A quest for accountability? EU and Member State inquiries into the CIA Rendition and Secret Detention Programme


Authors: Prof. Didier Bigo, Dr Sergio Carrera, Prof. Elspeth Guild, and Dr Raluca Radescu.

At the request of the LIBE Committee, this study assesses the extent to which EU Member States have delivered accountability for their complicity in the US CIA-led extraordinary rendition and secret detention programme and its serious human rights violations. It offers a scoreboard of political inquiries and judicial investigations in supranational and national arenas in relation to Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and the United Kingdom. The study takes as a starting point two recent and far-reaching developments in delivering accountability and establishing the truth: the publication of the executive summary of the US Senate Intelligence Committee (Feinstein) Report and new European Court of Human Rights judgments regarding EU Member States’ complicity with the CIA. The study identifies significant obstacles to further accountability in the five EU Member States under investigation: notably the lack of independent and effective official investigations and the use of the ‘state secrets doctrine’ to prevent disclosure of the facts, evade responsibility and hinder redress to the victims. The study puts forward a set of policy recommendations for the European Parliament to address these obstacles to effective accountability.


Although much has been done over the last ten years to overcome major obstacles to ensuring democratic and judicial accountability in respect of EU Member States’ complicity in the unlawful US CIA-led extraordinary rendition and secret detention programme, much remains to be done to uncover the truth and hold those responsible accountable for their actions.

This study takes as a starting point two recent and highly significant developments that have helped to shed light on, and establish accountability for, the actions of EU Member States engaged in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) rendition and detention programme. The first is the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee “Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program” (also known as the Feinstein Report) published in December 2014, which provided further evidence of the nature of the relationship between the CIA and several European state authorities and their wrongdoing. The second is the collection of recent judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), particularly in the Al Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah cases, which have helped to provide substantive rule of law standards against which to measure national political inquiries and judicial investigations.

Through the prism of these two important recent developments, this study builds on the 2012 European Parliament study on “The results of inquiries into the CIA’s programme of extraordinary rendition and secret prisons in European states in light of the new legal framework following the Lisbon treaty”. First (section 2), it pinpoints the critical findings of the Feinstein Report and their relevance for EU Member State inquiries, in particular the new revelations that: the CIA was isolated both nationally and internationally; European states that collaborated with the CIA were quick to withdraw assistance when scrutiny increased, leaving the CIA on the run; the UK failed to refute unfounded CIA claims about the intelligence value of information extracted by torture; and the CIA paid large sums of money to cooperative Member States. The study also examines the media controversy provoked by the release of the Feinstein Report and the efforts made by certain actors to undermine its findings.

The study then (section 3) offers an up-to-date account of political inquiries and judicial investigations in five Member States (Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and the United Kingdom). It argues that, while political inquiries and domestic judicial investigations have been or are being conducted in all five Member States and there have been ECtHR cases regarding all but the UK, they have all been beset by obstacles to accountability. The response of the EU institutions is also analysed. While it is acknowledged that the European Commission has taken tentative steps to encouraging accountability (notably in sending letters to Member States in 2013 to request information on investigations underway), it is found that neither the Commission nor the Council have properly followed up on the European Parliament’s recommendations.

After providing a detailed analysis of the recent ECtHR judgments in the Al Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah cases (section 4) and detailing the rule of law benchmarks against which the effectiveness of national investigations can be tested, the study then measures the national political inquiries and judicial investigations and finds them wanting, either because of a lack of independence or because national security or state secrets have been invoked to prevent disclosure of the facts (section 5).

Finally, the study examines what has prevented EU institutions from taking effective action in response to the CIA programme (section 6). It finds a general lack of political will exacerbated by an absence of a clear enforcement mechanism to ensure compliance with the rule of law as laid down in Article 2 TEU, meaning that the important step taken by the Commission to send letters to Member States is bereft of a clear legal framework.

In light of the above considerations, the Study formulates the following policy recommendations to the European Parliament:

Recommendation 1: The Parliament, particularly the LIBE Committee, should establish regular structured dialogue with relevant counterparts in the U.S. Congress and Senate, which would provide a new framework for sharing information and cooperating more closely on interrelated inquiries in the expanding policy field of Justice and Home Affairs.

Recommendation 2: The Parliament should use the recent LIBE Committee decision to draw up a Legislative Own-Initiative Report on an EU mechanism on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights to develop and bring further legal certainty to the activation phases preceding the use of Article 7 TEU. Parliament should also insist that the Commission periodically evaluate Member States’ compliance with fundamental rights and the rule of law under a new ‘Copenhagen Mechanism’ to feed into a new EU Policy Cycle on fundamental rights and rule of law in the Union.

Recommendation 3: The Parliament should adopt a Professional Code for the transnational management and accountability of data in the EU. The Code would outline where ‘national security’ and ‘state secrets’ cannot be invoked (i.e. define what national security is not). It would additionally lay down clear rules aimed at preventing the use and processing of information originating from torture or any related human rights violations.

Recommendation 4: The Parliament should demand that the Commission properly follow up on its resolutions and recommendations.

Recommendation 5: The Parliament should call on the President of the European Council to issue an official statement on the rendition programme to the Plenary, stating clearly the degree of Member States’ complicity and detailing obstacles to proper accountability and justice for the victims.

Recommendation 6: The Parliament should call for effective judicial investigations into the Feinstein Report’s findings that the CIA paid large sums of money to Member States for their complicity in the rendition programme, which amount to allegations of corruption.

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