Spain probes CIA “rendition” claims

Spain has joined Italy in launching an investigation of claims the CIA is operating a “rendition fleet” to transfer detainees to facilities in a secret gulag maintained in various host countries. From the AP, Nov. 15:

MADRID, Spain — The interior minister said Tuesday a judge is investigating alleged CIA use of a Spanish airport as part of a covert program for transporting suspected Islamic terrorists.

“If it were confirmed that this is true, we would be faced with extremely serious circumstances, events that are intolerable because they violate rules for treating people, prisoners, in a society and a democratic political and legal system,” Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso said.

A police investigation of the alleged prisoner transfers at Palma airport on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca has reached a higher level, having been passed on to a judge, he said.

But Defense Minister Jose Bono said Spain has no evidence the CIA used any Spanish airport illegally. He denied a report in the newspaper El Pais that Spanish intelligence knew of CIA use of the Palma airport earlier this year and urged the CIA to stop the practice.

“We have no proof or even evidence that illicit activities took place, much less ones that might be classified as a crime,” Bono told reporters. He said he had spoken to police chiefs specifically about this issue.

“I am not prepared to point fingers at a government or a country that is an ally, over mere suppositions of which we have no proof,” Bono said.

Earlier inquiry halted

Bartomeu Barcelo, chief prosecutor for the Balearic islands, which include Mallorca, said he had investigated the case in March. He concluded that there was a lack of evidence to press charges and halted the inquiry.

“As we had no material to keep moving ahead, for this reason we agreed to halt” the probe, Barcelo told reporters in Palma.

That investigation began after a newspaper in Palma, Diario de Mallorca, reported a series of suspicious flights arriving and taking off from the city’s airports.

Earlier this month, the paper reported that in one case, a CIA flight that left from Palma in January 2004 was involved in the alleged kidnapping of Khaled al-Masri, a Lebanese-born German national. Al-Masri says he was abducted in Macedonia, taken to Afghanistan, beaten and interrogated over his alleged ties to al-Qaida.

El Pais reported that at least 10 CIA flights had used the Palma airport. The flights’ destinations included Libya, Morocco, Ireland and Sweden, and their countries of origin included Algeria, Romania and Egypt, it said.

Concern over rights violations

The U.S. government has been criticized by human rights groups for practicing “extraordinary rendition” — sending suspected terrorists to foreign countries, where they are detained, interrogated and subjected to possible ill treatment.

Barcelo said after he halted his inquiry, an investigative magistrate in Mallorca, Antonio Garcia Sansaloni, launched a separate one based on evidence gathered by police who had been working under Barcelo.

He said assertions Monday by officials at the National Court that the tribunal had already received the police report were erroneous.

Garcia Sansaloni later ruled that he did not have jurisdiction to decide whether to seek charges. He said if a crime was committed, it happened abroad and thus the case should go to the National Court, which under Spanish law can prosecute human rights crimes alleged to have been committed outside Spain.

Barcelo said he has filed a procedural appeal arguing that the judge’s ruling failed to go into detail over what crime may have been committed and who the alleged perpetrators and victims were.

It is now up to the investigating magistrate to decide whether to accept the prosecutor’s appeal and flesh out the ruling before sending the police report to the National Court.

The CIA on Monday declined to comment on the reports.

Related cases

Italy and Germany also are investigating the alleged CIA abduction of a suspected Islamic extremist.

Italian prosecutors are seeking the extradition of 22 purported CIA operatives accused of kidnapping an Egyptian cleric, Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, in 2003 in Milan.

German prosecutors are investigating the same case on grounds that one of the CIA agents may have touched German soil when the plane carrying the suspect to Egypt passed through Ramstein Air Base. The base is considered U.S. territory. Nasr was allegedly tortured in Egypt.

By the way, did you catch the reference to Libya, of all places? Is Qadaffi’s capitulation that complete? Or is he, like the formerly anti-imperialist Algerian generals, threatened by Islamist unrest within his own police state?

See our last post on the torture scandal.