VILNIUS/WARSAW (Reuters) - Lithuanian prosecutors said on Thursday they had restarted an investigation into allegations that state security officials helped the CIA run a secret jail in the Baltic state as part of the agency’s global program to interrogate al Qaeda suspects.
Prosecutors re-opened a probe, which was dropped four years ago, after a U.S. Senate report last year detailed a secret CIA facility that matched reports about a site in Lithuania, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office said.
The Senate report, a Lithuanian parliamentary inquiry and documents submitted to the European Court of Human Rights point to the CIA having used a converted horse-riding school near the Lithuanian capital Vilnius to house multiple al-Qaeda suspects between 2005 and 2006.
The United States and Lithuania have never acknowledged suspects were detained on Lithuanian soil.
Human rights activists and lawyers for men detained by the CIA say that Lithuania, a close U.S. ally, was part of a global network of secret sites used by the agency to hold and interrogate al Qaeda suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The prosecution spokeswoman said in an email sent to Reuters that a senior prosecutor, Irmantas Mikelionis, “decided on January 22 to cancel the January 14, 2011, decision of prosecutors to stop the investigation into possible abuse, and has restarted that investigation.”
The Lithuanian move is the first known case where the Senate report, which accused the CIA of torturing detainees with little or no benefit in terms of obtaining intelligence, has resulted in an official investigation.
The United States government has never disclosed the location of the CIA facilities, though it has said the sites existed and that in some cases detainees were tortured.
Lithuania launched a criminal investigation in 2010 into allegations about the CIA jail, focusing on alleged abuse of authority by senior officials in the State Security Department.
A year later, when it was closed down, prosecutors said they had not found grounds to prosecute those officials.
Lithuania is being taken to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg by a Saudi-born man, Abu Zubaydah, who alleges he was held illegally in the Lithuanian facility and that Lithuania failed in its duty to protect his rights.
Helen Duffy, a lawyer representing Zubaydah in the case before the ECHR, said Lithuania needed to show its announcement about the investigation is not just a tactic to head off criticism by the court that it failed to properly investigate.
She said the investigation would need to be broad enough to cover all the offences alleged to have been committed, including torture and disappearance, and target all those responsible.
“There is every reason to be skeptical about whether this is a meaningful investigation,” she said.
The heavily redacted Senate report disclosed new details about how much Lithuanian officials knew about what the CIA was doing on their soil.
It said the CIA obtained approval of the leadership of an unidentified country to establish a detention facility.
It said by mid-2003 the agency decided that facility, which was never used to house detainees, was not big enough to accommodate the CIA’s plans, so it obtained a bigger facility in the same country, described in the report as detention center “Violet.”
It said the CIA offered at least $1 million to “show appreciation” for its partners’ support for the facility. The exact amount was redacted.
The report said “Violet” opened in early 2005. It said the facility was closed down in 2006 after the host country refused to allow a detainee with medical problems, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, to be treated in a local hospital.
Those details matched the findings of a Lithuanian parliamentary inquiry.
The inquiry stated that state security helped the CIA establish premises suitable for detention in a building in Vilnius, and then helped them upgrade to the riding school, though it said there was no hard proof the facilities were used to hold prisoners.
The prosecution spokeswoman said on Thursday the re-started investigation had been merged with a separate but related probe, started last year, into allegations that Hawsawi was illegally moved across Lithuania’s borders.
She said the combined investigation would be into alleged violations of two articles of the criminal code - the illegal transportation of a foreigner through Lithuania’s borders, and abuse of power by a state employee causing significant harm.
Editing by Tom Heneghan