Lithuania and Romania Complicit in C.I.A. Renditions, European Court Says

The European Court of Human Rights censured Lithuania and Romania on Thursday for their complicity in the C.I.A.’s secret program of renditions, saying the two European nations had facilitated the ill-treatment and arbitrary detention of two men accused by the United States of terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The men — Abu Zubaydah, a stateless man of Palestinian heritage, and Abd al-Rahim Husseyn Muhammad al-Nashiri, a Saudi citizen of Yemeni descent — were at the center of an earlier hearing by the same court in Strasbourg, France.

The court ordered Lithuania to pay Abu Zubaydah — also known as Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn — a total of 130,000 euros, roughly $152,000, in damages and costs. It also ordered Romania to pay €100,000 in damages to Mr. Nashiri.

The cases shed light on the murky and once-hidden world of renditions, in which captives suspected of major terrorist acts were shuttled between secret detention facilities and subjected to what Washington labeled “enhanced” interrogation techniques — a phrase taken by rights activists to mean torture and degradation.

The court’s findings came at a delicate moment for Gina Haspel, the newly appointed director of the C.I.A., whose confirmation hearings in Washington betrayed bipartisan worries about her past as a serving intelligence officer during the program of renditions and interrogation.

In that period, she oversaw a secret facility in Thailand where in 2002 a Qaeda suspect was waterboarded — a since-banned practice that induces a sensation of drowning — and there were questions about the agency’s decision three years later to destroy videotapes of interrogation sessions.

In response she promised not to revisit the contentious program, saying it “did damage to our officers and our standing in the world.”

The European court has previously ruled, in 2014, that Abu Zubaydah and Mr. Nashiri had been subjected to “torture and inhuman or degrading treatment” at a center run by the C.I.A. after they were brought to a prison in northeast Poland. The court ordered the Polish government to make similar payments to the two men.

On Thursday, in separate rulings issued simultaneously, the court said that both had been moved between secret facilities in Afghanistan and elsewhere before they were transferred to the United States prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The court said it had been permitted no access to either man because they were both “still being held by the U.S. in very restrictive conditions” at the Guantánamo facility.

Both rulings said that the two men “had not been subjected to the harshest interrogation” techniques in Lithuania or Romania, and that representatives of those countries were not responsible for the interrogations.

But, the court said, both countries “had known of the purpose of the C.I.A.’s activities” on their territory. And the authorities were aware that both men had been subjected to “an extremely harsh detention regime.”

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was seized in Dubai in October 2002 and had been held in Romania between 2004 and 2005, the court said.CreditABC, via Associated Press

The two countries did not immediately respond publicly to the court’s findings, which offered judicial confirmation of widely reported cooperation with the C.I.A. after the attacks in 2001 in New York and on the Pentagon.

Some Americans had said the interrogations were justified by the severity of the charges against detainees accused of plotting and carrying out significant terrorist attacks against the United States.

Abu Zubaydah, who was seized in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in March 2002, had been “initially considered by the U.S. authorities as the ‘third or fourth man’ in Al Qaeda” and “a planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and a senior lieutenant to Osama bin Laden,” the European court said on Friday in a summary of its findings.

“He was the first so-called ‘high-value detainee’ detained by the C.I.A. at the start of the ‘war on terror’ launched by President Bush,” the court said. He was held in Lithuania between 2005 and 2006 after being detained in Thailand and Poland.

For his part, Mr. Nashiri was seized in Dubai in October 2002, suspected of involvement in an attack in 2000 on a United States Navy destroyer, the Cole, in Yemen the same year, and on a French oil tanker, the Limburg, in 2002. He had been held in Romania between 2004 and 2005, the court said.

In Abu Zubaydah’s case, the court said, his detention in Lithuania “according to C.I.A. documents had as standard practice included blindfolding or hooding, solitary confinement, the continuous use of leg shackles and exposure to noise and light.”

The court cited testimony from the two men to the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2006 and to the United States military’s Combatant Status Review Tribunal in 2007. Both had spoken of experiencing harsher ordeals.

Mr. Nashiri had accused his interrogators of “hanging him upside down for almost a month; subjecting him to waterboarding; making him stand in a box for a week; slamming him into a wall; and keeping him in positions of stress.”

In February 2008, the then C.I. A. director, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, said publicly that waterboarding was used on three Qaeda prisoners, including Abu Zubaydah and Mr. Nashiri.

The European court, sitting as a panel of seven judges, concluded that the detention center where Abu Zubaydah was held in Lithuania was one code-named “Site Violet,” which media reports have said was located in a former riding school near Vilnius, the capital.

“The Lithuanian authorities had known of the purposes of the C.I.A.’s activities on its territory and had cooperated,” the judges found.

Their rulings used similar language to describe Romania’s behavior at a location identified as “Detention Site Black.” It accused both European nations of failing to carry out “proper” investigations of their roles in the rendition program.

In 2013, the Open Society Justice Initiative, a rights advocacy group, said that more than 50 countries had cooperated in the C.I.A.’s detention, rendition and interrogation program after the Sept. 11 attacks.

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