Tech & Rights

CIA Torture in Lithuania: Time for a Full Investigation

Lithuania has been identified as one of the European countries providing assistance to the American CIA's rendition program, yet the country's prosecutors have declined to fully investigate the cases of torture.

by Human Rights Monitoring Institute

Five years ago, on August 20, 2009, Lithuania was identified as the third European country to provide America's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with facilities to carry out its secret detention and extraordinary rendition program and establish a secret prison for detaining and interrogating high-value suspects.

Immediately after the September 11 attacks, the U.S. began military action against the perpetrators. President George Bush granted the CIA authority to detain terror suspects and to set up secret detention facilities outside of United States, where detainees could be subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. This was done in order to avoid breaching U.S. or international laws on the protection and treatment of prisoners.

NGOs demand investigation

The first investigations on secret renditions in Lithuania were initiated in 2009, when the Lithuanian Parliament’s Committee on National Security and Defence (CNSD) commenced a parliamentary inquiry into the establishment of secret CIA detention centers in Lithuania. Even though the inquiry showed that conditions for the operation of CIA detention centers were created in Lithuania, the Prosecutor General's Office prematurely closed the investigation in the beginning of 2011.

In July 2011, INTERRIGHTS, a non-governmental organization based in London, lodged an application against Lithuania before the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of rendition program victim Abu Zubaydah. The applicant seeks the acknowledgement from the Court that Lithuania violated his rights, guaranteed by the European Convention of Human Rights.

In September 2013, the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, together with the non-governmental organization REDRESS, addressed the prosecutor general with a request to launch a pre-trial investigation into CIA rendition victim Mustafa al–Hawsawi’s unlawful rendition to Lithuania.

The Prosecutor General‘s Office refused to reopen the investigation, but after appealing this decision to Vilnius City District Court, and later to the regional court, the prosecutor's refusal to the open a pre-trial investigation was ruled ill-founded and unlawful.

The Prosecutor General‘s Office opened a pre-trial investigation into the unlawful transfer of persons across Lithuania's border, a decision the prosecutor general adopted after the regional court ruling.

Court of Human Rights finds violations

The European Court of Human Rights announced two judgments on July 24, 2014, in cases Al Nashiri v. Poland and Abu Zubaydah v. Poland, both cases related to CIA rendition. In both cases, the court found violations of Articles 3, 5, 6, 8 and 13 of the Convention on Human Rights. In Al Nashiri v. Poland, the Court also found a violation of Article 2 due to the risk of Al-Nashiri facing the death penalty after his rendition and transfer from Poland to the U.S. The Court held that Poland was to pay the applicants in both cases 100,000 euros in damages. In the case of Abu Zubaydah, the applicant was awarded 30,000 euros for costs and expenses.

Abu Zubaydah and Mustafa al-Hawsawi remain in custody in the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo, Cuba. Both rendition victims and their military counsels have only extremely limited possibilities to participate in legal proceedings in Europe because of high level of classification. Any information received from the detainees is presumed to be immediately classified and accessible only to those with top security clearance.

Mustafa al–Hawsawi has remained in custody since March 1, 2003. He faces capital charges for war crimes. Abu Zubaydah has been held in custody since March 2002. He is suspected of providing assistance in organizing September 11 attacks. No charges have currently been pressed against Abu Zubaydah. The duration of his further detention is unknown.

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