Lithuania hosted secret CIA prisons

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The CIA used at least two secret detention centers in Lithuania after the 9/11 attacks, a Lithuanian inquiry has found. At least eight terror suspects were held at one center on the outskirts of the capital Vilnius (pictured), the investigation found. It was formerly a riding school and the suspects were reportedly held there between 2004 and 2005. Matthew Bell looks at how the current practice of the CIA compares.

MARCO WERMAN: Hi, I'm Marco Werman, this is the World. During the Bush Administration, the CIA operated secret prisons to hold suspected terrorists. Today, Lithuania said its intelligence service helped the CIA operate at least two of those prisons. These so called black sites in Lithuania might have been used to hold Al Qaeda suspects, but a Lithuanian investigation found no evidence the country's leaders knew what was going on there. Still, the controversy is making big waves in Lithuania, and as the world's Matthew Bell reports, those waves could eventually be felt in Washington.

MATTHEW BELL: The investigation carried out by a parliamentary commission in Lithuania might have been sparked by ABC News. Back in August, it ran a story that said one of the secret sites used by the CIA for holding high value Al Qaeda suspects was outside the capital, Vilnius. Today, the head of the Lithuanian investigation said there were two sites used by the CIA between 2002 and 2005, and that Lithuanian intelligence knew about them and helped the CIA operate them.


BELL: Arvydas Anusauskas said that the facilities were there. The chance to avoid immigration checks for prisoners, they were there. And flights connected to the CIA, they were there, too. But he went on to say that political leaders were not briefed about this in any meaningful way. That's important, because the big question in Lithuania is whether officials there broke the law by complying with practices associated with CIA black sites such as water boarding. Lithuanian investigators today said they found no evidence of human rights violations at these sites, and they went even further. They said they found no evidence that the facilities were ever used to hold any CIA detainees. But if Lithuanian officials were in the dark about what went on at those black sites, international law expert Scott Horton says it's because they wanted to be.

SCOTT HORTON: That's called deniability in a case like this. Certainly the report itself says that this is coordinated with the Lithuanian intelligence services, and certainly they would have briefed up the chain. But did the Lithuanian authorities know exactly who was being held there and what was being done to them? I think we could probably assume they didn't want to know those things. But they could easily have found them out if they wanted to.

BELL: This controversy might have claimed one high level political casualty already. The head of Lithuanian's intelligence agency resigned last week. Horton says there could be more to come.

HORTON: The fact that the CIA used torture is presenting a real complication for especially intelligence services in Europe and their collaboration. And we've already seen a number of senior Italian intelligence officers indicted and put on trial because of their collaboration with the CIA. We may see this in a number of other countries. Major criminal investigation going on right now in Spain; another in Germany; another one in the UK. And it shows really how dangerous this technique is from the perspective of our allies.

BELL: For the most part, Horton says CIA officials back in Langley, Virginia, are safe from any criminal charges that might be brought in Europe. Their European counterparts are not. And that's a potential headache for the Obama administration as it seeks to increase cooperation on counterterrorism. For The World, I'm Matthew Bell.