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E.U. member nations warned on CIA jails

Luke Harding

Germany fears it was hub for "rendition" flights

Berlin: The European Union's top justice official has warned that any E.U. country found to have operated secret CIA prisons could lose its voting rights.

In a move that increases pressure on the U.S. to explain the activities of the CIA, justice and home affairs commissioner Franco Frattini said there would be ``serious consequences'' if reports of CIA jails in Europe turned out to be true.

``I would be obliged to propose to the Council [of E.U. Ministers] serious consequences, including the suspension of voting rights in the Council,'' Mr. Frattini said at a counter-terrorism meeting in Berlin.

Mr. Frattini's remarks follow claims that the CIA set up a covert network of ``black sites'' in eastern Europe in the wake of September 11. Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch claimed that the agency secretly interrogated Al-Qaeda suspects at Soviet-era jails in Poland and Romania. Both countries deny it. Poland's President Aleksander Kwasniewski reiterated in a broadcast by news station TVN24 that his country has never hosted any CIA prisoners.

U.S. urged to clarify

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has urged the Bush administration to clarify the issue amid further reports that secret CIA planes carrying terrorist suspects regularly stopped off in several European countries. Germany's Foreign Minister Franz-Walter Steinmeier will raise the subject during his first visit to Washington. His symbolic fence-mending trip to the U.S. has been overshadowed by new allegations that the CIA used Germany as a hub for its so-called ``rendition'' flights. During the flights Islamist prisoners were allegedly transferred to third countries where they could be interrogated beyond the reach of international human rights legislation.

Last week, the Berliner Zeitung reported that at least six CIA planes had touched down at Frankfurt's Rhein-Main air base. The claims are embarrassing for Angela Merkel, Germany's new Chancellor, who wants to repair relations with the U.S. Several European governments have launched their own investigations into clandestine CIA prisoner-transfer landings.

The European Commission has also asked the U.S. to confirm the existence of secret CIA military jails, which almost certainly breach the European convention on human rights and the international convention against torture.

- Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

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