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War without rules has no laws: about CIA prisons in Eastern Europe 

Photo: ABC News

The scandal surrounding CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) secret prisons in Eastern Europe has been subsiding and unfolding again for many years already.  New information has been leaked recently. Helen Duffy, lawyer of a former prisoner, Saudi Arabia-born Palestinian national Abu Zubaydah, unveiled new facts confirming the existence of secret prisons.  However, despite many proofs, the authorities of that country that once provided the CIA - against the public will - with secret premises for their practices now deny the obvious unlike their neighbor Poland that had to confess eventually…

Truth and apophasis

Duffy, who represents the Palestinian man in the trial Abu Zubaydah vs. Lithuania, recalls the U.S. Senate report confirming that the United States operated a detention facility for suspected terrorists in Lithuania in 2003-2006.  “Simply on the basis of the information in the Senate report itself, there are numerous clear indications of agreements reached between Lithuanian officials and the CIA, and of large sums of money changing hands in exchange for support," the lawyer told the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

According to the lawyer, the information submitted to the ECHR leaves “little room for doubt” about existence of a CIA prison in Lithuania. The lawyer calls the Lithuanian government responsible for imprisonment and torture of her client in its territory.

Yet, Senate’s 6,000-page report remains classified.  In December 2004, they published a censored version of 524 pages. This helped statesmen being evasive. For instance, Lithuanian MP Arvydas Anušauskas, who once led the parliamentary investigation in the case, said that the published part of the US Senate report allegedly leads to no categorical conclusions about imprisoned persons. "The lawyer is doing her job. The review of the Senate commission report contains many new facts about transportation. I would say it may prove the fact that the detention site was in Lithuania; however, it does not provide an equally clear answer about persons held there or specify the persons," Anušauskas said.

Meantime, the issue has a long history and the Senate’s report is not the only proof. At the end of 2014, Amnesty International accused a range of governments in Europe of complicity in CIA crimes.

Amnesty International called on the EU and its member states’ governments to deliver justice for the victims of the CIA’s unlawful rendition and secret detention programs, part of ‘the fight against terrorism’. “The EU has utterly failed to hold member states accountable for the abuses they’ve committed,” representatives of the organization said. “The Council of the EU hasn’t even acknowledged that the Union itself bears collective responsibility for governments’ complicity in torture, unlawful detention and enforced disappearances.”  Amnesty International targeted such countries as Romania, the UK, Macedonia, Germany, Lithuania and Poland. Here are some more details concerning the last two countries.

In August 2009, the Lithuanian public learnt from ABC TV that U.S. security service operated prisons in their territory (it runs contrary to the local Constitution). The Television Network reported that U.S. kept in custody up to 8 Al-Qaeda fighters near Vilnius. Later, the information about CIA secret prisons was confirmed when Wikileaks started publishing leaked U.S. embassy cables containing confidential information.  The source confirmed that CIA-related planes entered Vilnius and Palanga in 2003-2006.

Yet, then president Valdas Adamkus and prime minister Algirdas Brazauskas as well as the military disclaimed the information. Nevertheless, the issue resonated when two former prisoners filed claims to ECHR against the Lithuanian government.  Under pressure of international human rights organizations, the local attorney’s office opened the case.

Plot for a thriller movie

An investigation committee was set up at the parliament too: it revealed that two secret CIA centers operated in the territory of Lithuania.  The first prison was opened in 2003, the second in 2004.  One of them was located in Antaviliai, a village not far from the summerhouses of the Lithuanian officials, in 20km from Vilnius. When the secret came to light, a scandal broke out and some solid officials lost their posts.  However, the Lithuanian authorities still avoid talking about that scandal. However, there is an interesting fact. President Dalia Grybauskaitė touched upon the issue of the CIA prisons in Lithuania only once, soon after taking office. Later, she never returned to that issue and turned into an outspoken supporter of the U.S. policy. Probably, the security officers from Langley promptly found a way to show the bold president her place; the more so as, the past Grybauskaitė, once high-ranking communist, is not a secret to anyone.

Anyway, Vilnius cannot ignore the “embarrassing topic” completely. It regularly surfaces. Relatively recently, the U.S. Senate Committee on Intelligence has published certain data (though some lines in those documents were retouched) concerning the cooperation with foreign allies. Among others, there was certain “violet place” (the countries which housed U.S. sponsored detention centers were given a code color) in Lithuania that started operating in 2003.  Some Lithuanians earned big amounts (“millions of dollars” are in question) for outfitting that “place.” Relying on the Senate’s report, neither the U.S. ambassador nor the Lithuanian government members knew what that well-equipped building was intended for.

As of early 2006, 28 prisoners were kept at the detention center “Violet” and “orange prison” (perhaps, it is about the CIA secret base in Afghanistan).  In the same year, the prison in Lithuania was closed, after they refused to move one of the prisoners who needed highly-qualified medical assistance to a local hospital.  Eventually, Americans had to spend a solid amount of money to treat the ill prisoner. All the “guests” of the “Violet place” were transfer to the “dark prison” (probably another prison in Afghanistan). Since then, all the prisoners of the CIA were kept in one place.

The names of at least two prisoners in the territory of Lithuania are known. Mustafa al-Hawsawi, a citizen of Saudi Arabia - U.S. accuses him of possible financing of the Sept 11 2001 terror assault in Twin Towers in New York. He was detained in Pakistan in 2003, transferred to U.S. and subjected to refined tortures.  According to the Senate report, Mustafa al-Hawsawi suffered from “an anal fissure, chronic hemorrhoids and symptomatic rectal prolapse” after being regularly subjected to “enforcement actions”.

The second prisoner was the abovementioned Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi now held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay. Abu Zubaydah was the first detainee over the Sept 11 case. The CIA used its “excessive force” methods on him. The man was monstrously tortured for dozens of times.  In one of the references, for instance, the American say their government will not have legal responsibility for such methods, as they were not used in the territory of the United States.  It was reported that Zubaydah was water boarded 83 times and kept in cramped boxes for nearly 300 hours. He was subjected to grinding white noise and sleep deprivation tactics, which among others resulted in “hysterical pleas.” It is not surprising that the man nurses a grievance against both his torturers and the countries where he was tortured. Therefore, he filed a lawsuit against Lithuania and Poland.

Meantime, ex-president Valdas Adamkus keeps denying what was happening in Lithuania during his presidency. Adamkus says he was assured by security officials that Lithuania did not host a secret CIA prison.

They had to confess under pressure of facts…

As for Poland, Human Rights Watch voiced about the existence of CIA prisons there in November 2005.  Americans paid Warsaw $15 million for leasing and re-equipping the idling building of an intelligence school in deep countryside. The first prisoners were moved there on December 5 2002 – the Poles had no access to them. Gazeta Wyborcza wrote the Polish Attorney’s Office had an official agreement on establishment of the prison. The document was signed by the former intelligence chief Zbigniew Siemiatkowski. No signatures of the U.S. party were available on the document. They never sign any papers having a content that runs contrary to the U.S. Constitution and International Law.

Reportedly, at least three were kept at the prison in a populated area Stare Kiejkuty: Abu Zubaydah, as well as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Sheikh Mohammed (who was subjected to water-boarding almost 200 times) was accused of the Sept 11 terrorist act. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was accused of organizing the terror assault that took the lives of 17 sailors. Mike Sealy headed the secret prison where prisoners were subjected to tortures. That base was closed in September 2003 and the prisoners were moved to the CIA facilities in Romania and Morocco. The opposition press blamed then prime minister of Poland Leszek Miller for the “shame” of Poland. However, a criminal case that was opened yet in 2008 skidded.  In late 2011, Chairman of Poland’s Supreme Court Stanisław Dąbrowski personally issued an enactment biding the Intelligence Agency to provide the documents on the prisons in Kiejkuty to the investigation. Journalist Gregory Tinsky wrote the “overseas partner” took measures timely. According to him, an officer of the Polish intelligence who asked for anonymity told the press that the U.S. is discontented at the success of the Polish investigation. Langley made them understand that they would better follow the example of Lithuania and Romania and be more careful when providing data to the investigation.  The anonymous officer also said that disclosure of such high secrecy data will inevitably affect the relations with the U.S. allies.

The former prime minister Leszek Miller now tries to prove that he allegedly knows nothing about the CIA activity in Poland, calling the accusations brought against him “Hollywood movie scripts.”  Meantime, at the end of 2014, the former president Aleksander Kwaśniewski had to confess officially that there was a CIA prison in Stare Kiejkuty that used “inadmissible methods.”  The anchor of Religia TV Kazimierz Sowa complained with hindsight that the former authorities of Poland should have understood “the warning signal” when U.S. refused to sign the documents on incarceration on prisoners in Kiejkuty. Though, Kwaśniewski said the Poland government had insisted that the U.S. party signed the documents.  According to the former president, Americans de-facto promised to treat the prisoners properly, and the issue was not raised any more.  Actually, Kwaśniewski unlike Adamkus proved more “conscientious” and at least admitted that fact.

In July 2014, the European Court for Human Rights ruled that the Poland authorities are complicit in rendition, detention, and torture at CIA Black-Site Prison. The ruling says Warsaw violated a range of articles of the European Convention for Human Rights. The ECHR bound the Poland government to pay by 100,000 EUR as reparation of moral damage to the injured persons. In addition, Abu Zubaydah was promised 30,000 EUR for legal costs.  Leszek Miller responded sharply saying the money will sure help terrorists organize more terror assaults.  Many other local politicians were outraged with the ECHR’s ruling too. Poland even disputed the ruling without success. In May, Poland had to pay reparations to Zubaydah and al-Nashiri. Meantime, Lithuania has not “matured” for such steps yet…

Vyacheslav Samoylov for EADaily

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