By Matthew Cole
The president of Lithuania called for an official investigation Tuesday into an ABC News.com exclusive report in August that the CIA housed a secret prison for al Qaeda suspects in Lithuania for more than a year beginning in 2004.
"If this is true," President Dalia Grybauskaite said, "Lithuania has to clean up, accept responsibility, apologize, and promise that it will never happen again."
At a press conference with the Council of Europe Human Rights Commission, Grybauskaite announced the investigation after it was clear a previous attempt by the Lithuanian Parliament was insufficient, according to a Council of Europe official.
In August, ABC News reported that the CIA built a secret prison in a residential section of Vilnius from September 2004 through November 2005. The CIA used the prison to detain and interrogate top level al Qaeda prisoners captured around the world after 9/11. Lithuania was the only unknown European country to house so called "black sites," after the identities of Poland and Romania were reported in late 2005 by the Washington Post and ABC News' Brian Ross.
The CIA built or housed al Qaeda detainees in several countries around the world before President Obama ordered them closed shortly after assuming office earlier this year. Among the countries were Thailand, Afghanistan, Morocco, in addition to the three eastern European nations, according to more than a dozen former and current intelligence officials.
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. In September 2004, European and American flight records examined by ABC News reveal CIA-contracted flights directly from Afghanistan to Lithuania. On September 20th, 2004, a Boeing 707 with tail number N88ZL flew directly from Bagram Airbase to Vilnius. According to several former CIA officials, the flight carried an al Qaeda detainee, who was being moved from one CIA detention facility to another. Additionally, in July 2005, a CIA-chartered Gulfstream IV, tail number N63MU, flew direct from Kabul to Vilnius. Several former intelligence officials involved in the CIA's prison program confirmed the flight as a prisoner transfer to Lithuania. The Vilnius prison was closed, however, after news of other CIA prisons in Poland and Romania were reported in the press in November 2005.
Focusing On Ending Torture
Last August, in a written response to ABC.com's report the Lithuanian government denied their country had ever hosted a CIA prison, saying "The Lithuanian Government denies all rumors and interpretations about alleged secret prison that supposedly functioned on Lithuanian soil."
Lithuania is a signatory to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights. Additionally, the Lithuanian legal system prohibits torture, assault, and extrajudicial detention.
"There are important legal issues at stake," said John Sifton, a human rights researcher. "As with Poland and Romania, CIA personnel involved in any secret detentions and interrogations in Lithuania were not only committing violations of U.S. federal law and international law, they were also breaking Lithuanian laws relating to lawless detention, assault, torture, and possibly war crimes. Lithuanian officials who worked with the CIA were breaking applicable Lithuanian laws as well."
As a result of the ABC News.com story about Lithuania, the Council of Europe reopened its investigation into Lithuanian involvement in the CIA program, according to a Council of Europe official.
"We cannot place Lithuania in a position, for whatever interests, where it may become a target for international terrorists," said Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite. "Both Lithuania and the United States must provide answers to these questions."