Lithuania, Romania complicit in secret CIA prisons: European court

Strasbourg (France) (AFP) –


The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that Lithuania and Romania were complicit in a controversial CIA programme to hold suspects caught after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in secret detention centres on their territories.

Two suspects now being detained at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay lodged the case with the court in 2011 and 2012, alleging they were illegally held and tortured at CIA "black sites" in Romania and Lithuania from 2004 to 2006.

The court said Romanian authorities knew that Saudi national Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri would risk torture and the death penalty when it allowed the CIA to hold him at an undisclosed facility in their country from April 2004 to November 2005.

Nashiri is accused of orchestrating maritime terror attacks including the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen that left 17 dead.

The former Soviet republic of Lithuania was found complicit in hosting a secret prison from February 2005 to March 2006, when CIA operatives held Abu Zubaydah, considered a top Palestinian operative for Al Qaeda.

A 2014 US Senate report found that both Zubaydah and Nashiri -- considered "high-level detainees" -- were subject to "enhanced interrogation techniques" including waterboarding while in detention.

The ECHR found that in both cases the suspects were effectively within the national jurisdictions of Lithuania and Romania, which were therefore "responsible for the violation" of their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The convention explicitly forbids torture and the death penalty.

The court ordered Lithuania and Romania to pay 100,000 euros ($117,000) to each complainant.

- NATO entry in play? -

In the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, the CIA took suspected Al Qaeda detainees to several "black sites" around the world to escape US rules on interrogations -- a programme that has since been judged illegal.

Other punishments inflicted at the sites included intense sleep deprivation, being crammed into coffin-size boxes and "rectal rehydration" to get suspects to talk.

The US Senate report did not publicly identify the location of the CIA sites, but the European court had already condemned Poland in 2014 for allowing both Nashiri and Zubaydah to be held at a site there in 2002 and 2003.

Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite said she would abide by the ruling, saying her country "is already tarnished".

"We are committed to the European Convention on Human Rights, and that is why we must apply the court's decision," she said in a statement.

Officials in Bucharest did not immediately comment, but a former adviser to Ion Iliescu, the president at the time, confirmed Thursday that the government had made a site available to the CIA.

"What happened then, and I was involved, was that a location had been offered to CIA for special and secret operations," Ioan Talpes told AFP.

"I didn't know what was going on there, and I didn't want to know because at the time we were negotiating NATO membership. How could I have said that we don't agree?" he said.

- Cash for 'support' -

The ECHR judges said they based their findings in large part on the US report since they could not have access to Nashiri and Zubaydah at Guantanamo.

That report "spoke clearly of cooperation with the domestic authorities and of them being provided with millions of dollars for 'support' for the CIA extraordinary rendition programme," the court wrote.

Aleksander Kwasniewski, the Polish president at the time, later said that former US president George W. Bush told him the CIA methods had provided "important benefits" -- a claim disputed by the Senate report.

The report also prompted prosecutors in Lithuania and Romania to open inquiries.

Polish leaders, for their part, vowed last year that they would no longer allow such sites in the country, responding to claims by US President Donald Trump that waterboarding and other now-banned techniques had proved effective.

Trump has also said terror suspects could again be sent to Guantanamo Bay, reversing a push by his predecessor Barack Obama to shut down the highly contested facility in Cuba.

But Gina Haspel, who was sworn in this month as Trump's pick to lead the CIA, has said she would not reinstate the harsh interrogation programmes, even if ordered to do so by the president.

During her confirmation hearings, Haspel expressed regret over her role in detainee torture, including at a secret CIA prison in 2002, after the 9/11 attacks.