Europe court condemns Lithuania, Romania over secret CIA prisons

The European Court of Human Rights headquarters in Strasbourg, France. The court has ordered Lithuania and Romania to pay 100,000 euros (S$156,182) to each complainant.
The European Court of Human Rights headquarters in Strasbourg, France. The court has ordered Lithuania and Romania to pay 100,000 euros (S$156,182) to each complainant.PHOTO: AFP

STRASBOURG, France (AFP) - The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Thursday (May 31) that Lithuania and Romania were complicit in a controversial CIA programme to hold terror suspects in secret detention sites on their territories.

Two suspects now being held at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay lodged the case with the court in 2011 and 2012, saying 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 a secret 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 CIA prison from February 2005 to March 2006, when it illegally held a top Palestinian operative for Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaydah.

A 2014 US Senate report found that both Zubaydah and Nashiri - considered "high-level detainees" - were subject to "enhanced interrogation techniques" in CIA detention. These included waterboarding, or simulated drowning.

The ECHR found that in both cases the suspects were effectively within the national jurisdictions of Lithuania and Romania. Both countries 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 (S$156,182) to each complainant.

CASH FOR CIA 'SUPPORT'

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 CIA sites included intense sleep deprivation, being crammed into coffin-sized 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.

The ECHR said they based their findings in large part on the US report since they were unable to 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.

Prosecutors in Lithuania and Romania later opened inquiries into the prisons on the back of the report.

Polish leaders, for their part, vowed last year they would no longer allow such sites on its soil, responding to claims by US President Donald Trump that waterboarding and other now-banned techniques had proven 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.