Findings in on the alleged CIA prison

  • 2010-01-06
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

WATERBOARDING SPA?: This building could have been a secret CIA prison for al Qaeda suspects, according to Lithuanian LNK TV, U.S.-based ABC News TV and The Washington Post.

VILNIUS - On Dec. 22, the Lithuanian parliament’s Committee on National Security and Defense announced its official conclusion after some 50 former and current top Lithuanian officials were questioned by this committee. The findings are rather dubious: Lithuania’s State Security Department helped the CIA to set up secret prisons in Lithuania, but it is unclear whether they were actually used to interrogate al Qaeda suspects.

The committee’s findings were not translated into English, which led the BBC on Dec. 22 to state the following on its Web site, “In Lithuania, at least eight terror suspects were held at one center on the outskirts of the capital Vilnius, the investigation found.” Similar simplistic statements were published in other leading foreign media.

The real findings were as follows: two high-security detention facilities were built in Lithuania. The first facility was built in 2002, and was designed for detaining a single suspect, but it was never used. The second facility (former riding center on Antaviliu Street 11a, reconstructed, managed and guarded by English-speakers, according to media reports) on the outskirts of Vilnius was established in 2004. The commission was unable to determine if any detainees were brought there. Officers of Lithuania’s State Security Department were prevented by foreign “partners” from visiting some of the rooms at certain times.

The committee also stated that five airplanes “linked to the CIA” landed in Vilnius and Palanga airports from 2002-2005, and on at least two occasions border procedures were bypassed with the help of high-ranking Lithuanian State Security officials. The identities of passengers and the content of the cargoes could not be determined - there are no records in customs documents. The top state leaders of Lithuania were not informed, or informed only very vaguely, on the issue of the possibility of the bringing in of terror suspects from abroad, stated the committee.

“A small group of the State Security Department’s officers took the decision to build this detention center without informing society or, possibly, state leaders, and they circumvented parliamentary control. An honest assessment of the lessons of the CIA prison in Lithuania, and a reform of the special service, will only improve the quality of our cooperation with our strategic partner, the USA,” stated Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius.

“The Lithuanian inquiry signals a turning point in the quest for the truth about what role European states played in helping the USA in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Other European governments should take note and commit to full investigations of similar serious allegations,” stated Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s expert on counter-terrorism in Europe.
“We have determined that the Lithuanian State Security Department has received requests from the CIA to establish detention facilities,” Arvydas Anusauskas, chairman of the parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defense and MP of the ruling Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats, said at his press conference on his committee’s findings on Dec. 22.

The committee members of his Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats supported the final finding’s text. No wonder - this party, which is losing its popularity, tries to stay on top by being in close alliance with extremely popular President Dalia Grybauskaite. In October, she said that she has “indirect suspicions” about the existence of the alleged prison. Grybauskaite would look foolish if the committee were to just state that there are no facts that some terror suspects were jailed in Lithuania.
However, the opposition Social Democrat members of the parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defense wanted a clear statement in the final finding’s text, i.e. the committee did not find any facts about imprisoned terror suspects on Lithuanian soil.

The committee’s members from the opposition Order and Justice faction greeted the final conclusion’s text. Rolandas Paksas, their party leader, then Lithuania’s president, was impeached by parliament in 2004. The parliament’s move was backed by Mecys Laurinkus, then head of the State Security Department. The alleged prison investigation story has harmed Laurinkus’ diplomatic career.

On Dec. 29, after a request by Grybauskaite, the Lithuanian government dismissed Laurinkus, Lithuania’s ambassador to Georgia. He will cease his ambassador’s functions in January. Laurinkus was not shy to criticize in the media the very fact of the investigation of the alleged CIA prison issue. Social Democrat MP Juozas Olekas stated that the CIA prison story will be a pretext for some cleansing in the governmental structures, especially in the State Security Department. Povilas Malakauskas, head of the State Security Department, resigned after the announcement of the Anuskauskas committee’s findings. The center-left opposition expresses fears that the ruling center-right will have an opportunity to replace some top officials with personalities who would be politically more loyal to the ruling Homeland Union.

The Lithuanian MPs’ investigation was inspired by U.S. ABC News TV which, in August of 2009, citing unnamed ex-CIA officials claiming Lithuania hosted a prison for “high-value” al Qaeda suspects from Sept. 2004 through Nov. 2005. Soon after, Dick Marty, the Swiss rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on secret detentions, said his own sources confirmed the ABC News report.

Egidijus Vareikis, MP of the ruling Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats and one of Lithuania’s representatives at PACE, was one of the few ruling majority MPs who publicly showed no enthusiasm about the investigation of the alleged CIA prison issue. Vareikis described Marty as a man who has a “paranoid hatred of America.” The media statements saying Lithuania hosted the CIA prison is an example of “the presumption of guilt,” according to Vareikis.
After the announcement of the parliamentary findings on the CIA prison issue, former President Valdas Adamkus and current Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas stated again that no al Qaeda suspects were jailed on Lithuania’s territory. However, simple people have a different opinion - during phone-in voting on LNK TV, 78 percent of viewers said that they believe there was a prison with terror suspects in Lithuania.

“As the parliamentary investigation has concluded, there are neither facts nor information that secret CIA detention centers existed in Lithuania. It has neither concluded that the territory of Lithuania was used to transfer persons under suspicion of terrorism, nor that such persons had been brought in or transported from the territory of Lithuania,” stated the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry in its press release.
Grybauskaite, in her numerous New Year’s celebration-period interviews, expressed her surprise with such views of Foreign Minister Usackas. “The minister should listen more carefully what the president is saying,” Grybauskaite said during her short briefing on Jan. 4.