Beniušis. CIA prison case: how long will the government continue its ostrich policy?

The White House called to give Lithuanian authorities time to prepare a response to forthcoming information that Lithuania allowed the CIA to secretly interrogate suspects of the September 11 attacks.

The government’s hapless steps in recent months show, however, that even a three-and-a-half-year period has been insufficient for our top officials to forge a unified stance.

Lithuania made headlines around the world when in late May the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the CIA had operated a secret detention site in Lithuania.

After wide-ranging consultations various government specialists decided that there were no solid legal grounds to appeal the judgment.

Politicians dozed off for the summer, but with two days left before the deadline for filing, the prime minister woke up and, nudged by the foreign minister, unexpectedly instructed lawyers to draw up an appeal. The next morning he openly admitted that the appeal was hopeless as there was next to no chance of the ruling being reversed.

To say the least, this last minute maneuver showed disrespect for both for the government’s own lawyers and for the Strasbourg-based court.

The president did not add much clarity either. Shortly after the court announced its ruling she asserted that Lithuania would comply. If that was an attempt to impose her will on the government, it failed. The president soon backtracked and started insisting that it was not her decision to make.

What happens next?

It is easy to foresee what will happen next:

First, the ECHR’s Grand Chamber will by the end of this year reject Lithuania’s request for the case to be reconsidered and the judgement will take effect.

Second, the United States will not give Lithuania the access to Abu Zubaydah, the Palestinian who was illegally held in Lithuania, that it needs to pay him the damages awarded by the court, and will ignore Lithuania’s requests for more information about the detention center.

Third, the Council of Europe will keep asking Lithuania to explain why it fails to comply with the court’s decision. Russia’s ambassador will lead the chorus.

Fourth, Lithuania will lose at least one more case — against Mustafa al-Hawsawi, a terror suspect from Saudi Arabia – within the next five years. There is a possibility that the country will also have explain its actions to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

And every time the matter comes up, the government will have to state its position. At the moment it’s hard to decipher what it might be. “For now, let’s assume that this did not occur in Lithuania, but when a final decision without the right of appeal is taken, then, unfortunately, we’ll have to accept fact,” the prime minister said lamely.

Expectations by politicians and diplomats that the story will silently sink into oblivion will fail to materialize, if only because the Guantanamo detainees’ lawyers will keep bringing it up. Lithuania will be forced to continue writing reports on its efforts to ascertain the truth, so it’s time to decide whether there will be other “last minute offers” or real and consistent work.

Where are the millions?

The decision by the Lithuanian authorities to allow the CIA to build a prison can be understood — but not necessarily justified – as a sincere attempt to show that the country is a loyal ally and forge closer ties with the US, a relationship that would be beneficial to Lithuania.

Vilnius can also point out that the existence of the Lithuanian prison was kept secret for longer than the existence of similar sites in Romania or Poland, and that information on the jail first surfaced on the other side of the Atlantic. In this respect Lithuania demonstrated its trustworthiness.

However, the US Senate report seems to suggest that millions of dollars were given to the Lithuanian authorities in “appreciation” of their favorable attitude. But Lithuanian prosecutors have not ascertained who were the beneficiaries of US munificence, and seem unlikely to do so anytime soon.

Since all information about prosecutors’ investigation is classified, we can only speculate about whether the prosecutors have tried to ascertain which officials may have suddenly become rich, whether there is any evidence of conversations with doctors about the treatment of the detainees, how and who made the decisions on supporting the jail in Antaviliai, and how they were disguised, and whether cross-examinations were held regarding the contradictory statements made by politicians and the heads of the State Security Department in earlier investigations. The prosecutor’s office should be held accountable for the quality of its investigations.

It’s time for our politicians stop parroting the statements made in 2010 that Lithuania is incapable of ascertaining if any terror suspects were flown to the country. This outdated statement does not hold water. The Lithuanian Seimas should launch a new investigation that, after examining the materials of the US Senate report and the Strasbourg court’s file, might reach the conclusion that not only were there secret flights to Lithuania, but detainees on board as well.

As the authorities prepare to pay hundreds of thousands of euros in damages to the Arabs held as prisoners in Lithuania, tax-payers deserve at least a sincere effort to trace the millions of dollars that came from America and vanished in thin air.

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