By William Fisher. First published on The Public Record
Two of Europe’s most respected human rights organizations are accusing a little-known European Union agency of paying “lip service to transparency” while “covering up crucial evidence on the CIA rendition program.”
Crofton Black, an investigator for the charity, Reprieve, said the agency, called “EUROCONTROL, has the necessary information and it is able to disclose it.” He asked, “Will it step up and do the right thing? The clock is ticking.”
The requests for information have come from Reprieve and its partners, Access Info Europe. They have written to the Director General of EUROCONTROL, asking him to reconsider his denial of access to flight planning information vital to renditions accountability.
So far, EUROCONTROL is refusing to release crucial evidence relating to the CIA’s illegal renditions program, despite requests to do so by Reprieve and Access Info Europe.
Reprieve uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. It investigates, litigates and educates, and provides legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it. It promotes the rule of law around the world, and works to secure each person’s right to a fair trial.
In the past, the organizations say, EUROCONTROL “has made a significant positive contribution to the struggle for renditions accountability, disclosing portions of its records to the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and to the Danish parliament. Thanks to these disclosures, flight logs for dozens of planes, contracted by the CIA to perform sometimes illegal missions, have become available.”
The groups added, “This good track record is at risk, however, as EUROCONTROL has recently and unaccountably denied access to records for another 54 planes. These planes were unidentified at the time earlier requests were made, and represent new insights into the renditions program, particularly in its later stages.”
EUROCONTROL, the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation, is an intergovernmental organization made up of 39 Member States and the European Community. EUROCONTROL is committed to building a Single European Sky that will deliver the ATM performance required for the 21st century and beyond.
Founded in 1960, it is a civil-military organization that has developed into a vital European repository of air traffic management (ATM) excellence, both leading and supporting ATM improvements across Europe.
EUROCONTROL supports its Member States to achieve safe, efficient and environmentally-friendly air traffic operations across the whole of the European region.
EUROCONTROL is made up of 39 European member states, including the UK, all of whom are bound by freedom of information laws – and who fund its half a billion euro budget. However, the organization appears to consider itself above the laws which apply to its members when it comes to disclosure of information – even when it relates to serious criminal acts such as the renditions program.
Access Info Europe’s campaign coordinator, Lydia Medland, said: “Consistent with European and International human rights law, EUROCONTROL should now make a review of the information that they hold, and consider the public interest in this case.”
Access Info Europe is a Spanish-based human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and protecting the right of access to information in Europe and globally as a tool for defending civil liberties and human rights, for facilitating public participation in decision-making and for holding governments accountable.
Reprieve notes that, in 2005, investigators, law enforcement officials and journalists became aware of the widescale use of private US-registered aircraft, illegally to transport (‘render’) individuals captured by the US and other governments in the context of the ‘war on terror’.
Prisoners transported by this method were routinely also held incommunicado and tortured, in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights, the United Nations Convention against Torture, the Geneva Conventions and the domestic laws of all European countries.
A list of such aircraft was collected and published in two Council of Europe reports, in 2006 and 2007. Owing to the ongoing evolution of the CIA’s rendition and detention program, however, the Council’s data remained incomplete.
For the last twelve months, Reprieve and Access Info Europe say they have been building a more comprehensive overview of aircraft involved in the renditions program, and their flight routes. The list includes aircraft active before the Council of Europe reports but unknown to the Council of Europe investigators, and aircraft active after the Council of Europe reports. It currently includes 54 aircraft, all of which have substantive documentary connections to entities involved in CIA renditions operations. An interim report on this project will shortly be released.
In a letter to EUROCONTROL’s Director General David McMillan, the organizations, responding to EUROCONTROL’S denial of the records being sought, Reprieve and Access Info wrote, “We wish to explain why we consider your denial to be a very serious mistake and to urge you to reconsider most carefully in the light of your legal, social and ethical responsibilities.”
The organizations then laid out a timeline of exchanges on this issue. The said that, in 2005, investigators, law enforcement officials and journalists became aware of the wide-scale use of private US-registered aircraft, illegally to transport (‘render’) individuals captured by the US and other governments in the context of the ‘war on terror’.
Prisoners transported by this method were routinely also held Incommunicado and tortured, in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights, the United Nations Convention against Torture, the Geneva Conventions and the domestic laws of all European countries.
The organizations noted that a list of such aircraft was collected and published in two Council of Europe reports, in 2006 and 2007. Owing to the ongoing evolution of the CIA’s rendition and detention program, however, the Council’s data remained incomplete.
They reminded EUROCONTROL that, for the last twelve months, Reprieve and Access Info Europe have been building a more comprehensive overview of aircraft involved in the renditions program, and their flight routes. The list includes aircraft active before the Council of Europe reports but unknown to the Council of Europe investigators, and aircraft active after the Council of Europe reports. It currently includes 54 aircraft, all of which have substantive documentary connections to entities involved in CIA renditions operations.
The groups charge, “It is demonstrable that EUROCONTROL holds relevant data on these aircraft, is able to disclose it, and has disclosed such data in the past for the same purpose. “
It reminded McMillan that EUROCONTROL had said, ““in the context of the EU’s single European sky, the EUROCONTROL Agency is committed to promoting the objective of transparency. It is currently working on adapting its internal data rules on public disclosure.”
On 20 October 2011, therefore, EUROCONTROL was asked for information or documents relating to the movements of 54 aircraft between 2001 and 2011.
On 2 November 2011, EUROCONTROL denied an October request but failed to provide any reason, stating simply that it was not covered by the regulation (EC) No 1049/2001. But “EUROCONTROL is mistaken” in asserting that this data must remain confidential, for the following reasons:
Similar data has already been disclosed by EUROCONTROL and is freely available in the public domain. Public documents attest to the response of EUROCONTROL to a similar request in 2008, asking for records from the data warehouse and Central Route Charges Office relating to all flights billed to specific route planning and operating companies from 2001 to 2008.1 This response includes over 150 pages of precisely the same type of information that we request.
Indeed, the information request in this previous instance was far broader than our request, since it has never been suggested, nor could it be maintained, that all flights billed to these companies were in any way connected with the renditions program.
In addition, many EUROCONTROL member states have already disclosed similar information, demonstrating that this kind of data can and should be released.
In public, EUROCONTROL makes commendable claims of transparency. In its message to Access Info Europe on 12 October, the company stated a commitment to matching transparency standards set by the European regulation 1049/2001, despite not being legally bound. However, by refusing to disclose the information, or to identify a legitimate reason for non-disclosure, EUROCONTROL has failed to meet even the minimal transparency standards to which it aspires.
The alarming disparity between Euro control’s professed commitment and its actions highlights a dangerous gap in European transparency standards. If small bodies holding public information cannot meet national standards, both national and EU transparency efforts can be swiftly undermined. Access Info Europe calls on all bodies that hold public information to uphold at least the same transparency standards as their member states.
There is an overriding public interest obligation on EUROCONTROL to disclose the records we have requested. EUROCONTROL is the primary – and in some cases the only – repository of information crucial to the investigation of serious crimes and breaches of rights recognized by the European Convention and other conventions cited above.
As such, EUROCONTROL has a duty to comply with any such investigation, and any failure to disclose relevant information would render it complicit in the continuing cover-up of these crimes.
The signatories to the letter are awaiting Euro control’s response.
William Fisher has managed economic development programs for the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in the Middle East, North Africa, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere for the past 25 years. He has supervised major multi-year projects for AID in Egypt, where he lived and worked for three years. He returned later with his team to design Egypt’s agricultural strategy. Fisher served in the international affairs area in the administration of President John F. Kennedy. He began his working life as a reporter and bureau chief for the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Associated Press in Florida. He now reports on a wide-range of issues for a number of online journals.