Torture is impermissible in Europe, according to the European Convention on Human rights, signed in 1953 and now adhered to by the 47 members of the Council of Europe. Last Thursday, the European Court of Human Rights, whose jurisdiction is based on that convention, found the governments of Lithuania and Romania guilty of violating its ban on torture. The two states both hosted detention camps organised by the US Central Intelligence Agency between 2003 and 2006 in which key al-Qaeda suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were blindfolded, hooded, shackled and subjected to excessive noise and light.
Part of the US secret rendition programme after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, these high-profile prisoners are still being held without charge at Guantanamo prison on Cuba. Abu Zubaydah was moved between Lithuania, Afghanistan and Thailand before Guantanamo. He has been waterboarded 83 times, according to his testimony and independent investigations, has lost sight in one eye and suffers generalised weakness as a result of these years of interrogation with torture. The Lithuanian government is considering appealing the judgment and reopening its own investigation into the case
The judgments vindicate the ethical standards established by the convention drawn up after the systematic violation of human rights in the second World War. These standards are foundational norms for Europe’s political and legal development.
That is likely to attract criticism from the US, where President Donald Trump, his new secretary of state Mike Pompeo and incoming CIA head Gina Haspel have all defended the use of torture against such suspects. Such disagreements on torture and human rights will be aligned with similar transatlantic rifts on trade, climate change and foreign policy issues like Iran, which are forcing both sides of the alliance to reappraise their future relations. As divisions exposed by the opening of a US embassy in Jerusalem showed, it will be difficult to hold a common European line.