Probe Confirms CIA Operated Secret "Black Site" Prisons in Lithuania

Tuesday, 22 December 2009 13:10 By Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Report | name.

Lithuanian government officials confirmed that the country's intelligence agency helped the CIA set up secret black site prisons in the country where alleged high-value al-Qaeda operatives were to be rendered for interrogation.

The four-month investigation commissioned by President Dalia Grybauskaite and conducted by Lithuania's National Security Committee, however, was unable to make a definitive finding that the CIA had ever used the secret prisons for interrogations.

The committee's report, released Tuesday and based largely on testimony from top government and national security officials, found that the former Soviet republic's State Security Department "received requests from the CIA to establish detention facilities," said Arvydas Anusauskas, chairman of the Parliament's security committee, in a prepared statement.

The findings "prove suspicions [the president] had for some time that there were premises designed for detention and there were flights which could have been used for transporting prisoners," Linas Balsys, a spokesman for Grybauskaite, told Baltic Reports.

The National Security Committee's report recommended prosecutors launch a criminal investigation into the State Security Agency, having determined that there wasn't any evidence to show that Lithuanian intelligence briefed the president, prime minister or other government officials, who have denied having prior knowledge about the existence of the secret prisons or about the arrangement with the CIA.

Grybauskaite called for the immediate resignation of Mecys Laurinkus, currently the ambassador to Georgia, who was formerly the director of the State Security Department when the agency began working with the CIA to set up the black site prisons.

Last week, Povilas Malakauskas, head of Lithuania's State Security Agency, abruptly resigned, citing "personal reasons." However, Anasaukas told Lithuanian media that Malakausas refused to provide truthful information to the panel and that his resignation was linked to the findings of the investigation.

The probe determined that two prison facilities, "Project 1" and "Project 2," were given to the CIA in 2002 and 2004. One of the makeshift prisons could house a single detainee and the other could hold eight.

Additionally, Anasaukas said that between 2002 and 2005, airplanes carrying suspected terrorists and operated by the CIA entered the country's airspace and landed in Vilnius at least five times.

“There were facilities and opportunities for crossing Lithuania's border by planes that had a link to the CIA, but it turns out to be impossible to establish the identities of those passengers onboard and the purpose of the cargoes,” Anasaukas said during a news conference. "There were conditions for delivering suspected terrorists to Lithuania, but whether they had been taken there or not – we did not find out.”

CIA Prisons Designed for Torture

The CIA's secret black site prisons were set up across Europe as a means of subjecting high-value detainees, who were kidnapped by the agency under it's "extraordinary rendition" program, to so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques," such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation.

In March 2002, the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel prepared a legal memorandum for George W. Bush stating he could ignore a law that prohibited the transfer of prisoners to countries that engage in torture and offered up ways in which government officials could avoid legal liability if prisoners were tortured.

"To fully shield our personnel from criminal liability, it is important that the United States not enter in an agreement with a foreign country, explicitly or implicitly, to transfer a detainee to that country for the purpose of having the individual tortured," the March 13, 2002 memo says. "So long as the United States does not intend for a detainee to be tortured post-transfer, however, no criminal liability will attach to a transfer. Even if the foreign country receiving the detainee does torture him."

The memo was signed by Jay Bybee, then the acting head of the OLC, but it is believed that John Yoo, who was deputy assistant attorney general at OLC, is the principle author of the 34-page documen, according to the book "Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy," by journalist Charlie Savage.

Yoo and Bybee are subjects of what is believed to be a critical Justice Department watchdog report that centers on the legal advice they gave the Bush White House regarding torture.

A month before the memo was drafted, Bush signed an executive order that excluded "war on terror" suspects from Geneva Convention protections. But the March 13, 2002 memo went even further. It said prisoners detained outside the US were not protected by US laws outlawing torture or against international treaties banning torture. The treaty, the Convention Against Torture, was signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988.

"The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention [against Torture]," the treaty says. "It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today."

Furthermore, the March 13, 2002 memo said the law prohibiting the federal government from turning over prisoners to countries where they may be tortured was not valid because it infringed upon the president's constitutional commander-in-chief powers.

In an interview earlier this year, Scott Horton, an expert on international law who helped prepare a report on renditions for NYU School of Law and the New York Bar Association, said the March 13, 2002 memo "is more evidence of deep engagement by OLC with the extraordinary renditions program."

"In fact the memo is designed to cut through the historical problems associated with rendition to establish its legality on the back of a lunatic view of commander-in-chief powers." Horton said. "If we had to boil the memo down to one sentence it would be 'the executive is the law, and no other law matters.' But that's the very proposition that the Founding Fathers went to war to overturn. In the course of the analysis, the Geneva Conventions are misapplied, authority that suggests the opposite conclusion is suppressed, the Constitution is misquoted and incorrectly interpreted to read into oblivion an express provision giving Congress final say over rules governing prisoners in wartime and the Convention Against Torture is also neutered.

"The themes touched upon make clear that the author fully understands how the extraordinary renditions program works. The prisoner is held outside of legal recourse in any legal system, or 'disappeared.' He is moved to a cooperating foreign state where he will be subjected to torture through a proxy arrangement with a foreign intelligence or police service.

"There is no prospect of the person ever being subjected to criminal charges, or accorded any rights under the laws of armed conflict. This is an effort to craft a legal black hole in which no law of any sort applies, and the executive is free to do whatever he likes. And that is what Thomas Jefferson and James Madison called 'tyranny.' I can easily see this document appended as an exhibit to a criminal indictment of its authors."

In testimony before Congress in April 2007, Michael Scheuer, the CIA official who ran the rendition program until his retirement from the agency in 2004, said US officials knew detainees would be tortured upon their transfer to specific countries even while receiving assurances that those countries would not torture prisoners captured in the "war on terror."

"If you accepted an assurance from any of the Arab tyrannies who are our allies that they weren't going to torture someone, I have got a bridge for you to buy..." Scheuer said in response to a question from a member of Congress.

News Report Sparked Probe

The investigation was launched in August after ABC News revealed that Lithuania, a US "war on terror" ally, was one of three European countries where the CIA flew al-Qaeda suspects for interrogation at secret prison facilities.

At the time, Lithuanian government officials vehemently denied the allegations leveled by the news network.

In November, ABC News disclosed the location of one of the detention centers, which the network said, according to unnamed sources, was a former horseback riding school, just 12 miles from Lithuania's capital, where CIA rendition flights carrying suspected terrorists landed.

Neither State Department nor CIA spokespeople returned telephone calls and email queries for comment.

On his third day in office, President Barack Obama signed an executive order directing the CIA to shut down the secret black site prisons.

Last modified on Tuesday, 22 December 2009 18:44