An EU investigator said Wednesday he has evidence to suggest that a Ukrainian airstrip was used by CIA-operated planes involved in the U.S. extraordinary rendition program.
Giovanni Fava said he was also looking into possible CIA use of a military facility at a Ukrainian base. Fava, an Italian member of the European Parliament, drafted a report last year identifying more than 1,000 secret CIA flights with stopovers on European territory since 2001. He identified several of them as being used to transfer “terror” suspects.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Anatoly Gritsenko, in a telephone interview with The Associated Press, dismissed Fava’s statements on the use of Ukrainian airspace by CIA planes and the use of a military base, calling them “nonsense.” He declined further comment.
CIA Spokesman Mark Mansfield declined to comment directly on the charges regarding Ukraine and extraordinary renditions – moving “terrorism” suspects from country to country.
“Separate and apart from these allegations, there are several points I would make about renditions,” he said. “They have been conducted within the law. They have been carried out responsibly and with purpose.”
Mansfield said the practice had disrupted potential attacks and allowed the U.S. and its allies to gain intelligence on “terrorists”.
In a report earlier this year, Swiss investigator Dick Marty accused the CIA of running secret prisons in Poland and Romania to interrogate key “terror” suspects. He said prisoners were typically shackled and handcuffed, kept naked and in isolation.
The CIA, while stopping short of a denial, said the report was “distorted.” Poland and Romania vehemently denied the charges.
John Bellinger, Legal Adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State, said that while there have been CIA flights over Europe or flights with stopovers, they may have simply carried intelligence experts, “counterterrorist” officials or forensic evidence.
Fava and fellow Italian EU lawmaker Giulietto Chiesa cited what they said was a secret Ukrainian government document they had seen authorizing the landing of a CIA-operated Gulfstream jet plane five times in August 2005.
They said the plane was earlier used in the transfer of Egyptian cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, who was abducted from a street in Milan, Italy, before being flown to U.S. bases in Italy and Germany and finally moved to Egypt.
“The plane was consistently used by the CIA,” Fava told a news conference.
Andrei Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, said that “according to the information provided,” no such CIA-operated planes ever entered Ukrainian airspace.
Fava said the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee will follow up on his evidence with a report in several months.
A purported Egyptian government fax intercepted by the Swiss foreign intelligence agency, published in a Swiss newspaper in 2006, singled out Ukraine as one of the countries allegedly housing a U.S. detention facility.
The European Parliament’s inquiry into CIA operations in Europe started in January, following media reports that U.S. intelligence officers interrogated al-Qaida suspects at secret prisons in Eastern Europe and transported some to locations further afield on secret flights that passed through Europe following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
New York-based Human Rights Watch also identified Romania and Poland as possible hosts of secret U.S.-run detention facilities.
Clandestine detention centers and the secret transfer of “terrorist” suspects via Europe to countries where they could face torture – a process known in intelligence jargon as “extraordinary rendition” – would breach the continent’s human rights treaties.