The case filed on behalf of "high value detainee" Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri in the European Court of Human Rights this month is the first attempt by the rule of law to dispel the shadows surrounding Romania's secret CIA prison.
Over the last several years, evidence of Romania's role in the CIA's rendition and secret prison programme has been building inexorably. Investigations into "black sites" in Poland and Lithuania have shown how Romania was linked to these countries, as well as to Afghanistan and Morocco, by planes associated with the CIA programme. Faced with similar bodies of evidence, other European nations have accepted the need to admit to at least some of the evidence ranged against them. Lithuania's parliament has accepted that the CIA bought, converted and ran a site outside Vilnius from 2004 to 2006, with effectively no oversight from the local security services, and that planes brought unidentified cargo into and out of this site. In Poland, a long investigation has recently moved to charge the former intelligence chief with exceeding his powers and allowing "corporal punishment."
But in Romania the authorities have stood firm. "We have no knowledge of this subject," said President Traian Basescu last September, Canute-like in the face of the rising tide.
Conclusions concocted in 2008 by a shallow parliamentary inquiry have until now provided the Romanian authorities with a smokescreen, which is periodically enhanced by further exhalations of hot air. The latest such eruption was in the European Parliament's Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee this July, when Romanian MEPs joined forces in a desperate bid to ward off the committee's new report on the transportation and illegal detention of prisoners in European countries by the CIA.
Romanian MEPs shot several barrels of amendments at the report, ranging from substitutions of single words to revisions of whole paragraphs. They suggested that the CIA rendition programme had involved possible rights violations rather than multiple ones. They argued that a proper accountability process was not "essential in order to preserve citizens' trust in the democratic institutions of the EU" but merely "important to public opinion and media". They moved to delete calls for Romania to launch an independent and effective inquiry, while trumpeting the fact that their previous effort had found nothing. They castigated investigators and journalists for not providing judicial evidence, notwithstanding the fact that by definition such evidence can only stem from a judicial process - precisely the sort of process which they were hoping to avoid. Their prolific contributions were largely over-ruled by the rest of the committee, but the point was made: Romania sees little reason to take its role in secret detention seriously. Until now, perhaps.
Over the last year, the shortcomings of the Romanian inquiry have been becoming ever clearer. Documents from a New York court case - solid judicial evidence, one might say - first located by Reprieve in 2011 - revealed several flights of Richmor Aviation's notorious Gulfstream jet N85VM into Romania in 2004 (including one from Guantanamo Bay and others to Rabat, Morocco). And at the start of July this year, Reprieve uncovered details of another half-dozen flights through Romania in 2004 and 2005, arranged by Virginia-based renditions contractor Computer Sciences Corporation. The planes were moving between Romania and Morocco, Jordan, Kabul, Lithuania and Afghanistan, among other places, and had in some cases deliberately attempted to disguise their itineraries. None of these flights was considered relevant, or even noticed, by the Romanian inquiry.
Open Society Justice Initiative has now collated these and other failures and presented them to the European Court of Human Rights. Just a month ago a similar case was communicated by the ECHR to Poland and an application against Lithuania is also pending. The filing against Romania completes a hat-trick. Eventually Romanian parliamentarians may receive the solid judicial evidence which they crave.