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Despite the evidence Lithuania refuses to acknowledge involvement in the CIA rendition programme

It is eleven years since Abu Zubaydah was taken into US custody. During the first four he was unlawfully transferred across continents with the complicity of a number of states that facilitated his secret and incommunicado detention in facilities in different parts of the world. He has been kept at secret detention facilities that were constructed and equipped specifically for the purpose of assisting his interrogation. He is now in Guantanamo Bay.

One component of the extraordinary secrecy surrounding inmates at Guantanamo Bay is that their US lawyers are unable to convey their communications to the public because of the restrictive US government guidelines, which classify those communications as confidential. While this has prevented Abu Zubaydah from presenting evidence and information directly, he has described, in an unauthorised communication, the torture he has endured while in CIA custody. This torture involved the so-called ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques’, including waterboarding. Abu Zubaydah has often been described as the guinea pig in the use of these methods of torture. As a consequence of years spent in detention and being subjected to brutal treatment he now suffers from serious mental and physical problems.

International reports and investigations have established involvement by a number of states in the rendition programme operated by the CIA of which Abu Zubaydah was only one victim. Two of those states, Poland and Lithuania, are now before the European Court of Human Rights accused of Abu Zubaydah’s torture and detention. Both deny any involvement in the rendition programme in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary. For Lithuania, assuming the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first time, its pledge to prioritise an 'Open Europe'* stands in stark contradiction to its on-going dissimulation over its involvement in Abu Zubaydah’s rendition and torture. The Lithuanian government’s pledge can only ever properly and legitimately be met if it owns up to the central role it played in Abu Zubaydah's rendition, detention and torture. The signs are not hopeful.

Its recent reply to the allegations of torture and secret detention made against it, submitted to the European Court of Human Rights in May this year, can be reduced to the following arguments (1) Abu Zubaydah never expressed a wish to bring proceedings before domestic or other courts and is not represented by the counsel named in the case; (2) his claim is inadmissible on the basis he has not exhausted domestic remedies and did not submit the application in time; (3) there is no explicit evidence of his extraordinary rendition to and secret detention in Lithuania; and (4) the investigations carried out by its prosecutor’s office were prompt and thorough in accordance with Lithuania’s obligations under the Convention.

This reply is facile and disingenuous. It deliberately ignores the clandestine nature of the rendition process; it avoids addressing the obvious implications of secretly kidnapping, detaining and torturing an individual; and it dismisses allegations of ineptitude and lack of thoroughness in its own investigation by claiming there was nothing to investigate. Unfortunately this approach is entirely consistent with the Lithuanian government’s attitude, throughout Abu Zubaydah’s ordeal, of cover-up and concealment. The government fails also to address recent reports from international bodies highlighting its involvement in the rendition programme. The United Nations Joint Expert Report on Secret Detention, the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner, and the rapporteur on secret detentions for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have all noted Lithuanian involvement in the CIA led rendition programme. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture has criticised the Lithuanian government’s failure to provide it with information concerning its involvement in the rendition programme. The European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs issued a resolution calling on the Lithuanian authorities 'to honour their commitment to reopen the criminal investigation into Lithuania’s involvement in the CIA programme if new information should come to light.' This new information has been submitted to the government and relates to a flight with Abu Zubaydah on board that stopped in Morocco before flying on to Romania and Lithuania, yet there is no sign of any willingness on the part of the Lithuanian prosecutor general to reopen its investigation.

The role played by the Lithuanian authorities in Abu Zubaydah’s rendition, detention and torture is clear. Its new role at the head of the European Union requires it to call on other states to address shortcomings in their human rights record. It can only do so with credibility when it finally faces up to its complicity in secret detention and extraordinary rendition, expressly repudiates these practices, and conducts effective investigations to ensure all officials involved in Abu Zubaydah’s treatment in Lithuania are held accountable.

Contact Pádraig

* As stated in the ‘Programme of the Lithuanian Presidency of the EU.