- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 11, 2005

BRUSSELS — A previously unpublished document shows that the European Union secretly agreed in 2003 to let the United States use transit facilities on European soil to transport “criminals.”

The revelation supports U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s strong suggestion last week that so-called “rendition” flights were undertaken with the approval of other governments, despite denials by European officials.

The issue of rendition flights — in which terror suspects are flown to secret bases and third countries for interrogation — dominated Miss Rice’s fence-mending visit to Europe last week, with officials of several countries demanding explanations of press reports about the use of European airports for rendition flights.

Miss Rice denied at the start of the trip that suspects were transported to be tortured but said that, in certain circumstances, “the local government can make the sovereign choice to cooperate in” the transfer of a terror suspect to a third country.

Now, newly disclosed details of confidential talks held in Athens on Jan. 22, 2003, show that EU officials agreed to give the United States access to facilities — presumably airports. The minutes show that the war on terrorism was discussed at the meeting, but all references to the agreement were deleted from the record before it was published.

The minutes were prepared by Greek officials — who at the time held the rotating EU presidency — after the talks with a U.S. delegation headed by a Justice Department official. EU officials confirmed that a full account was circulated to all member governments.

The document, titled “New Transatlantic Agenda, EU-US meeting on Justice and Home Affairs,” details the subjects discussed by the 31 persons present. The agenda included the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and extradition agreements.

According to the full version, “Both sides agreed on areas where cooperation could be improved [including] the exchange of data between border management services, increased use of European transit facilities to support the return of criminal/inadmissible aliens, co-ordination with regard to false documents training and improving the co-operation in removals.”

A spokesman for the EU Council of Ministers said this section was deleted along with others referring to U.S. policy as a “courtesy” to Washington.

The original document was first obtained by Statewatch, a private group monitoring civil liberties in the European Union.

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