Romania and Lithuania knowingly hosted secret CIA jails, European court rules

VILNIUS (Reuters) - Lithuania and Romania hosted secret CIA prisons a decade ago and their authorities were aware that detainees were held there illegally, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Thursday.

A view shows the courtroom of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Washington’s so-called rendition program is still shrouded in secrecy, around a decade after it ended. Washington has acknowledged it held al Qaeda suspects in jails outside U.S. jurisdiction, but it has not provided a full list of locations.

The ECHR ruled four years ago that the CIA ran a secret jail in Poland. It has since been holding hearings about similar sites in Romania and Lithuania, neither of which has publicly acknowledged letting the U.S. agency hold prisoners on its soil.

The Strasburg-based court said Lithuania hosted a CIA jail between February 2005 and March 2006 and Romania between September 2003 and November 2005. Both contravened the European Human Rights Convention which prohibits torture, illegal detention and the death penalty.

In its ruling, the ECHR said a stateless Palestinian, Zayn Al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, had been held in Lithuania and that authorities there “had known the CIA would subject him to treatment contrary to the Convention”.

“Lithuania had also permitted him to be moved to another CIA detention site in Afghanistan, exposing him to further ill-treatment,” it said.

The court said Romania had similarly violated the Convention in the case of a Saudi national, Abd Al Rahim Husseyn Muhammad Al Nashiri, who is facing the death penalty in the United States in charges over his alleged role in terrorist attacks.

It said Lithuania and Romania should launch full investigations into their roles in the rendition program and punish any officials responsible.

The cases were filed on behalf of detainees currently held by the United States in Guantanamo Bay.

Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis told reporters his government would consider whether to appeal the ruling.

A parliamentary investigation in 2010 stated that Lithuania’s security service helped the CIA establish a detention facility, though it said there was no proof the facility was used to hold prisoners. Prosecutors reopened their investigation into the allegations in 2015.

In 2015, Romania’s foreign ministry said authorities had no evidence showing there were CIA detention centers in the country. However, Ioan Talpes, a former national security adviser to Romania’s president, testified that Romania had allowed U.S. intelligence to operate a facility in Romania, though officials were unaware people were detained there.

The CIA’s role in the detention and torture of prisoners in the years after the September 11, 2001 attacks was again in the headlines last month when it became the focus of confirmation hearings for the agency’s new director, Gina Haspel.

Additional reporting by Luiza Ilie in Bucharest; Editing by Simon Johnson and Peter Graff