Lithuania drops CIA torture site inquiry amid claims of official cover-up

January 19, 2011

Reprieve challenges bizarre excuses for refusal to investigate horse-riding school believed to have imprisoned ‘high-value detainee’ Abu Zubaydah.

Lithuania’s Prosecutor General has blamed a ‘lack of NGO transparency’ for his sudden decision not to investigate CIA torture sites operating in Lithuania between 2004 and 2006.

Prosecutor Darius Valys unexpectedly announced last Friday that he was terminating his official inquiry into allegations that Lithuania’s secret services teamed up with the CIA to host one or more ‘black sites’, including one in a disused horse-riding academy.

Admitting that three ex-security services agents had ‘abused their position’, the Prosecutor oddly stopped short of addressing allegations of serious official crimes, including torture and illegal imprisonment, citing only a ‘failure to keep politicians informed of their activities’. He added that Lithuania’s statute of limitations prevented even these charges being pursued. In increasingly implausible statements this week, Lithuanian officials have blamed NGOs for a ‘lack of transparency’ which has crippled the investigation.

Reprieve challenges the Prosecutor’s version of events and is baffled by his failure to act on crucial and detailed information provided by our investigators about serious crimes committed in Lithuania.

Reprieve wrote to the Prosecutor last September with confidential information that CIA torture victim Abu Zubaydah had been secretly imprisoned in Lithuania between 2004 and 2006. The letter noted his government’s obligation under the European Convention on Human Rights to conduct an ‘effective investigation’, and Reprieve subsequently supplied a list of individuals who could provide testimony, including Abu Zubaydah, certain CIA officials, Lithuanian handlers of specific planes linked with CIA renditions, eye-witnesses at two ‘black’ sites and those holding forensic evidence.

Reprieve received no reply to these suggestions, and it is now clear that the Prosecutor refuses to trace who is responsible for these serious crimes. Instead, his statement deflects attention onto a minor side issue – an ‘abuse of office’ which apparently carries no criminal sanction.

Clive Stafford Smith, Director of Reprieve said: “This is a cover up of a cover up. The real issue isn’t abuse of office – it’s illegal imprisonment and torture, neither of which is barred by the statute of limitations the Prosecutor invokes. The Prosecutor’s announcement doesn’t even mention this.”

Joe Margulies, a law professor at Northwestern University in Chicago and counsel for Abu Zubaydah, said: “The Prosecutor is trying to deflect blame for the failure of his investigation onto NGOs and the media. It’s ironic that an official investigation into a secret torture facility should claim to be thwarted because the media is insufficiently transparent.”

At the time of his capture in 2002, Abu Zubaydah was commonly said to be number three in al-Qaeda. After years of notoriously extreme and experimental torture in secret detention and Guantanamo Bay, the US government no longer asserts that he was a member of al-Qaeda at all. They merely continue to hold him without charge and without process.


Background on Abu Zubaydah

Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, more commonly known as Abu Zubaydah, is a stateless Palestinian born in Saudi Arabia. He was held in secret detention by the CIA of the United States of America from the time of his abduction from a home in Faisalbad, Pakistan on 28 March 2002 until approximately 6 September 2006, when it was announced that he was transferred to the custody of the U.S. Department of Defence (“DOD”) at Guantanamo Bay. He remains in indefinite detention in DOD custody at Guantanamo Bay, however he has never been charged of any crime, neither in proceedings before a military commission nor in a civilian court.

Abu Zubaydah was the first detainee captured after 11 September 2001 who was believed to be a high-ranking member of Al Qaeda. He was also the first person to be subjected to the new regime of abusive interrogation designed and implemented by the CIA. According to former CIA Director George Tenet, once Abu Zubaydah was in custody, the CIA “got into holding and interrogating high-value detainees . . . in a serious way.”

Throughout the period of Abu Zubaydah’s secret detention, interrogation and torture by the CIA he was falsely alleged to be a member of al Qaeda and a close associate and senior lieutenant of Osama bin Laden. He was also falsely alleged to have had a role in various al Qaeda terrorist acts – including the attacks on 11 September 2001. After more than six years of incommunicado detention, Zubaydah obtained access to U.S. lawyers, who challenged his detention in U.S. courts and forced the U.S. Department of Justice to withdraw all such allegations. The United States no longer alleges Abu Zubaydah was ever a member of al Qaeda or that he supported al Qaeda’s radical ideology. The United States no longer alleges that Abu Zubaydah was an associate of Osama bin Laden or that he was his senior lieutenant. The United States no longer alleges that Zubaydah had any role in any terrorist attack planned or perpetrated by al Qaeda, including the attacks of 11 September 2001.

Abu Zubaydah was the first so-called “high value detainee” to be captured, detained and interrogated by the CIA. For the purpose of his interrogation, the CIA devised a set of “enhanced interrogation techniques” intended to create a state of learned helplessness through the application of severe physical and psychological stress. He is one of three detainees subjected to the waterboard, and U.S. government documents show that he was waterboarded at least 83 times in one month.

Background on Reprieve

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve has represented, and continues to represent, a large number of prisoners who have been rendered and abused around the world, and is conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.

Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guarantee; Registered Charity No. 1114900 Registered Company No. 5777831 (England) Registered Office 2-6 Cannon Street London EC4M 6YH