< Viewpoints < 2006


"Fight terrorism by legal means"

[03/04/06] It is important that the Council of Europe is investigating the activities of the US security services in Europe. Illegal arrests, enforced transport of wrongfully detained people, secret places of detention and brutal interrogation methods are all violations of human rights. European countries should not accept these methods and still less facilitate such activities.

Terrorism is an evil which strikes at our democratic values, not least the right to life and other human rights. It should be condemned and fought, but we should not, repeat not, - use the same methods as the terrorists themselves. The struggle against terrorism must be conducted by legal means and with full respect for human rights standards.

That has not been the case since 11 September 2001. The US security service has been given extraordinary powers. Aliens are kidnapped and taken to Guantánamo or to secret prisons in other countries, or handed over to security services which practise torture and with which the CIA collaborates closely – as in the case of the two Egyptians who were deported from Sweden.

Detainees are not given a chance to challenge their detention or even communicate with a lawyer. They have been placed outside any jurisdiction, in a sort of legal “black hole”. Some of them have been taken to secret places of detention. The US Government does not even recognise its obligation to account for the names of those taken away.

The interrogation methods used on the detainees violate international rules. The pictures that we have seen from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq only represent a fragment of the truth. It has now been proved beyond all doubt that torture is used in American interrogation centres in Afghanistan, Iraq, the prison camp in Guantánamo and other places.

The “war on terror” has not even been effective, which is hardly surprising, since previous experience shows that torture is not an effective way of collecting reliable information. In fact the use of such methods has further encouraged terrorism.

But the main issue here is that these violations have undermined the core legal principles that the international community has established in the years since the Second World War. It is all the more disappointing that there has not been stronger opposition to this undermining of agreed standards.

National security services in several European countries have collaborated closely with the American CIA, particularly since 11 September. The exchange of information between the security agencies of democracies is indeed essential for protection against extremists and the perpetrators of violence. It should also be accepted that such collaboration must to some degree be confidential.

However, this secrecy should not be allowed to cover up human rights violations. When the Swedish Parliament – through its standing committee on constitutional matters – first tried to get the facts about the deportation of the two Egyptians, the government deliberately concealed the fact that the two asylum-seekers had been handed over to CIA agents at a Swedish airport.

In that case the true story came out later through a team of investigative journalists. Both the Parliamentary Committee and the UN Committee against Torture later voiced criticisms, but the Swedish Government has still not initiated a thorough review of all aspects of the case.

Europe is clearly calming down after the first years of anxiety following 11 September. However, some damage has been done by the violation of hitherto sacred principles. That is why it is still necessary to appeal to all governments to become transparent about any security collaboration which touches on the human rights of individuals.

Thomas Hammarberg

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