Officials: Lithuania Hosted Secret CIA Prison To Get "Our Ear"

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ABC News

Officials: Lithuania Hosted Secret CIA Prison To Get "Our Ear"

"Irresponsible" To Identify Secret Sites, Says CIA; Lithuania Denies Allegation

by
Matthew Cole

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus (L) talks to U.S. President George W. Bush after a joint press conference at Society House in Riga, Latvia in this May 7, 2005 file photo. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

A third European country has been identified to ABC News as providing
the CIA with facilities for a secret prison for high-value al Qaeda
suspects: Lithuania, the former Soviet state.

Former CIA officials directly involved or briefed on the highly
classified program tell ABC News that Lithuanian officials provided the
CIA with a building on the outskirts of Vilnius, the country's capital,
where as many as eight suspects were held for more than a year, until
late 2005 when they were moved because of public disclosures about the
program. Flight logs viewed by ABC News confirm that CIA planes made
repeated flights into Lithuania during that period.

The CIA told ABC News that reporting the location of the now-closed prison was "irresponsible."

"The CIA does not publicly discuss where facilities associated
with its past detention program may or may not have been located," said
CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano. "We simply do not comment on those types
of claims, which have appeared in the press from time to time over the
years. The dangers of airing such allegations are plain. These kinds of
assertions could, at least potentially, expose millions of people to
direct threat. That is irresponsible."

 

Former CIA officials tell ABC News that the prison in
Lithuania was one of eight facilities the CIA set-up after 9/11 to
detain and interrogate top al Qaeda operatives captured around the
world. Thailand, Romania, Poland, Morocco, and Afghanistan have
previously been identified as countries that housed secret prisons for
the CIA.

According to a former intelligence official involved in the
program, the former Soviet Bloc country agreed to host a prison because
it wanted better relations with the U.S. Asked whether the Bush
administration or the CIA offered incentives in return for allowing the
prison, the official said, "We didn't have to." The official said,
"They were happy to have our ear."

Through their embassy in Washington, the Lithuanian government denied hosting a secret CIA facility.

"The Lithuanian Government denies all rumors and interpretations
about alleged secret prison that supposedly functioned on Lithuanian
soil and possibly was used by [CIA]," said Tomas Gulbinas, an embassy
spokesman.

CIA Secret Prisons

According to two top government officials at the time, revelations
about the existence of prisons in Eastern Europe in late 2005 by the
Washington Post and ABC News led the CIA to close its facilities in
Lithuania and Romania and move the al Qaeda prisoners out of Europe.
The so-called High Value Detainees (HVD) were moved into "war zone"
facilities, according to one of the former CIA officials, meaning they
were moved to Iraq and Afghanistan. Within nine months, President Bush
announced the existence of the program and ordered the transfer of 14
of the detainees, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al Shihb
and Abu Zubaydah, to Guantanamo, where they remain in CIA custody.

The CIA high value detainee (HVD) program began after the March
2002 capture of Abu Zubaydah. Within days, the CIA arranged for
Zubaydah to be flown to Thailand. Later, in mid-2003 after Thai
government and intelligence officials became nervous about hosting a
secret prison for Zubaydah and a second top al Qaeda detainee,
according to a former CIA officer involved in the program. One was
transferred to a facility housed on a Polish intelligence base in
December 2002, said a former official involved with transferring
detainees. The facility was known as Ruby Base, according to two former
CIA officials familiar with the location.

One of the former CIA officers involved in the secret prison
program allowed ABC News to view flight logs that show aircraft used to
move detainees to and from the secret prisons in Lithuania, Thailand,
Afghanistan, Poland, Romania, Morocco and Guantanamo Bay. The purpose
of the flights, said the officer, was to move terrorist suspects. The
official told ABC News that the CIA arranged for false flight plans to
be submitted to European aviation authorities. Planes flying into and
out of Lithuania, for example, were ordered to submit paperwork that
said they would be landing in nearby countries, despite actually
landing in Vilnius, he said. "Finland and Poland were used most
frequently" as false destinations, the former CIA officer told ABC
News. A similar system was used to land planes in Romania and Poland.

Interrogation and Detention Program

Lithuania, Poland, and Romania have all ratified the U.N. Convention
Against Torture as well as the European Convention on Human Rights. All
three countries' legal systems prohibit torture and extrajudicial
detention. Polish authorities are currently conducting an investigation
into whether any Polish law was broken by government officials there in
hosting one of the secret prisons, according to a published report in
the German magazine Der Spiegel.

"There are important legal issues at stake," said human rights
researcher John Sifton. "As with Poland and Romania, CIA personnel
involved in any secret detentions and interrogations in Lithuania were
not only committing violations of U.S. federal law and international
law, they were also breaking Lithuanian laws relating to lawless
detention, assault, torture, and possibly war crimes. Lithuanian
officials who worked with the CIA were breaking applicable Lithuanian
laws as well."

Washington has been sharply divided over whether investigations
into the interrogation and detention program should be opened. The CIA
has been ordered by a federal judge to declassify and release much of
the agency's inspector general report about the first years of the
program by next week.

Attorney General Eric Holder has said that he is weighing
whether he should appoint a special prosecutor to investigate alleged
abuses in the program after reading the IG report. At issue are
instances of abuse that went beyond the guidelines set up by the Office
of Legal Counsel (OLC), which included waterboarding and sleep
deprivation of up to 11 days, according to people aware of Holder's
thinking. President Obama has called the practices "torture" and
abolished the program within a few days of taking office this year. But
the president has also said that his administration intended to "look
forward" not backward at Bush-era policies of interrogation and
detention.

One current intelligence official involved in declassifying the
IG report told ABC News that the unredacted portions will reveal how
and when CIA interrogators used methods and tactics that were not
permitted by the OLC. "The focus will be on the cases where rules were
broken," the official said. "But remember that all instances were
referred to the Justice Department and only one resulted in a
prosecution," said the official, referring to the conviction of CIA
contractor David Passaro, who beat an Afghan detainee to death in 2003.

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