The Lithuanian government, having completed an investigation of itself, has determined that, yes, Virginia, Lithuania did indeed agree to site on its soil two CIA “black prisons” for the detention and interrogation of War on Terra prisoners.
ABC News reported in August that Lithuania supplied the CIA with facilities for imprisoning eight War on Terra prisoners, a report I wrote about here. Lithuania at the time denounced ABC as a peddler of bollocks.
However, an inquiry by Seimas, the Lithuanian parliament, concluded in late December that the CIA ran two secret prisons in Lithuania: one in 2002, the other from 2004 through 2006. (The latter, a converted riding school, is pictured here.)
“The sites existed,” stated Arvydas Anusauskas, head of the parliamentary committee investigating the matter. “And planes landed.”
Seimas determined that Lithuanian intelligence agents cooperated with the CIA without the knowledge of senior government officials. One of those officials, former Lithuanian president Valdas Adamkus, continues to defy reality, telling the Baltic News Service, “I am certain this never happened, and nobody proved me wrong.”
Wednesday, Lithuania’s current president, Dalia Grybauskaite, called on prosecutors to further investigate the black sites, noting that parliament had “recommended [prosecutors] investigate possible abuse of office.”
Adamkus, the denier, served as Lithuania’s president during the period that his nation cooperated with the CIA, from 1998 through 2003, and again from 2004 to 2009.
Adamkus exiled himself from Lithuania for 54 years, from 1944 until 1998. During most of that time he lived in the United States, where he served in military intelligence in the US Army, and was later appointed to a high position in the Environmental Protection Agency by President Ronald Reagan. Adamkus was long a Republican Party activist.
When he returned to Lithuania, in order to run for president, there was some question as to whether Adamkus was even eligible for the office, since his 50-plus years abroad didn’t seem to fulfill the necessary residency requirements. However, a compliant court swept such objections aside, Adamkus trotted down to the US embassy in Vilnius to renounce his US citizenship, and the job was his.
Adamkus’ year away from the presidency was occasioned by the victory of former Communist and unreconstructed lefty Rolandas Paksas, who unexpectedly defeated Adamkus when the latter sought re-election in 2003. Paksas spent but a year as president before he was impeached and removed from office, after having been accused of being too cozy with the Russians. In the subsequent election to replace him, Adamkus returned to the presidency.
In the wake of the Seimas report, Paksas now asserts that his impeachment was orchestrated by the US, because he balked at the notion of siting secret CIA prisons in his country.
“When I was president, I knew that there were people who wanted to bring terror suspects to Lithuania. I think that my principal disagreement to do this led to the subsequent anti-presidential campaign and impeachment,” Paksas says.
Paksas said that in spring 2003, the then-head of Lithuania’s State Security Department, Megys Laurinkus, asked him if it were possible to bring some US terror suspects to the country unofficially, Kommersant newspaper reports. In doing so, Laurinkus hinted that a positive answer would help foreign partners.
Paksas said he refused to agree. Half a year later, he was accused of a tight connection with a Russian entrepreneur, Yury Borisov, and illegally granting him Lithuanian citizenship in exchange for sponsorship of his presidential campaign. In April 2004 the country’s parliament voted for President Paksas’ impeachment.
Megys Laurinkus confirms the fact of his conversation with Rolandas Paksas.
“I informed Mr. Paksas about the present situation and about the possibility of such a request which could be received by Lithuania,” he said.
However, Laurinkus now claims his request was “hypothetical.”
Lithuania had previously opened two inquiries into the prison allegations, but both times legislators concluded there was no evidence.
However, this past August, ABC News filed an unusually detailed report asserting that the prisons were fact, and that Lithuania had agreed to host them “because it wanted better relations with the US.” George II in 2004 was supporting Lithuania’s bid to join NATO; “[t]he new members of NATO were so grateful for the US role in getting them into that organization,” says former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke, “that they would do anything the US asked for during that period.”
Then, in October of last year, President Grybauskaite said she had “indirect suspicions” that the ABC report might be true, and urged parliament to investigate more thoroughly.
Former president Adamkus, today a denier, stated last November that “[i]f this actually did occur, and it is grounded with proof, we have to apologize to the international community that something like this went down in Lithuania. And those who did it in my eyes are criminals.”
Dainius Zalimas, a legal adviser to the Lithuanian Defense Ministry, said the existence of a covert prison would violate both Lithuanian statutes and international human rights conventions that the government signed. If firm evidence is gathered by the Parliament, he said, prosecutors would be obliged to open a case and could target both Lithuanian and US officials. ”From a legal point of view, it would mean that Lithuania, along with the United States, was contributing to quite serious violations of human rights,” said Zalimas.
It is this sort of prosecution that President Grybauskaite seemed Wednesday to urge upon her nation’s prosecutors.
The Seimas inquiry, perhaps taking its cue from various feckless US Congressional investigations, did not possess subpoena power, and was not empowered to pursue any mendacious witnesses on perjury charges. Nonetheless, it interviewed some 50 people, including former presidents Adamkus and Paksas, and concluded that both the black sites and “a logistics system for secret detention existed.”
It reported that CIA chartered planes were allowed to land in Lithuania, but no Lithuanian officials were allowed near the aircraft, nor told who was on board. Lithuanian state security provided two sites for CIA facilities, one set up in 2002 to imprison one person, the other built in 2004 to hold eight people. The 2002 prisoner apparently never arrived; the Seimas inquiry was “unable to determine” who was housed at the second site.
Anusauskas noted it was not possible to say if any suspects were actually brought to the Baltic state.
“Regarding the ‘cargo,’ I can’t confirm anything, because Lithuanian authorities could not carry out the usual checks, so what was being transported was unknown,” he explained . . . .
“We have identified the sites. The first project was developed from 2002. In response to the wishes of our partners and the conditions that were imposed, the site was meant to host one person. The second site was created in 2004,” Anusauskas said.
The second site was identified as a converted riding school in the hamlet of Antaviliai, 13 miles from Vilnius. The property was purchased in March 2004 by the US-registered firm Elite LLC, now defunct, but then a CIA front; AFP reports that the US embassy in Vilnius helped acquire the site for $829,000 dollars. The CIA oversaw the renovation of the facility; once completed, in September 2004, it housed War On Terra prisoners, until public exposure in the Washington Post of George II’s overseas dungeons in November of 2005 caused The Decider to abandon his European gulags, which is believed to have occurred by the fall of 2006. The Lithuanian government purchased the property in 2007, and it now serves as a training course for Lithuanian intelligence operatives.
“The lay-out of the buildings, their secret nature, the fence around the site, plus the only sporadic visits by VSD operatives, enabled our partners to carry out activities without VSD control and to use the place however they liked,” said Anusauskas.
The August ABC News report had indicated that the CIA filed false flight plans with European aviation authorities to conceal flights coming into and out of Lithuania. According to a former CIA agent, “Finland and Poland were used most frequently” as false destinations for planes actually landing in Lithuania.
The Seimas investigation identified the CIA flights arriving and departing Lithuania with some specificity.
The probe found that five CIA-linked aircraft landed on Lithuanian soil from 2003 to 2006.
Two touched down in Vilnius on February 3, 2003, and October 6, 2005. In the second case, border guards were barred from checking the plane, Anusauskas said.
Three other aircraft landed at Palanga, on the Baltic coast, around 330 kilometres from Vilnius, on January 2 and February 18, 2005, and March 25, 2006.
The Seimas report concluded that Lithuania’s heads of state were “not informed, or only informed superficially” about the sites. Seems state security failed to inform the president or the prime minister of its cooperation with CIA.
Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius said the conclusions of the parliamentary investigation were posing serious concern and highlighted that they reflected the need to reform the State Security Department . . . .
“The very fact that the infrastructure was established proves that a small group of VSD officials could have taken the decision to establish the detention centre behind the back of the public, and maybe, the heads of the state. What causes even more concern, is the fact that the decision was taken by several officials and was being implemented in violation of the law and ignoring the negative consequences to the international reputation of Lithuania,” said Kubilius.
According to Kubilius, the culture of avoiding control and violating the laws prevailed in VSD; the VSD almost became a “state within a state,” that engaged in power games distanced from the true interests of the state . . . .
“Lithuania is a strategic U.S. ally, and cooperation in many fields, including secret operations and counter-terrorism, is very important,” Kubilius said. “However, the strategic partnership with the United States cannot be an excuse to essentially operate under Soviet methods, to ignore the civil control of special services and to violate existing laws.”
It is entirely possible for intelligence agencies to mount operations without providing details to senior elected officials; indeed, they are sometimes expected to do just that. However, there is reason to cast a jaundiced eye on the notion that the Lithuanian black sites were unknown but to a small cabal of renegade spies.
As set out above, former Lithuanian spy chief Laurinkus admits he raised the issue of siting CIA black prisons with the lefty Paksas, when Paksas served as president; why he would not also have mentioned it to the avid GOoPer Adamkus, when Adamkus was running the show, passeth understanding. Foreign Minister Kubilius, in his statement above, says the sites existed “behind the back of the public, and maybe, the heads of state.” And then there’s this, from former CIA officer Bob Ayers:
“To think that any national government would have foreign aircraft flying into its airspace, people being taken from aircraft and moved to control facilities somewhere within their sovereign territories—and neither the central government, police, customs or air traffic control, no one knew anything about this except for the head of the security service . . . that’s just not believable.”
In any event, heads are rolling from Lithuanian spy guys. Prime Minister Kubilius is demanding a “restructuring” of the country’s intelligence agency, VSD; the director of the outfit, Povilas Malakauskas, resigned the week before the release of the Seimas report. Anusauskas said Malakauskas was sent into the Outer Darkness “in part” because of the black site imbroglio; Malakausus himself preferred the ever-popular “personal reasons.” After the report’s release, President Grybaus-kaite demanded that former state security chief Laurinkus immediately leave his post as ambassador to Georgia.
Our own CIA doesn’t want to talk about any Lithuanian black sites. In response to the Seimas report, the agency responded thusly:
“The agency’s terrorist detention program is over, and the CIA has not commented publicly on where facilities associated with that effort may or may not have been,” said Paul Gimigliano of the CIA Office of Public Affairs. He added that the allegation that Lithuania hosted black sites was “not new.”
Gimigliano exercised better control over himself this time, than he did in August, when ABC News first broke its story about the Lithuanian prisons. Then he said this:
“The CIA does not publicly discuss where facilities associated with its past detention program may or may not have been located,” said CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano. “The dangers of airing such allegations are plain. These kinds of assertions could, at least potentially, expose millions of people to direct threat. That is irresponsible.”
Although it is not quite as denialist as former president Adamkus—”this never happened”—the CIA position on its former black sites comes close. Under the Obama administration, the agency line goes something like this: yes, the things existed. But Obama outlawed them via executive order in January 2009. So they’re over. And therefore there’s no need to talk about them.
Whether this is also the position of the rest of the executive branch is at present unknown.
As Jane Mayer points out in The Dark Side, the overseas black sites were established in order to interrogate “high-value detainees” in complete secrecy and outside the reach of US and international law. Notwithstanding the various memos inscribed by BushCo’s kept lawyers to excuse or explain away the torture inflicted on these prisoners, a CIA Inspector General’s report in 2004 concluded that they were indeed abused in contravention of the Convention Against Torture. This document, tens of thousands of pages in length, much of it still classified, was cited by Attorney General Eric Holder as one of the chief reasons he appointed John Durham as special prosecutor, charged with determining whether CIA agents violated the law while interrogating War on Terra prisoners. Since CIA methods were harshest at the overseas black sites, presumably these are the focus of Durham’s probe, and any charges brought will likely concern them. However, since Durham seems to be running a genuine investigation, rather than careening through the media in a Ken Starr-style clown-car, there have been no leaks from the thing, and not even practiced fabulists like Jason Leopold have dared yet to speculate on what’s going on in there.
Too, and as Mayer also sets forth in The Dark Side, all of BushCo’s desperate, doomed filings before the United States Supreme Court on the status of War on Terra prisoners, all its strong-arm attempts to coerce Congress into condoning kangaroo-style military commissions, all its rule-of-law-flouting presidential signing statements, were designed to forever prevent especially its “high-value detainees” from appearing in US civilian courts, where all of BushCo’s brutal, bloody deeds might be made public. And now Attorney General Holder has done just that, charging Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Walid bin Attash, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi in federal US District Court. All five of these men were BushCo “high-value detainees” interned and tortured for years in overseas black prisons, until their transfer to the gulag at Guantanamo in September of 2006.
Among the information that will presumably emerge at trial about, say, bin Attash, is that his leg had been amputated below the knee prior to his capture, and, while interned in a black site, he was forced by his CIA captors to remain standing in a “stress position”—this a technique described as “the most excruciating of the physical treatments for detainees,” and nicked by the CIA from the KGB—for eight hours at a stretch, and without his prosthesis. And it is probable that no living War on Terra prisoner was subjected to torture as severe or prolonged as that inflicted on Sheikh Mohammed, save for Abu Zubaydah.
Zubaydah was undoubtedly the person intended for the 2002 CIA black site in Lithuania that never received its prisoner; instead, after being flown around the world for more than three days, as CIA officials dithered on where best to start in on him, he was deposited at a black site in Thailand. There was done to him what was done, to a greater or lesser extent, to all of these men; Zubaydah was simply the first, we now know, the man they “practiced” on.
They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety—against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, “thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each . . . target.” And so, Suskind writes, “the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered.”
The proper place to expose CIA black sites, in this country, is in the US Congress. When the Founders devised this government, they intended the legislative to be first among equals of the three branches of government. Today, it is a disgraceful last. It has abdicated all of its most important responsibilities. In my lifetime, it has degenerated into something of a vestigial organ, like the appendix: it’s still there, but doesn’t seem to perform any useful function.
The CIA doesn’t exist without the money that Congress appropriates to it. It is subject to full Congressional oversight. Congress could, if it chose, determine precisely what went on in those Lithuanian black sites, and who with. It could, but odds are it won’t. There is a very fine sister site to Daily Kos called Congress Matters. But very few people go there. Because really it doesn’t.