The secret flight plans of American military planes have revealed for the first time how European countries helped send prisoners, including British citizens, to the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
Despite widespread criticism of alleged human rights abuses and torture at the US base in Cuba, a Sunday Times investigation has shown that at least five European countries gave the United States permission to fly nearly 700 terrorist suspects across their territory.
Last week, Europe’s leading watchdog on human rights alleged that European countries had breached the international convention against torture by giving the US secret permission to use its airspace.
Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, said: “What happened at Guantanamo was torture and it is illegal to provide facilities or anything to make this torture possible. Under the law, European governments should have intervened and should not have given permission to let these flights happen.”
Gomes added: “It’s clear to me that Guantanamo could not have been created without the involvement of European countries.
Having done my fair share of reading on the Convention against Torture, and the ban contained in it against refoulment, of sending people out of your country to a country where you know they are likely to be tortured, I think the result of this, whether there is any outcry at all may be an interesting acid test of the provisions effectiveness in international law.
So far it looks like the legal obligation is worth very little, if it can be avoided by such a simple obfuscation of military flights. Indeed it would seem that the more organized and systematic the torture, the more and higher the level of state involvement, the more other states are willing to acquiesce in it.
That would totally disembowel the fundamental ethos of the Convention, protecting against state sanctioned torture. Instead as far as refoulment was concerned, it would be increasingly permissive as the state sanction increases. I may be overstating the argument a tad, but I believe this is one credible interpretation of where the norm is going.
Good for Rotania, not so good for the rest of us.