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Lithuania: A Gitmo on the Baltic?

Published time: November 25, 2011 08:33
Edited time: November 25, 2011 12:33

Amnesty International members and opposition protest in front of government headquarters in Vilnius to urge Lithuania to reopen a probe of claims that it hosted a secret US interrogation center for Al-Qaeda suspects, September, 29 (AFP Photo / Petras Malukas)

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The Baltic state of Lithuania is facing a lawsuit for hosting a secret CIA prison on its soil as a Guantanamo Bay prisoner who claims he was detained and tortured there takes his case to The Hague.

­Abu Zubaydah has been in Washington’s hands for almost a decade. He is suspected of recruiting for al-Qaeda, but has never been formally charged. Like many other prisoners languishing in Guantanamo, he says crimes were committed against him during his interrogation by the CIA, as RT’s Alexey Yaroshevsky reports.

Zubaydah’s case is being looked after by the human rights group, Interrights. Its lawyer, Vesselina Vandova, says her client’s claims of CIA abuses are backed by a government paper trail.

“There is evidence from US government internal reports that Abu Zubaydah was tortured at the hands of the CIA,” she asserts.  

“He was subjected to very cruel treatment, for example, to mock executions and waterboarding.”

Though he seems to have every reason to hold a grudge against Washington, Abu Zubaydah filed a rather surprising lawsuit from his prison cell  – against Lithuania. He claims that in 2005, he was held in a secret CIA prison in the Baltic state.

According to Vandova, Lithuania bears responsibility for its role in facilitating the operation of this CIA program.

“Abu Zubaydah asked the European Court of Human Rights to recognize him as a victim of enforced disappearance, secret detention and torture on Lithuanian territory. He also requested the court to identify measures which the states should implement to prevent similar violations in the future,”
states the lawyer.

­Central European Gitmo

­A secret CIA prison in a small country in Central Europe? That may seem like a conspiracy theory to some – but not to human rights activists in Lithuania.

Politician and human rights activist Algerdas Paletskas from Vilnius claims they had CIA planes landing on their territory.

“We have records of conversations between Lithuanian security officials and top politicians. We don’t need to argue about the prison – it was there,” says Paletskas.  “The question is how many people were brought in and, most probably, tortured there?”

The Lithuanian authorities have not denied that there were secret CIA facilities on their soil. However for reasons best known to themselves, they are refusing to comment on Abu Zubayda’s lawsuit. Mr. Paletskas believes they are simply scared.

“They knew they were accepting people who may be tortured in Lithuania and that makes it twice as bad. I think that responsible officials from Lithuania and the US and – including George W. Bush – must be brought to the Hague tribunal for crimes against humanity,” he insists.

It may take months for Abu Zubaydah’s lawsuit to bring any results. But even at this early stage, the case has highly-explosive potential, experts say, as it may trigger actions in other European countries.

Poland, Macedonia and Romania have all been accused of having CIA prisons on their territory. But this is the first time that a former detainee of the Central European rendition centers has decided to file a lawsuit,  and now speculation is rife over how far the ripples from this particular case might travel.

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