US media has named Lithuania as a further European country to have allegedly hosted secret CIA prisons. But clarifying the matter is proving to be challenging, as some officials appear to be stalling investigations.
Lithuania has promised to investigate the latest allegations of hosting a secret CIA prison for al Qaeda suspects on the outskirts of the capital Vilnius, said its new president Dalia Grybauskaite.
The parliament of the former Soviet country was already putting together a special committee to look into the case, Grybauskaite told reporters during an official visit to Brussels on Tuesday. However, she said she had no confirmation of the claims.
"It is regretful that my country's name is on the list," said Grybauskaite. "It will be for us to prove if it is true or not."
Last week, former CIA officials directly involved or briefed on the highly classified program told US television network ABC News that Lithuania was the third country in Europe to provide the CIA with such facilities. Sources have previously named Poland and Romania, as well.
A potential crime
Dick Marty, the rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on secret detentions, said his own sources confirmed the news report.
Marty has been heading the inquiry into secret CIA prisons since 2005
"The time has now come for Europe to account in full for its involvement in this shameful episode," said Marty after the latest allegations were disclosed. However, this is proving to be a difficult task.
Romania has repeatedly denied the allegations, while Polish prosecutors are still investigating the issue. Lithuanian government officials and Grybauskaite's predecessor, Valdas Adamkus, have denied the ABC report.
"The idea that a country was housing a site where torture was probably committed is obviously very difficult to admit," said Reed Brody from the Brussels office of Human Rights Watch.
"The fact is that this is embarrassing and, in particular, it is potentially criminal," Brody told Deutsche Welle. "It is illegal to torture; it is illegal to hold people incommunicado without any rights. This potentially exposes officials, who are involved, to criminal liability."
Though this process of accountability had begun in the US, it had yet to start in Europe, he said. The fact that investigations were dragging on, for example in Poland, could have ulterior motives.
"It would appear that the governments are hoping that people will forget about it," Brody said. "But with each new revelation, with each new batch of evidence of how people were treated and the criminality of this program, it makes it harder to sweep it under the rug."
Getting Washington's ear
All three countries named were formerly part of the Soviet bloc and are new members of the European Union. Lithuania, together with Poland, joined the EU in 2004; Romania in 2007.
According to Brody, this history may have played a role in the matter.
"It's obvious that the relations of the new European countries with the United States are different," he said. A former intelligence official involved in the program told ABC that Lithuania agreed to host a prison because it wanted better relations with the US.
"These are countries that, to put it bluntly, may have thought it in their interests to suck up to Washington and perhaps have less wherewithal to withstand the entreaties of a criminally-minded Bush administration," Brody said.
The search for the truth
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso restated that EU member states should investigate such allegations.
A secret facility on the outskirts of Vilnius reportedly housed eight men
"We have repeatedly stressed the need for member states to start or continue in-depth, independent, impartial investigations to establish the truth of such claims," Barroso said at the press conference with Grybauskaite.
According to PACE's Marty, it is only a matter of time until the truth surfaces. Europe's integrity depended on it.
"I have always believed that the 'dynamic of truth' would prevail in the face of state secrecy," Marty said. "But European credibility is damaged by these repeated leaks of only partial truths every few weeks or months. Let us draw a line under this, once and for all, and come clean."
According to human rights expert Brody, public pressure could help in clarifying the allegations.
"Europeans are shocked by the idea that in the 21st century, there are secret prisons in Europe in which people are being tortured," Brody said. "There has been a lot of outrage and hopefully that outrage will translate into truth."
Author: Sabina Casagrande
Editor: Rob Mudge