European rendition complicity
Reprieve is actively investigating the role of European states, including Romania, Poland and Lithuania, in the illegal incarceration and torture of prisoners in the so-called “war on terror”.
In the wake of the tragic events of 11 September 2001, the United States embarked on a worldwide clandestine programme, combining three illegal practices: rendition, secret detention and “enhanced interrogation techniques” – a euphemism for torture. Information concerning the complicity of European states in this programme first started to emerge in 2005. In November of that year, the Washington Post, Human Rights Watch and ABC News all reported that the CIA was detaining prisoners at secret locations on European soil, transporting them covertly through European airspace and airports, and torturing them. Following these initial revelations, further investigation and analysis of flight data confirmed that the global “spider’s web” of rendition and associated practices involved several European states, most notably Romania and Poland, but also several others – including the UK.
Investigations headed by Senator Dick Marty of the Council of Europe resulted in the publication of two reports, in 2006 and 2007. Senator Marty’s findings were later corroborated in the United Nations Report on Secret Detention of February 2010. In August 2009, meanwhile, a CIA document released to the American Civil Liberties Union demonstrated conclusively that two so-called “high value detainees” – Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah – were held and tortured in a CIA facility in Thailand, then flown together to another such facility in Poland, probably the facility at Szymany airport, near Stare Kiejkuty. Analysis of flight data shows that they arrived in Poland on 5th December 2002. Another report, by the US Department of Justice’s own Office of Professional Responsibility and released in February 2010, gave further details of the interrogation methods the CIA and DOJ had devised for use in Europe and elsewhere. Further research has uncovered more information relating to CIA rendition and detention operations in Poland, Romania and Lithuania. In 2010 we wrote to the President and Prosecutor General of Lithuania, requesting a full and thorough investigation into allegations that Lithuanian officials were complicit in the secret detention of ‘high value detainee’ Abu Zubaydah between 2004 and 2006.
In an effort to diversify the planes available to it, the US government sought, as early as 2002, private aircraft which could perform government-related operations under “certificates of convenience” issued by the State Department. The operations of one such plane – Gulfstream jet N85VM, managed by Richmor Aviation and owned by Philip Morse, also the owner of Liverpool football club – are copiously divulged in over 1500 pages of documents, which only saw the light of day after Richmor Aviation filed a lawsuit for breach of contract. Trial transcripts make clear that some of N85VM’s flights carried prisoners or – to use Richmor’s owner’s word – “invitees”. Others took US government agents to Guantanamo Bay. Bundles of invoices reveal previously unseen insights into flights which can be connected with the rendition of Abu Omar as well as those of “high value detainees” Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Hambali. A former Soviet-era military compound, Szymany is the biggest CIA jail in Poland, and has been described as the main base for CIA interrogations in Europe. Used to interrogate “high value detainees”, the prison was located next to the Polish intelligence headquarters in the north east of the country, near the border with Lithuania. It was at this site, said Dick Marty, that CIA-devised “enhanced methods” of interrogation, such as extreme sleep deprivation and waterboarding, were used. The prison operated between 2002 and 2003.
Mihail Kogălniceanu Airbase in Romania
Mihail Kogălniceanu airbase in Romania has been used by the US military since 2002 in connection with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and has further served as a location for the CIA to interrogate Iraqi and Afghani captives. It is here that Dick Marty reported detainees were subjected “to interrogation techniques tantamount to torture” and “a permissive attitude on the part of the Romanian authorities” was underscored. Former Presidential Security Adviser Ioan Talpes has said that ex-President Ion Iliescu signed an agreement with the Americans guaranteeing that Romania would secure the perimeter and ignore what went on behind its walls. Mihail Kogălniceanu is located in south east Romania, on the Black Sea Coast, 16 miles north west of Constanta. The base operated between 2002 and 2005.
Project No 1 and Project No 2 in Lithuania
Project No 1 was constructed in 2002, by contractors overseen by Lithuania’s State Security Department (SSD). The facility consisted of a single-story detached building in the centre of the capital, Vilnius, and was relatively small. According to a report by a Lithuanian Parliament Committee (The Seimas Report), the SSD made it clear that the facility was equipped for other purposes (i.e. not for detention). Project No 2 was built within a former horse-riding school in the town of Antaviliai, just 15 miles outside Vilnius. It was much larger than Project No 1. In March 2004, the building was sold by a local family to a US company, Elite LLC, which is thought to have been a shell company for the CIA. It is believed that several so-called “high value detainees” were held at this detention facility, including Abu Zubaydah. The Seimas Report noted that there had been close collaboration between American and Lithuanian officials in relation to both detention facilities, in addition to irregularities and incomplete records in the SSD final accounting for the projects.
Commenting on today’s questioning of the heads of the UK intelligence agencies by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, Reprieve’s Strategic Director, Cori Crider said: “Today’s hearing was billed as a grilling, but was nothing more than a damp squib."
A senior Foreign Office official was today questioned over the Government’s attempts to have a case concerning MI6 involvement in rendition and torture thrown out of court – a position at odds with Cabinet minister Ken Clarke’s claim that he would “like to know what the outcome is” in such cases.
Libyan renditions: torture victims in court against UK Government and Jack Straw on Monday 21 October
A 3-day hearing will begin in the High Court this Monday (21 October) in the case being brought against the UK Government, MI6 and former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw over their role in the kidnap and rendition of an anti-Gaddafi dissident and his pregnant wife.
George W Bush’s former Under-Secretary for Homeland Security has dismissed claims advanced by lawyers for the UK Government that hearing cases brought by torture victims in the British courts may damage US-UK intelligence-sharing.