Home » A C.I.A. Black Site Remains a Touchy Subject for Lithuania

A C.I.A. Black Site Remains a Touchy Subject for Lithuania

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First got here containers loaded with gear for a secluded property below renovation on the sting of the forest. It had housed a horseback using academy and a restaurant, however was being reconfigured for a mysterious enterprise.

Then muscular younger males appeared, jogging by means of the timber at unusual hours and talking to 1 one other in English.

Juozas Banevicius, who watched the comings and goings within the tiny settlement of Antaviliai, Lithuania, practically 20 years in the past, recalled considering it a bit odd that the newcomers would shoo away anybody who got here near the safety fence they’d put up round their property, which was beforehand open to the general public.

“No one knew what they had been doing inside,” recalled Mr. Banevicius, 66.

The reply has been subjected to intense information media and judicial scrutiny within the years since. It has all pointed to the identical conclusion: The village of Antaviliai was house to a secret C.I.A. detention and torture middle, one in all three so-called black websites that the company arrange in Japanese Europe after the Sept. 11, 2001, assaults.

In January, the European Courtroom of Human Rights dominated {that a} secret jail code-named Website Violet had “past affordable doubt” been situated in Lithuania. It didn’t identify Antaviliai, which is close to the capital, Vilnius, however the village is the one place within the nation that Lithuanian officers have acknowledged as a website of a former C.I.A. facility — though they insist it was not a jail.

Website Violet featured in a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2014 after an investigation on the C.I.A.’s use of waterboarding and different “enhanced interrogation strategies.” In keeping with the report, the positioning operated from February 2005 till October 2006, when it closed due to unspecified “medical points.”

The court docket ruling in January concluded that Lithuania had violated the European Conference on Human Rights “due to its complicity within the C.I.A. secret detainee program.”

Poland, which initially denied internet hosting a secret American jail often known as Website Blue, acknowledged after the Senate investigation that it had let the C.I.A. maintain terrorism suspects on its territory. The Polish president on the time, Aleksander Kwasniewski, insisted he was unaware of the tough strategies utilized by American interrogators.

Against this, a number of court docket circumstances and investigations have solely strengthened in Lithuania a carapace of official secrecy — and shows of loyalty to the US by a susceptible Baltic nation petrified of an more and more aggressive Russia.

Lithuania’s well-documented complicity in C.I.A. torture, mentioned Kestutis Girnius, a historian at Vilnius College, “isn’t one thing anybody right here needs to speak about. They buried the entire concern initially and have continued to bury it.”

An enormous purpose for that, he mentioned, was the dependence of his nation, a NATO member sandwiched between Belarus and the closely militarized Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, on the US for its safety. However, he requested: “Do we actually should be so obsequious? When America says bounce, we solely ask, ‘How excessive?’”

Additionally exasperated is Egidijus Kuris, a Lithuanian choose on the European Courtroom of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France. “The proof that there was a jail is clear. The proof that there have been individuals there may be apparent. There’s no pretending right here that it wasn’t,” he mentioned after a ruling in opposition to his nation in 2018. “And but we nonetheless ask, ‘Do you suppose there was a jail?’”

A part of the reason for this, he advised, was that no person in energy wished to dig into what occurred to a portion of the tens of millions of {dollars} offered by the C.I.A. to finance a secret jail in Lithuania that the nation’s Parliament discovered was not correctly accounted for. “Whoever pocketed the cash in Lithuania should be recognized,” Mr. Kuris mentioned.

In 2009, when ABC News identified Antaviliai as a former C.I.A. black website, the Lithuanian Parliament fashioned a committee to analyze. It concluded that the nation’s State Safety Division, or V.S.D., had obtained cash for unspecified “joint actions” and that its accounting had been “inappropriate.”

V.S.D. denied this, saying that it had “strictly” accounted for all funds and that “there have been no tens of millions leaked anyplace.”

The parliamentary investigation didn’t attain a conclusion on whether or not the key jail had existed. Whereas flight knowledge and different circumstantial proof indicated that detainees may have been introduced into Lithuania secretly, it discovered, whether or not this had occurred couldn’t be decided.

The closest Lithuania has come to acknowledging that the C.I.A. ran a detention middle on its territory was in 2009, when President Dalia Grybauskaite, who took workplace three years after the Individuals had left, mentioned she had “oblique suspicions” of a secret jail.

If these suspicions had been true, she mentioned, “Lithuania should cleanse itself, take accountability and apologize.” It was additionally time, she added, for the US “to present solutions.”

Her feedback dismayed the U.S. Embassy in Lithuania, which had been working efficiently for years to maintain the difficulty out of the general public eye. It wrote in a cable that was later posted online by WikiLeaks that the president had “inexplicably given new life to an unsubstantiated story, reflecting an absence of political seasoning.”

“Moderately than assist quiet a narrative that doesn’t mirror favorably on Lithuania, her feedback as an alternative have advised that there could also be a kernel of fact to the allegations,” the cable mentioned.

Since then, officers have stayed silent. Speaking about Website Violet would elevate questions concerning the lacking cash and provides materials for propaganda to Russia, which delights in mentioning American sins whereas flaunting its personal use of torture, because it did final month with the discharge of video footage exhibiting the brutal therapy of suspects detained in reference to the terrorist assault close to Moscow final month.

In its ruling in January, the European Courtroom in Strasbourg ordered Lithuania to pay 100,000 euros, or about $108,000, to a Saudi citizen who judges decided had been held within the Baltic nation. Lithuania’s Justice Ministry mentioned final week that it might adjust to the order, saying it was obliged to take action “no matter whether or not it agrees or disagrees with the court docket’s reasoning.”

The European Courtroom notified Lithuania in March that it had accepted a third case relating to Site Violet. This was introduced by a suspected Qaeda terrorist, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who’s now detained within the U.S. army jail in Guantánamo Bay and claims he was held and tortured for 5 months by the C.I.A. in Lithuania. He received earlier circumstances in opposition to Poland and Romania for unlawful detention in these international locations.

The Justice Ministry mentioned it deliberate to problem the brand new claims and argue, because it has beforehand with out success, “that each one the proof relating to the applicant’s detention in Lithuania is oblique and that the requirements of proof needs to be totally different.”

Website Violet in Lithuania was shut down in late 2006 after native safety officers, cautious of attracting consideration, refused to confess to a hospital a C.I.A. detainee, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, who wanted therapy for a medical emergency, in keeping with the Senate report.

After the C.I.A. left, the property — free of doubtless prying neighbors apart from Mr. Banevicius and residents of a close-by outdated individuals’s house — was taken over for a time by the Lithuanian safety service, which handed it over to the state property company. That company introduced in 2022 that it might put the positioning — an extended, two-story workplace and residing space with an enormous barn hooked up on the again — up for public sale.

It sits on what has turn out to be beneficial actual property. As soon as empty land throughout a mud highway from the compound is now dotted with just lately constructed properties for rich Lithuanians searching for nation air and forest calm.

As a substitute of promoting the positioning for redevelopment, nonetheless, the property company determined final yr to show it over to Lithuania’s jail service to be used as a coaching middle.

Home windows have been added to the barn, the place, in keeping with former detainees cited in European court docket rulings, prisoners had been saved shackled at nighttime and subjected to sleep deprivation, beatings and waterboarding.

A squall of complaints from Poland and different host international locations meant that by 2006, the C.I.A. had been pressured to shut all however two of its eight black websites abroad — Website Violet and a second jail in an unnamed nation, in keeping with the Senate report, which redacted places. It put the full variety of prisoners at the moment at 28.

Mr. Banevicius, the neighbor, who was working on the time for the utility firm and noticed how a lot water the previous equestrian middle consumed, mentioned he by no means noticed or heard any proof of abuse of prisoners. However he at all times suspected there have been extra individuals within the constructing than the joggers and a handful of others he noticed coming into.

“They used a number of water for thus few individuals,” he recalled.

Tomas Dapkus contributed reporting from Vilnius, Lithuania.

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