Brian Ross and Matthew Cole broke the story last night on the ABC News website. Their report on “Good Morning America” from Thursday morning (2:51):
Until March 2004, “the site was a riding academy and café owned by a local family” in Antavillai, Lithuania. Then, it was purchased by Elite L.L.C., a front corporation of the Central intelligence Agency, and used as a “secret ‘torture center’” in the Bush Administration’s “extraordinary rendition” kidnapping and torture program, Brian Ross and Matthew Cole report at ABC News from documents provided by Lithuanian officials and confirmed by one current official and a former U.S. intelligence official.
John Sifton, human rights lawyer and executive director of One World Research, investigates human rights abuses worldwide. He recently told Anastasia Churkina at Russia Today that C.I.A. agents kept detainees alive just to keep torturing them and found the C.I.A. “set up extensive detention programs around the world” that started in Thailand and expanded to Afghanistan, Jordan, Poland, Romania and another unknown. The third European site, he was told, bordered Poland and many C.I.A. flights went in and out of Lithuania.
After then-President George W. Bush pledged support for Lithuanian efforts to join the NATO alliance in 2002, Mr. Ross and Mr. Cole report, the government “agreed to allow the C.I.A. prison”. Coincidentally, Lithuania formally joined NATO in March 2004.
ABC News first reported that Lithuania was one of three eastern European countries, along with Poland and Romania, where the CIA secretly interrogated suspected high-value al-Qaeda terrorists, but until now the precise site had not been confirmed….
Former CIA officials directly involved or briefed on the highly classified secret prison program tell ABC News that as many as eight suspects were held for more than a year in the Vilnius prison. Flight logs viewed by ABC News confirm that CIA planes made repeated flights into Lithuania during that period. In November 2005, after public disclosures about the program, the prison was closed, as was another “black site” in Romania….
Former CIA officials told ABC News that the prison in Lithuania was one of eight facilities the CIA set-up after 9/11 to detain and interrogate top al-Qaeda operatives captured around the world. Thailand, Romania, Poland, Morocco, and Afghanistan have also been identified as countries that housed secret prisons for the CIA. President Barack Obama ordered all the sites closed shortly after taking office in January.
The Lithuanian prison was the last “black” site opened in Europe, after the CIA’s secret prison in Poland was closed down in late 2003 or early 2004.
“It obviously took a lot of effort to keep [the prison] secret,” said John Sifton, whose firm One World Research investigates human rights abuses. “There’s a reason this stuff gets kept secret.”
“It’s an embarrassment, and a crime.”
Though, the C.I.A. detention program was smaller than that of the military, Mr. Sifton found it was “the one that saw the biggest abuses and most serious forms of torture” and was exponentially clandestine. The Agency’s secret prisons are commonly known as “black sites” which served as a “model” for the military’s.
He added that the Obama Administration has prevented the C.I.A. from detaining people and using “black sites”, but are still permitted to interrogate detainees.
“Domas Grigaliunas, a former counterintelligence officer with the Lithuanian military, said it was widely known among the Lithuanian secret services that U.S. intelligence partners had built the site, although its original purpose was kept highly classified,” Craig Whitlock reports at The Washington Post, adding:
Grigaliunas said he was asked in 2004 by the deputy director of Lithuanian military intelligence to develop plans to help a “foreign partner” that was interested in bringing individuals to Lithuania and concealing their whereabouts as part of a covert operation.…
Villagers who live in a crumbling apartment complex about 100 yards from the site recalled how English-speaking construction workers descended on a small, shuttered horse-riding academy there in 2004. They said the workers refused to answer questions about what they were doing but brought shipping containers filled with building materials. The workers also excavated large amounts of soil; with all the digging, residents said they assumed that part of the new facility was underground.
“If you got close, they would tell us, in English, to go away,” said a retired man who lives nearby and spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing fears of retribution. “We were really wondering what they were up to. We even wondered if it was a Mafia drug operation or something.“
Lithuanian officials, including President Dalia Grybauskaite, denied the initial report from ABC News with the Polish and Romanian governments. She would not comment to them on the most recent report, though she said she harbored “indirect suspicions” and was not in power while the “black site” was reportedly sold to the Lithuanian State in 2007. “‘There are more important things in Lithuania than spending two days denying the gossip of ABC journalists,’ Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas told the Baltic News Service,” David Edwards reports at The Raw Story.
The extremely redacted C.I.A. Inspector General report found detainees faced mock executions, threats to kill and rape family members, waterboarding, extensive pressure point restriction, forced stress positions, sleep and light deprivation in custody. Not redacted was a case where a detainee was beaten to death by a private contractor.