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EU lawmakers shunned by Republicans in Congress

Written by: Staff
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WASHINGTON, May 10 (Reuters) Members of the European Parliament, in Washington to investigate reports of secret CIA prisons in Europe, complained today they had not been granted meetings with any Republican members of Congress.

The delegation, whose members are on a committee probing allegations the CIA had been running an illegal detention system in Europe for al Qaeda suspects and transporting suspects through Europe, arranged four days of meetings with lawmakers, rights advocates and experts on international law.

The parliamentary delegates were also due to meet with senior State Department officials and former CIA director James Woolsey.

European officials said two Republican members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence -- Chairman Peter Hoekstra of Michigan and Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas -- canceled yesterday meeting due to unexpected scheduling pressures.

The delegates said they were turned down by eight other Republicans, including Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; Sen. John McCain of Arizona; and Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The delegation still expected to meet with Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts.

SEEKING BOTH SIDES Carlos Coelho, a Portuguese conservative who chairs the delegation, said the European investigation would have benefited from Republican input.

''It's important to listen to the other side of the story,'' he said. ''In work like ours, it's always better to speak to both sides.

''We came here on a fact-finding mission, trying to bring more light to the allegations of illegal CIA activities and detention centers in Europe, and also with the wish to open new ways of dialogue with the U.S. government, in order to strengthen transatlantic relations.'' The United States says it does not outsource torture or transfer people it suspects of being involved in terrorism to places where it can expect them to be tortured.

Cem Oezdemir, a German delegation member from the Green party, told a news conference ''not everybody thinks that it's very important to accept a delegation of the European Parliament. We understand this is an election year and everybody is quite busy.'' The Europeans were due to meet with administration officials from the State Department on Thursday.

The delegation will not meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice but is due to hold talks State Department legal adviser John Bellinger, who said last week the allegations under investigation were damaging transatlantic intelligence cooperation.

A Washington Post report last year that the CIA had run secret prisons in Europe and flown suspects to countries where they would have been tortured unleashed a spate of investigations but none have so far produced proof.

The European Parliament's committee, whose formal title is the Temporary Committee on the Alleged Use of European Countries by the CIA for the Transport and Illegal Detention of Prisoners, also has heard testimony from alleged victims and rights groups. It has no legal powers but can recommend political actions against any countries found to have been involved, including the United States.

''Our cooperation on the war against terror is vital but it should always rely on the respect of human rights and the supremacy of international law,'' Coelho said.

REUTERS PDS PM0230

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