Lithuanian Enquiry into CIA Secret Prisons
A parliamentary enquiry in Lithuania has concluded that the CIA ran two secret prisons in that jurisdiction to which various suspected terrorists were ‘extraordinarily rendered’ in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks. According to the Irish Times news report the enquiry has found that the detention centres were opened and operated in conjunction with the Lithuanian intelligence agencies and that there was no domestic political approval of them. This adds Lithuania to Poland and Romania as European jurisdictions in which such prisons operated.
This is worrying in a number of respects. First of all there is, of course, the concern that a European jurisdiction allowed for the operation of these ‘ghost prisons’. These prisons were clearly intended to circumvent US and international law. Furthermore, they were designed and operated in a manner that attempted to ensure that the domestic law of the relevant state could not be availed of by detainees in any attempt to secure their liberty. The idea of designing a detention centre that would operate outside of the law is almost certainly to ensure that intelligence officers can use whatever mechanisms they deem appropriate or necessary in order to acquire ‘intelligence’ about the detainees’ alleged activities without the spectre of legal accountability for such actions. It seems unlikely that thoughts at that time were directed towards acquiring evidence that could be used in a court of law—there would, after all, be clear questions of admissibility if sustainable claims could be made that information was acquired in an unconstitutional manner. Rather, the information to be gathered was clearly ‘intelligence’—i.e. designed to be used in counter-terrorism design and operations as opposed to in any prosecutorial process.
The second worrying aspect of this report, as far as we know about it at this point, is the claim that there was no high level political approval of the establishment of these detention centres. This is something that the citizens of Lithuania ought to be particularly concerned about as it suggests that intelligence agencies are creating bilateral working relationships that have clearly repressive nature and open the state to potentially immense liability without any kind of democratic processes being used to approve them.
What the fall out of this enquiry in domestic politics and law will be in Lithuania remains to be seen. It will also be interesting to see whether or not there are any repercussions at the EU level (Lithuania joined the EU in 2004). However, it should be said that the fact that a parliamentary enquiry was carried out and that a report is being released is very much to be welcomed. As the story of European involvement in the ‘War on Terrorism’ continues to unfold it is important that we marry our disappointment with various states’ participation with a sense of optimism that the story is, indeed, unfolding giving rise to at least political—if not always legal—accountability.