a Gulfstream 5 then owned by the same Premier Executive Transport. According to the parliamentary report, the plane stopped at Baneasa for refuelling on Oct. 25, 2003, on its way from Prague (the Czech Republic) to Amman (Jordan). Associated with several documented cases of rendition, N379P came to be known as the “Guantanamo Bay Express”.

Two other flights mentioned in the report made stops at Kogalniceanu airport, close to the U.S. military base.

Romanian authorities deny having any information regarding passengers aboard any of these flights. Like most other governments accused of participating in the rendition scheme, Bucharest invokes the Chicago Convention on International Aviation which allows civilian flights of the signatory states to transit each other’s airspace freely, without the national authorities verifying passengers or cargo unless there are reasons to suspect the convention has been breached. Being owned and nominally operated by private companies, the CIA flights entered Romanian air space as civilian flights.

Still, Romania’s responsibility does not end with stating that CIA flights did pass through this country but that there is no evidence detainees were on board. As Claudio Fava points out in his report for the European Parliament, “under the case law of the European Convention of Human Rights…member states have an obligation to carry out investigations to ascertain whether their territory and their airspace have been used in the commission of violations of human rights, by themselves or by third countries with their necessary direct or indirect cooperation, and that they must take all legislative measures needed to prevent the recurrence of such violations.”

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