Your own CIA jail? Lithuania to sell secret U.S. ‘rendition’ site

Aerial view of a building used by CIA to house prisoners in Vilnius, Lithuania, January 20, 2022, Picture taken on January 20, 2022. REUTERS

A huge steel barn outside Lithuania’s capital, whose long corridor and windowless rooms with carpets and soundproof doors once served as a CIA detention centre, will soon go on sale.

Washington’s so-called “rendition programme”, under which suspected Islamist militants from conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq were spirited to jails outside U.S. jurisdiction, remains shrouded in secrecy more than a decade after it ended.

But the European Court of Human Rights has confirmed that the 10-room building, in snowy pine forest in the village of Antaviliai outside Vilnius, was used by the CIA to hold terrorist suspects from 2005-2006.

It was known as “Project No. 2” or “Detention Site Violet”.

“This was a heavily guarded building where one could do whatever you want. What exactly was going on there, we did not determine,” Arvydas Anusauskas, who led a Lithuanian parliamentary investigation into the site in 2010, told Reuters.

A former Russian KGB jail in central Vilnius, where 767 people were executed during an anti-Soviet uprising in the 1940s and thousands were tortured, is Lithuania’s top tourist attraction. But the state has no such plans to turn the former CIA facility into a museum.

In fact, the government’s real estate fund, which handles assets no longer needed by the state, is preparing to offer the barn to the market at a yet-to-be-decided price.

Blindfolded and shackled

The real estate fund took over the site from Lithuania’s intelligence service which used it as a training facility from 2007-2018.

Previously, CIA inmates were held there in solitary conditions with constant light and high-intensity noise, the European rights court heard in 2018. They were shaven on arrival and continually blindfolded or hooded, with legs shackled.

The court ordered Lithuania to pay 100,000 euros ($113,000) compensation to Abu Zubaydah, a high-ranking al Qaeda figure who the court determined was subjected to human rights violations while jailed there.

Other prisoners said to have been at the Vilnius site included Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, self-professed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, the court heard.

The site was closed in 2006 after Lithuania refused to admit a third known prisoner, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, to hospital.

All three are now at the U.S. detention centre in Guantanamo Bay.

At the Lithuanian site, served by its own power generator and water supply, fluorescent lighting and the hum of air conditioning dominate the now-empty rooms.

“We don’t push any buttons, so as not to turn anything on by accident,” said a representative of the real estate fund, who asked not to be named.

($1 = 0.8841 euros)

Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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