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What was the Netherlands’ role in the CIA terror flights?

February 14th, 2013 • Last week saw published the report by the Open Society, 'Globalizing Torture'. The report concerns the locking up, transportation and torture – under the authority of the CIA - of suspected terrorists. In it twenty-three European countries are accused of joint responsibility for the Americans’ abuses of human rights. It says only that the Netherlands denies any involvement, but aid to these illegal CIA practices was almost certainly given.

Harry van Bommel is a Member of Parliament for the SP. Karel Koster works in the party’s research department.

It has been confirmed that planes in the service of the CIA landed or took off at least twenty-nine times in the Netherlands between July 2002 and November 2005. This conclusion was arrived at by an international cooperation group of plane-spotters, journalists and researchers who at the end of 2005 assembled a highly detailed picture of the flights in the service of the CIA transport fleet which flew in civilian disguise. This research was based on data from air traffic control, direct observations by plane-spotters and an investigation by American journalists into box number firms which kept their legal distance but were actually under the control of the owner of the aircraft which conducted the rendition flights. This picture was further confirmed in the national daily NRC Handelsblad of 15th February 2006 on the basis of flight data from the Transport Ministry.

Quizzed about this by Parliament at the end of 2005, Foreign Minister Ben Bot, in a letter dated 21st February 2006, stated ‘that the government is not aware of any CIA flights through Dutch territory with irregularly detained terrorist suspects.’ At the same time he acknowledged that ‘prior information on cargo and passengers does not have to be supplied.’ The Royal Military Police can ‘only in the event of material suspicion of a criminal act institute an investigative enquiry’. So there can therefore have been no such suspicion, declared the minister in a subsequent Parliamentary debate, stating on 16th March 2006 that ‘We do not cooperate in extraordinary renditions of terrorist suspects. We have no concrete evidence, let alone proof.’ It is possible that the Netherlands received a clean bill of health in the Open Society report because ‘only’ hospitality was extended to the CIA flights on through journeys, on their way to the next transport, or that they concerned prisoners who are not on the list of names given in the report on which the investigation is based.

Under Obama no end has been put to these flights. The oft-quoted Presidential Executive Order of January 2009, forbidding torture, in fact left the possibility open of continuing rendition flights and of putting detainees away in secret prisons. This can also be found in the report: for example in Somalia the CIA was closely involved in the management of such an interrogations centre. Official reports on the rendition flights and on torture from inquiries by the United States Senate and from the inspectorate-general of the CIA remain classified. Those responsible for the torture practices have not been prosecuted.

In Obama’s second term this policy is likely to continue, given that the President’s nominee to Congress to head the CIA, John Brennan, was closely involved in the drone-based targeted killing programme. This represents the final movement of the rendition suite: if arrest proves too difficult, a death sentence is issued. This is stated also, in so many words, in the recently leaked US Department of Justice memorandum.

The report from the Open Society, in common with a series of earlier reports from the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, once again called attention to the systematic abuse of human rights, even under the Nobel Peace Laureate Barack Obama. The government of the Netherlands would do well to follow the report’s advice, beginning with the establishment of a Commission of Enquiry to discern what information on the rendition and torture practices was available to the Dutch authorities between 2001 and 2005 and what steps they took against these criminal activities on the part of our allies. We will, in any case, be pushing hard for them to do this.

This article first appeared, in Dutch, on the website joop.nl

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