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Human rights groups slam Lithuania for closing CIA "black site" investigation

Published time: January 20, 2011 13:30
Edited time: January 21, 2011 14:26

In a page straight out of Solzhenitsyn, human rights groups are calling on Vilnius to reopen an investigation into a secret CIA detention center set up on their territory.

­Amnesty International said Lithuania must keep the investigation open until all evidence has been thoroughly examined.

“The investigation surrounding the existence of secret prisons run by the US Central Agency (CIA) in Lithuania must not be closed until all avenues of evidence have been thoroughly pursued,” Amnesty International said.

The suspected CIA black site probe began in October 2006 following a series of interviews by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) with former detainees of Guantanamo Bay detention center. The United States, according to the charges, used facilities located in Eastern Europe and elsewhere to torture suspected terrorists in the War on Terror.

America-based ABC News, in 2009, announced that eight Al Qaeda members were being held in Lithuania, Antaviliai, in a secret CIA prison converted from a deserted Soviet-era military barracks in a period between 2004 and 2005.

Lithuania’s investigation was declared closed because of “information shortages,” defense minister Rasa Jukneviciene said.

Amnesty International (which has labeled the black site facilities “The Gulag Archipelago,” in a reference to the novel of the same title by Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn), says the Prosecutor General’s Office is ignoring the “conflict of interest” between the Lithuanian State Security Department (SSD) and the CIA.

Indeed, even Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite spoke out against the decision to close the investigation, saying prosecutors should reopen the case if they receive new evidence.

In January 2005, Swiss senator Dick Marty was the representative at the Council of Europe in charge of the European investigations into so-called “extraordinary rendition” flights organized by the CIA and various European governments. His investigation concluded that 100 suspects had been rounded up by the CIA in Europe and then rendered to a country where they may have been tortured

In January 2009, in one of his first acts as president, Barack Obama ordered the CIA to “close as expeditiously as possible any detention facilities that it currently operates and shall not operate any such detention facility in the future."

“Closing this investigation is premature,” said Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s expert on counter-terrorism and human rights in Europe, as quoted by the Lithuania Tribune. “By shuttering the investigation before all the evidence has been gathered and all lines of inquiry pursued, the prosecutor cuts off a process that had the potential to hold people accountable for serious human rights violations.”

Though Lithuanian prosecutors acknowledged that the SSD had committed “disciplinary offenses” by withholding information about the secret prisons from government officials, they said that the statute of limitations was also applicable in the case and that it should be closed, the Tribune reported.

Amnesty International responded in a press release that they had never been informed of time constraints in the case.

“An Amnesty International delegation met prosecutors conducting the investigation into the secret sites in November 2010 to present a new report titled 'Open Secret: Mounting Evidence of Europe’s Complicity in Renditions and Secret Detention.' The organization’s delegation was assured by the prosecutor that the investigation would continue and…the prosecutor made no mention of a pending state of limitations,” the human rights group wrote in the press release.

Amnesty International says it has prepared a report relevant to the investigation that it planned to send to prosecutors this week. The dossier will include a letter encouraging the court to pursue the lines of inquiry suggested by the human rights organization.

“It is abundantly clear from our meetings in Lithuania that there is a lot of evidence about the Lithuanian sites that has yet to be examined by the prosecutors,” said Hall.

“The investigation should continue until that information has been assessed. The parliamentary inquiry and subsequent criminal investigation set a powerful example for the rest of the region that accountability for rendition and secret detention is possible. Lithuania has a legal obligation to investigate these allegations thoroughly and impartially.

Amnesty International added that this could not be accomplished “unless the prosecutor doggedly pursues every bit of evidence, which has not happened in this case.”

Robert Bridge, RT

For a special RT report on the suspected Lithuania site, click here

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