Reprieve calls on Lithuania to re-open torture site inquiry

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Protest against extraordinary rendition outside the US Embassy in London
Protest against extraordinary rendition outside the US Embassy in London

REPRIEVE has called on Lithuania to re-open its torture site inquiry after discovering another suspicious flight into Vilnius.

Legal action charity Reprieve is demanding that Lithuanian authorities revive their failed inquiry into CIA ‘black sites’ after a Freedom of Information (FOI) request – made in conjunction with Access Info Europe – uncovered a mysterious flight into the country’s capital during the relevant period.

The flight, which was either not noticed or not revealed by Lithuania’s two official inquiries into local rendition complicity, demonstrates the inadequacy of previous attempts to get to the bottom of damaging allegations that have been gathering pace over the last two years.

In response to an investigation by ABC News in 2009, a Lithuanian Parliamentary inquiry admitted that, on 18 February 2005, American private jet N787WH had landed briefly in Lithuania en route from Romania.

Reprieve and other independent investigators had previously accused both Romania and Lithuania of hosting secret CIA prisons, where alleged terrorists were held incommunicado before transportation to Guantanamo Bay.

Reprieve can now reveal that, only a few hours earlier, a second jet – bizarrely overlooked by the Lithuanian inquiry – flew in to Vilnius International Airport from another known secret prison site in Morocco.

Information received from the Lithuanian Civil Aviation Authority, in response to Reprieve’s and Access Info Europe’s latest FOI request, shows a suspicious aircraft – identified as N724CL – arriving in Vilnius on 17 February 2005 at 18:03 and leaving at 19:31.

The plane departed for Iceland and from there returned to the USA.

It had flown into Vilnius after a brief stop in Jordan. Further confidential documents held by Reprieve show that it entered Jordan from Morocco, and that previously it had touched down in the Azores and the Canary Islands.

Crofton Black, Secret Prisons Investigator at Reprieve, said: ‘Lithuania has held two inquiries over the last two years.

‘Far from getting to the bottom of these damaging allegations, they haven’t even managed to find out which planes entered and left their country.

‘It’s only a matter of time before more such information emerges: the government should finally face up to it and take their responsibilities seriously.’

Lydia Medland, Research and Campaigns Coordinator at Access Info Europe, said: ‘Lithuania has taken a step in the right direction by recognising the right of access to information and releasing flight data under Freedom of Information legislation.

‘Information which relates to the violation of fundamental human rights should never be withheld from the public.’

The role of European states in facilitating secret prison operations by the CIA was first revealed in 2005.

Poland and Romania were named at this time as countries where the US had maintained secret prisons, while a third European country remained unidentified.

In 2009, US-based ABC news published a series of articles which described a detention site in Lithuania, outside Vilnius, according to the testimony of former CIA officials.

Lithuania responded to these allegations with a short parliamentary inquiry, completed 22 December, 2009, and a longer pre-trial investigation (terminated unexpectedly on 14 January, 2011).

The parliamentary inquiry concluded that, although it could not determine whether or not the CIA had held prisoners in Lithuania between 2004 and 2006, ‘conditions existed’ for them to have done so.

The pre-trial investigation, having restricted its remit to investigating ‘abuse of authority’ by Lithuanian officials, concluded that the statute of limitations for such abuse had already expired, and that no further action was therefore appropriate.

In September 2010, Reprieve wrote to the Lithuanian Prosecutor General, stating that it had received information that Abu Zubaydah (a ‘high value detainee’ previously alleged by the US to have been a high-ranking member of Al-Qaeda) had been held in Lithuania after a period of imprisonment in Morocco.

Reprieve followed this with another letter, in November 2010, outlining some possible investigative avenues that could be relevant.

No sign was given that the Prosecutor was following these avenues, however, and further communications from Reprieve to the Prosecutor went unanswered.

Since the start of 2011, Reprieve has been working to build up data relating to the movements of aircraft linked to the CIA renditions programme.

On 1st September, 2011, Reprieve released details of a large cache of documents, outlining in detail the movements of one plane involved in the program, N85VM.

At the same time, Reprieve is continuing to research the movements of other planes in Europe and around the world.

Access Info Europe (http://www.access-info.org) is a human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and protecting the right of access to information in Europe as a tool for defending civil liberties and human rights, for facilitating public participation in decision making and for holding governments accountable.

Access Info’s mission is that the right of access to information be enshrined in law and work in practice. Access Info Europe is based in Madrid.

A copy of the Freedom of Information disclosure received from Lithuania can be found on  Reprieve’s website.

It was obtained under the Lithuanian Law on Provision of Information to the Public, July 2, 1996 No. I-1418 (as amended by June 20, 2002 No. IX-972), equivalent to Freedom of Information and Access to Information legislation in force elsewhere in Europe and internationally.

Research with Reprieve forms part of Access Info’s wider work on access to information for human rights.

Access Info is this year launching the Europe-wide Access for Rights project with Statewatch, which will focus on access to information for human rights NGOs (Non-Government Organisations).

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantanamo Bay. 

Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. 

Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. 

Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.  

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 15 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, assisting over 70 prisoners facing the death penalty around the world, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror’.