U.S. Pressured Over CIA Flights

Spain's San Joan Palma de Mallorca airport is seen in this Aug. 27, 2005, file photo. European investigations into alleged CIA abductions of Islamic terror suspects have reached Spain, with a court saying Monday Nov. 14, 2005, that it had received a prosecutor's report on allegations that the CIA used a Spanish airport on island of Mallorca.
The United States is coming under increasing pressure from European governments to reply to charges that planes with alleged links to CIA prisoner transports have quietly touched down in their countries.

From Portugal to Iceland, reports of landings by private jets that have allegedly been used for the CIA's extraordinary renditions program have added fuel to already burning criticism of the treatment of prisoners in the U.S.-led war on terror.

"This is proof that we are cooperating too intimately with the CIA and the American government in the so-called war on terror," Sweden's Left Party leader Lars Ohly told the AP. He was referring to reports by Swedish news agency TT that CIA planes had landed in 2002 and in September this year.

The reports of possible CIA flights in at least six European countries since 2001 come at a time when the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog, is investigating allegations that the U.S. intelligence agency set up secret prisons at Soviet-era compounds in Eastern Europe.

Most of the aircraft are small, private jets that are on a list of planes believed to be used by the CIA, according to American media reports.

The civilian nature of the aircraft could cloud inquiries. If they were on civilian business, they would not be required to contact European authorities for permission to fly over or land.

However, if they were on CIA or other American government missions, European rules require them to report in.

"If these allegations turn out to be true, the crucial thing is whether these flights landed in the member states with or without the knowledge and approval of the authorities," Council of Europe Secretary-General Terry Davis said.

The CIA has repeatedly declined to comment on reports it has transported terror suspects through European countries.

"What's good is that the governments screaming about this makes it harder for the CIA to conduct illegal activity," John Sifton, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, said by telephone from New York.

The group claims to have obtained CIA flight plans that show aircraft transferring prisoners from Afghanistan to Hungary and Poland.

Iceland's Channel 2 television reported that the aircraft had landed at least 67 times on the Atlantic island nation, a traditional refueling spot for flights between Europe and the United States.

A spokesman for Icelandic Prime Minister Halldor Asgrimsson said the government had no knowledge of such flights, but had asked U.S. authorities for an explanation without getting an answer.

"This is something the Icelandic government does not accept," spokesman Steingrimur Olafsson said.

Similar concerns have arisen in Portugal and Spain, where a judge is investigating reports that at least 10 CIA flights landed in Mallorca between January 2004 to January 2005 as part of the program in which Islamic terror suspects are taken without court approval to third countries for questioning and possibly subjected to ill-treatment.