Did Lithuania host a secret CIA prison?

November 10, 2009

clara_gutteridge-Clara Gutteridge, Renditions Investigator at legal charity Reprieve. The opinions expressed are her own.-

I welcome the Lithuanian parliament’s announcement that it will investigate allegations that a secret CIA prison operated on its territory from early 2004 to late 2005.

Unlike Poland and Romania – also alleged to have hosted secret CIA torture sites in the years following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan – the Lithuanians have responded in a way that befits a modern European democracy.

“If this is true,” Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said, “Lithuania has to clean up, accept responsibility, apologize, and promise that it will never happen again.”

By contrast, such openness has failed to emerge elsewhere in Eastern Europe. The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly sessions in 2006-2007, which considered Swiss Senator Dick Marty’s report detailing the allegations against Poland and Romania, were perhaps the most depressing political debates I have ever witnessed.

Representatives from all sides of the political spectrum in Poland and Romania united to “refute” the allegations. When the so-called moderates were asked in private why they were so furiously refusing to even countenance these extremely serious allegations, the response was, “you don’t understand – this is an attack against our country, and to consider it would be un-patriotic”.

Evidently, news of the importance of encouraging healthy dissent in a parliamentary democracy has yet to reach some parts of the New Europe, and Lithuania should be applauded for bucking this trend. As a newer recruit to NATO and the EU, Lithuania has far more to be insecure about when it comes to maintaining U.S. relations than relative old-hands Poland and Romania, yet its president has bravely chosen to stand for political accountability rather than trying to suppress the truth.

The Lithuanian CIA prison is supposed to have operated from around September 2004, until sometime in 2005, and one media report quotes former U.S. officials saying that Lithuania agreed to host the prison in order to “get our ear”. Indeed, the prison is said to have opened in the very same month that Lithuania joined NATO, which is very likely not a coincidence.

For Lithuania, joining NATO would have been impossible without U.S. support, and brings with it a host of political and economic advantages, including opening up the possibility of joining the EU. For the U.S., the NATO framework offers the most stringent secrecy regime of any supranational grouping, which gave the U.S. a ready-made structure for covering up its wrongdoing.

Lithuania’s incentive for agreeing to host the prison – and a few years earlier, the similar decisions of recent EU accession states Poland and Romania, are obvious, and perhaps from an economic sense understandable. But that’s no excuse for not doing something now.

Europe prides itself on its tradition of rights, accountability, and learning from the past. We have yet to discover exactly who was held in Lithuania, and Poland and Romania, what was done to them, and where they are now. Perhaps Lithuania will lead the way for the “New Europe” to take this next step, and encourage Poland and Romania to do the same.

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