Lithuania investigates claim it ran secret prison

Sat, Nov 21, 2009, 00:00

LITHUANIA’S PARLIAMENT is investigating claims that the US Central Intelligence Agency turned an exclusive riding school outside the capital, Vilnius, into a secret interrogation centre for high-value al-Qaeda prisoners.

Persistent media reports suggest that the complex, near the village of Antaviliai, about 20km from Vilnius, served as a CIA “black site” from September 2004 to November 2005.

The alleged secret prison was supposedly shut down after sections of the US media accused Romania and Poland of hosting similar facilities, and CIA-run aircraft were shown to have made hundreds of flights through Europe on covert missions, possibly carrying abducted terror suspects.

“We’re conducting our inquiry, and we’re examining all possible sites,” said the head of Lithuania’s parliamentary inquiry, Arvydas Anusauskas. “Details of our investigation will not be made public until we have completed it.”

The committee has until December 22nd to finish its inquiry, which was launched despite repeated denials from current and former ministers that any secret prison existed.

Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite, who only came to power this year, has supported the inquiry and said she has “indirect suspicions” that her country hosted a CIA black site.

According to US reports, the riding school was bought from its private owners in March 2004 – the month Lithuania and six other central European countries joined Nato – by a Washington-registered firm called Elite LLC, allegedly a front company for the CIA.

Local people remember foreign, English-speaking workers arriving at the riding school and undertaking major construction work, which one Lithuanian government source described to US channel ABC news as a “building within a building”.

This was where, the network claims, as many as eight senior al-Qaeda suspects were detained and interrogated for more than a year after September 2004. During that time, CIA-chartered aircraft allegedly flew several times from Afghanistan to Vilnius.

“The new members of Nato were so grateful for the US role in getting them into that organisation that they would do anything the United States asked for during that period,” former senior US national security official Richard Clarke said.

A Council of Europe investigation failed to prove the existence of the secret jails, but condemned many EU states for collaborating with the US programme of “extraordinary rendition”, under which terror suspects were abducted and covertly flown around the world, sometimes to US-allied countries that were known to use torture to extract information from suspects.

“The activities in that prison were illegal. They included various forms of torture, including sleep deprivation, forced standing, painful stress positions,” human rights investigator John Sifton said of the Vilnius site.

The alleged former secret jail is now owned by the Lithuanian government and serves as an academy for its security services.

“It just popped up out of nowhere. Everybody knew this was handed to us by the Americans,” Domas Grigaliunas, a former counter-intelligence officer with the Lithuanian military, told the Washington Post. “I have no documents to prove it, and I never worked in any prisons, but I believe they existed here.”

In a 2007 resolution, MEPs approved a report which concluded that many European countries tolerated illegal CIA activities on their territories.