Lithuania, Romania complicit in secret CIA prisons: European court

Lithuania and Romania were complicit in a controversial CIA program to hold suspects caught after the September 11 attacks. (File/AP)
Updated 31 May 2018

Lithuania, Romania complicit in secret CIA prisons: European court

  • The former Soviet republic of Lithuania was found complicit in hosting a secret prison from February 2005 to March 2006, when CIA operatives held Abu Zubaydah, considered a top Palestinian operative for Al Qaeda
  • The ECHR found that in both cases the suspects were effectively within the national jurisdictions of Lithuania and Romania

STRASBOURG, France: The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that Lithuania and Romania were complicit in a controversial CIA program to hold suspects caught after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in secret detention centers on their territories.
Two suspects now being detained at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay lodged the case with the court in 2011 and 2012, alleging 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 an undisclosed 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 prison from February 2005 to March 2006, when CIA operatives held Abu Zubaydah, considered a top Palestinian operative for Al Qaeda.
A 2014 US Senate report found that both Zubaydah and Nashiri — considered “high-level detainees” — were subject to “enhanced interrogation techniques” including waterboarding while in detention.
The ECHR found that in both cases the suspects were effectively within the national jurisdictions of Lithuania and Romania, which 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 ($117,000) to each complainant.
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 program that has since been judged illegal.
Other punishments inflicted at the sites included intense sleep deprivation, being crammed into coffin-size 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.
Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite said she would abide by the ruling, saying her country “is already tarnished.”
“We are committed to the European Convention on Human Rights, and that is why we must apply the court’s decision,” she said in a statement.
Officials in Bucharest did not immediately comment, but a former adviser to Ion Iliescu, the president at the time, confirmed Thursday that the government had made a site available to the CIA.
“What happened then, and I was involved, was that a location had been offered to CIA for special and secret operations,” Ioan Talpes told AFP.
“I didn’t know what was going on there, and I didn’t want to know because at the time we were negotiating NATO membership. How could I have said that we don’t agree?” he said.
The ECHR judges said they based their findings in large part on the US report since they could not 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 program,” 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.
The report also prompted prosecutors in Lithuania and Romania to open inquiries.
Polish leaders, for their part, vowed last year that they would no longer allow such sites in the country, responding to claims by US President Donald Trump that waterboarding and other now-banned techniques had proved 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.
But Gina Haspel, who was sworn in this month as Trump’s pick to lead the CIA, has said she would not reinstate the harsh interrogation programs, even if ordered to do so by the president.
During her confirmation hearings, Haspel expressed regret over her role in detainee torture, including at a secret CIA prison in 2002, after the 9/11 attacks.


Brexit talks close in on tentative deal before summit

Updated 9 min 14 sec ago

Brexit talks close in on tentative deal before summit

  • Hopes were increasingly turning toward getting a broad political commitment, with the full legal details hammered out later
  • Even if a provisional deal is inked this week, moves in the British parliament could still mean another delay to Britain’s departure, currently due to take place on Oct. 31

BRUSSELS: French President Emmanuel Macron said he hopes the European Union and Britain were on the cusp of concluding a tentative Brexit deal that leaders would seek to complete at a summit Thursday.
The French leader said Wednesday that “I want to believe that a deal is being finalized and that we can approve it tomorrow,” when EU leaders are meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Brussels.
Hopes were increasingly turning toward getting a broad political commitment, with the full legal details hammered out later. Negotiators were locked in EU headquarters with few details leaking out. Wild movements in the British pound on Wednesday underscored the uncertainty over what, if anything, might be decided.
Meetings between EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and key EU legislators as well as with ambassadors of the member nations were rescheduled for the evening — an indication there was still momentum in the ongoing talks among technical teams from both sides.
“It looks like things are moving,” said an EU official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because talks were still ongoing.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, echoed that, saying there is still “a chance of securing a good deal” at the summit, even though a number of issues remain.
The thorniest among them is how goods and people will flow across the land border between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK
But Northern Ireland is not the only issue. An eventual withdrawal agreement would be a legal treaty laying out the terms of Britain’s departure and setting up a transition period in which relations would remain as they are now at least until the end of 2020, to give people and businesses time to adjust to new rules. It will guarantee the rights of EU citizens in Britain, and British nationals living elsewhere in the EU, to continue with their lives.
But it leaves many questions about the future unanswered, and Britain’s departure is sure to be followed by years of negotiations on trade and other issues.
Even if a provisional deal is inked this week, moves in the British parliament could still mean another delay to Britain’s departure, currently due to take place on Oct. 31. It also raises the prospect that the EU needs to hold another Brexit summit before the end of the month.
“The 31st of October is still a few weeks away, and there is a possibility of another summit before that if we need one,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said in Dublin.
Adding to the pressure and uncertainty is that any deal must be approved by the British Parliament, which has already rejected agreements three times and has also issued an order that Johnson’s government must seek to delay the departure if a deal isn’t in place by Saturday.
The British government continues to insist the UK will leave on Oct. 31 — but also promises to obey Parliament’s order.
With the need to get Parliament’s approval looming over negotiations, EU leaders are seeking reassurances from Johnson during this week’s summit that he has the political weight to push any new deal through the House of Commons, which is due to meet on Saturday for its first weekend session in almost 40 years. 
The Brexit talks plodded ahead Wednesday, further delaying preparations for the EU summit. Since the weekend, negotiators have been locked in long sessions on how to deal with detailed customs, value-added tax and regulatory issues under British proposals to keep goods and people flowing freely across the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
“Talks have been constructive, but there still remains a number of significant issues to resolve,” EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said after being briefed by EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
Johnson is eager to strike a deal at Thursday’s summit that will let the UK leave the bloc in good order on Oct. 31, fulfilling his promise to get Brexit done. But he has also vowed to leave the bloc deal or no deal.
UK lawmakers, however, are determined to push for another Brexit delay rather than risk a chaotic no-deal Brexit that economists say could hurt the economies of both the UK and the E.U.
Beyond the questions of disrupting to daily life, an open Irish border underpins both the local economy and the 1998 peace accord that ended decades of Catholic-Protestant violence in Northern Ireland. But once Britain exits, that border will turn into an external EU frontier that the bloc wants to keep secure.
The big question is how far Johnson’s government is prepared to budge on its insistence that the UK, including Northern Ireland, must leave the EU’s customs union — something that would require checks on goods passing between the UK and the EU.
The alternative is to have checks in the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland. But Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, the party that props up Johnson’s minority Conservative government, strongly opposes any measures that could loosen the bonds between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK
Pro-Brexit Conservative British lawmaker David Davis says success in passing a Brexit deal rests on the stance of the DUP.
“If the DUP says ‘This is intolerable to us’ that will be quite important,” he said.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said the party had not yet consented to a deal. She tweeted: “Discussions continue. Needs to be a sensible deal which unionists and nationalists can support.”