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22nd Jul 2017

MEPs press Lithuania to re-launch CIA rendition probe

MEPs are pressing Lithuania's prosecutor general to re-launch an investigation into two alleged CIA rendition sites in the country.

"Too many unanswered questions remain,” British Liberal MEP Sarah Ludford told EUobserver on Monday (30 April).

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  • Chart of CIA flights in Europe. MEPs are pressing Lithuania's prosecutor general to relaunch the investigation into secret CIA rendition centre (Photo: Council of Europe)

Ludford was one of six MEPs from the European Parliament's justice and home affairs committee who visited Lithuania last week.

The delegation was on a three-day fact finding mission to determine whether a new probe into the alleged prisons should be launched.

A joint investigation by NGOs Amnesty International and Reprieve in September 2011 found that al-Qaida suspect Abu Zubaydah, who is currently imprisoned at the US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, was most likely sent to Lithuania from Morocco in 2005.

The MEPs visited one of the detention centres in Antaviliai, located some 20km outside Vilnius last Thursday. It is believed Zubaydah may have been taken to the site.

Subjects of CIA renditions claim they were hooded on the flights to Europe and then subjected to torture, such as water-boarding while in transit. Over 1,000 CIA-operated flights using European airspace took place from 2001 to 2005.

Ludford said the site in Antaviliai, a former horse riding stable, is now being used as training ground by Lithuania's secret service. "It’s a metal box within a metal box. All American-equipped," she noted, citing as an example the still visible US-branded heavy pad locks.

The stables had been purchased in 2004 by Elite LLC, a company incorporated in Washington DC and Panama, before being sold to the Lithuanian secret service three years later. Residents in the vicinity recall seeing vehicles with tinted windows while the Americans were building a large warehouse at the stables.

Following press reports and a European Parliament inquiry in 2007, Lithuania in 2009 finally admitted hosting the two detention centres widely believed to have hosted suspected terrorists on transit to the United States. The first centre was built in 2002. The second constructed in 2004.

Lithuania subsequently launched a parliamentary pre-trial investigation into the allegation in 2010, but closed the whole case down a year later.

The Lithuanian prosecutor general said that while the sites existed, there was no evidence to support allegations that they had ever contained any prisoners. The prosecutor maintains the centres were operational but refuses to disclose for what purpose on the grounds that it is a state secret.

"They admitted to having flights and the centres but stopped short of saying that any prisoners were there. They closed the investigation with virtually no justification at all," Julia Hall, an expert on counter-terrorism and human rights in Europe at Amnesty International, told EUobserver from New York.

Amnesty International and Reprieve presented the prosecutor general with flight data in September 2011 that appears to link Lithuania with Abu Zubaydah.

Both claim a Boeing 727 flew from from Morocco to Vilnius via Amman, Jordan, arriving in Vilnius International Airport on the evening of 17 February 2005. The Boeing then took off to the United States before returning again.

The flight coincides with that of another plane - serial number N787WH - which landed in Lithuania on 18 February 2005, coming from Bucharest. The NGO investigators say these flights coincide with the transfer of Zubaydah from Morocco to Lithuania. Their requests for Lithuania's prosecutor general to relaunch the investigation, in light of the new information, were denied.

The MEP delegation spoke to various Lithuanian officials last week but none would reveal the exact purpose of the Antaviliai facility prior to it becoming a training centre for the secret service.

"Americans can answer all these unanswered questions. Why did they build it? What was it for?" said Ludford.

Germany, Sweden, Spain, Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, Denmark, Turkey, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Bosnia and Romania were all allegedly involved in illegal rendition or CIA flight cases.

The parliament, in its 2007 inquiry, also criticised the national governments of Austria, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Britain for their lack co-operation into their investigation.

The former Polish secret service cief and interior minister, Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, was charged in relation to alleged CIA detainees held in Poland in March.

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