European Court of Human Rights Condemns Romania and Lithuania for CIA “Black Sites” Where Abu Zubaydah and Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri Were Tortured


Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, two prisoners held in secret CIA "black sites" in Lithuania and Romania, whose governments were condemned for their involvement in the "black sites" and torture in two devastating rulings delivered by the European Court of Human Rights in May 2018.

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In two devastating rulings on May 31, the European Court of Human Rights found that the actions of the Romanian and Lithuanian governments, when they hosted CIA “black sites” as part of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 torture program, and held, respectively, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah, who have both been held at Guantánamo since September 2006, breached key articles of the European Convention on Human Rights; specifically, Article 3, prohibiting the use of torture, Article 5 on the right to liberty and security, Article 8 on respect for private life, and Article 13 on the right to an effective legal remedy.

The full rulings can be found here: Abu Zubaydah v. Lithuania and Al-Nashiri v. Romania.

In the case of al-Nashiri, who faces a capital trial in Guantánamo’s military commission trial system, as the alleged mastermind of the bombing of USS Cole in 2000, in which 17 US sailors died, the Court also found that the Romanian government had denied him the right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the ECHR, and had “exposed him to a ‘flagrant denial of justice’ on his transfer to the US,” as Deutsche Welle described it, adding that the judges insisted that the Romanian government should “seek assurances from the US that al-Nashiri would not be sentenced to the death penalty, which in Europe is outlawed.” Abu Zubaydah, it should be noted, has never been charged with anything, even though the torture program was initially created for him after his capture in a house raid in Pakistan in March 2002. At the time, the US authorities regarded him as a senior figure in Al-Qaeda, although they subsequently abandoned that position.

The Court also ordered Lithuania and Romania to pay €100,000 ($117,000) to each man, echoing the amounts the Court ordered Poland to pay to them when similar rulings were issued in 2014, as I wrote about here and here.

Responding to the news, Human Rights Watch also pointed out how the Court had also “highlighted the serious deficiencies in the national investigations” by the Romanian and Lithuanian governments, and “urged both countries to conclude their investigations into their involvement in the rendition program without delay and to identify and punish relevant officials.”

Nadim Houry, the terrorism/counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch, said, “The European Court’s rulings highlight that European officials have never faced the music for facilitating the CIA’s illegal torture and rendition program. The lack of accountability, mirrored in the US with the approval of an official involved in the rendition program as the new CIA director, leaves the door open for a return to these illegal practices.”

As Human Rights Watch also noted:

The European Court gave short shrift to the investigations and related diplomatic efforts by Lithuania and Romania over its role in these cases. The Lithuanian prosecutor-general’s office opened a criminal investigation in January 2010 following a parliamentary inquiry that confirmed the existence of two black sites and that Lithuanian airports and airspace had been used for CIA-related flights. One year later, the case was abruptly closed for lack of evidence.

Following the release of the US Senate summary of the still classified 6,700-page report documenting the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, the prosecutor general’s office claims to have sent a formal request for legal assistance to US authorities. In April 2015, it announced it was reopening its investigation, which remains ongoing.

Romania opened a criminal investigation in 2012 following a complaint by al-Nashiri but it is still pending and no information has been made public. A parliamentary inquiry that began in December 2005 and concluded in March 2007, found no evidence of a secret CIA prison, illegal prisoner transfers, or Romanian involvement in the CIA’s program. The European Court raised concerns in paragraph 651 of its judgment that the delay in the investigation meant that crucial flight data had been erased.

As Human Rights Watch also noted:

Romania and Lithuania are not the only European countries implicated in the CIA renditions program. The European Court has already condemned Poland for its role in the rendition, detention, and torture of both of these men, Macedonia for its involvement in the CIA’s abduction and illegal transfer of Khaled Al-Masri, a German citizen, and Italy for its role in the abduction of Hassan Mustapha Osama Nasr, an Egyptian cleric better known as Abu Omar, to Egypt.

There is also credible evidence from the United Nations, the European Parliament, and Council of Europe that many other European countries – including Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, and the UK – were involved to various degrees. The UK recently made a formal apology to two Libyan nationals in whose rendition it was involved, and Sweden has apologized to and compensated two Egyptian nationals for its involvement in their rendition.

Of these, only Italy has prosecuted anyone in relation to the program – convicting two Italians and, in absentia, 23 US agents for abducting the Egyptian cleric.

In a briefing paper, Helen Duffy, one of Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers, after noting that “Lithuania was the last European state to allow the CIA to operate such a centre on its territory from 2005 to 2006, and one of an estimated 57 states to have participated in the ERP” (the extraordinary rendition and torture programme), pointed that, although the judgment “focused on Lithuanian responsibility … in an unusually long and detailed judgment the Court also provided a comprehensive review of the facts in relation to our client’s case, and ERP in general. As such, it makes an important contribution to the historical record in an area that the Court noted remains ‘shrouded in secrecy.’”

I made my own contribution to piercing that shroud of secrecy in 2009, when I was the lead writer of a UN report into the US’s post-9/11 secret detention program, and I’m delighted that these rulings have been delivered by the European Court of Human Rights, especially as the US, under Donald Trump, has taken such a backwards step on torture with the confirmation as CIA Director of Gina Haspel, who was in charge of the first CIA “black site” in Thailand towards the end of its existence in late 2002, when both Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were held there.

Back in 2014, when the European Court of Human Rights condemned the Polish government for its involvement with the CIA “black site” on is soil, it was, of course, impossible not to be struck by how the US itself was as determined to obstruct justice as the European Court was in exposing crimes that America had absolutely no justification in trying to hide.

Four years later, the contrast between the European Court’s exposure of injustice and lawlessness, and the US’s ongoing obstruction is even more pronounced, and urgently needs addressing.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

10 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    In my latest article, I congratulate the European Court of Human Rights for condemning the Lithuanian and Romanian governments for their role in hosting CIA “black sites” where Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were held and tortured. It follows a similar ruling, against Poland, in 2014, which, at the time, highlighted the US’s shameful refusal to engage with its crimes, but this time around the contrast between the European Court and the US is even more pronounced, because, of course, Gina Haspel, who actually ran the first post-9/11 “black site,” in Thailand, towards the end of 2002, when both Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were held there, has just been confirmed as Director of the CIA.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone taking an interest in this story. Just before the rulings were delivered, ironically, ProPublica secured some drawings Abu Zubaydah made of his torture, which were released as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School:

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Aleksey Penskiy wrote:

    It’s encouraging, thanks for your work, Andy.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your interest, Aleksey. The media took some interest in these rulings, but not enough – the New York Times reported, as did the Associated Press, the BBC, the Independent, Deutsche Welle and a few others, but there hasn’t been as much coverage as there should have been – and it seems likely that the in-depth rulings will go largely unread, which is something of an indictment of our collective priorities.
    It may have been a long time ago that Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were tortured in Poland, Lithuania and Romania, but the damage hasn’t been undone. They’re still held at Guantanamo, where the law is still missing, or is broken, and no one has been held accountable. It’s pretty disgraceful, even without thinking about what Donald Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel as CIA Director, and her subsequent confirmation by Congress, actually means.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m pleased to see Just Security suggesting that the judgments “have important implications, including the prospect that there may be prosecutions before the International Criminal Court (ICC) related to these incidents, possible constraints on future participation of European states in national security operations involving the United States, and more”:

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    The Observer/Guardian didn’t run a specific story about the rulings, but mentioned them in an article about how, as they put it, “Britain’s spies stand accused of continuing to share intelligence obtained under torture, in breach of official guidance,” which is well worth reading, although I must note, sadly, that I was writing about this about ten years ago, and nothing seems, fundamentally, to have changed:

  7. Tom says...

    At least this is some small amount of doing the right thing. Meanwhile here all that matters to corporate media is Stormy Daniels. Also, will her hotshot attorney get his own talk show deal. Why? Because he’s HOT, that’s why!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    The superficial tittle-tattle is such an effective way of keeping people distracted, isn’t it, Tom? And it’s pretty constantly to try and make sure people don’t wake up in significant numbers and challenge those with all the power and money.

  9. Tom says...

    Well said.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom!

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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