Greenland granted investigation into CIA flights

Søvndal backs down to Greenland’s demands for investigation but does not promise access to classified information


An enquiry into CIA flights in Danish airspace over Greenland is to go ahead but it will be far from a formal inquiry that Greenland had hoped for.

Instead, the independent organisation Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) will produce an independent report into the use of Danish airspace by the CIA.

Unlike a formal enquiry DIIS will not be able to call witnesses, lay any responsibility for the flights and will not have full access to classified information.

“We haven’t been able to get exactly what we wanted so we have to appreciate what we have got,” Greenlandic premier Kupik Kleist told Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

The alleged use of Danish airspace by the CIA to transport terrorism suspects to secret jails has been criticised by human rights groups who suspect that the suspects were subjected to inhumane treatment such as torture.

“As a country that has been a forerunner in the fight against torture, Denmark has a special obligation to thoroughly investigate the way it may have been involved transport of detainees,” Tue Magnussen of the United Nations Association told The Copenhagen Post.

Evidence that the flights took place was put forth in a 2008 documentary aired on public broadcaster DR. According to the broadcast the CIA used an airport in Narsarsuaq, Greenland, when transporting prisoners.

American diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks the same year indicated that the Danish government had turned a blind eye to the flights.

Current foreign minister, Villy Søvndal, had initially stated that he wanted a formal enquiry into the allegations, but at a press conference outside the foreign ministry on Wednesday he said there was not enough political support for such a move.

“We won’t be having a formal enquiry because that isn’t what we promised in the common government policy,” Søvndal said, adding that it was important to open the case to the public and that Denmark had nothing to hide.

DIIS will investigate the flights on behalf of the Danish and Greenlandic authorities, though access to classified information will be at the discretion of the government authorities. Søvndal could not give any guarantees that the investigation would have full access to all the papers.

“We are making available relevant information. But the limits on access has not yet been set.”

In the agreement with DIIS about the procedure of the investigation, it is stated that they should make sure that the “publication of information would not harm relationships with other countries, state security or third parties”.

Experts have warned, however, that the report could damage Denmark’s relationship with the United States.

“I have a difficult time understanding how it is Denmark’s best interests,” Mads Fuglede, an expert on the US at the University of Copenhagen, told Politiken newspaper. “In my eyes it seems like a strange thing to do if you want to keep a good relationship with the Americans, who are notorious for hating these sorts of things.”

But Ole Wæver, a professor of international politics at the University of Copenhagen, argued that the enquiry held enormous symbolic importance for Greenlanders.

“In that respect it’s a smart move by the government to make the Greenlandic authorities look like they have taken the initiative,” Wæver told Politiken newspaper. “It also contributes to keeping a good relationship between Denmark and Greenland.”

Denmark and Greenland will split the cost of the enquiry.

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