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Court finds Lithuania & Romania in breach of torture ban while hosting CIA black site

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Lithuania and Romania, which hosted secret CIA prisons for terrorist suspects, are responsible for knowingly allowing the torture of prisoners, a European court ruled. It comes after the appointment of Gina Haspel as CIA head.

The two European nations, which hosted clandestine CIA detention facilities after 9/11, have breached basic tenets of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights by allowing torture of prisoners to happen on their territory, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg ruled on Thursday.

The ECHR ruling refers to the cases of Saudi-born Abu Zabaydah and Saudi Abd Al Rahim Husseyn Muhammad Al Nashiri, both of whom are currently held at the US Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

Zabaydah, a suspected senior Al-Qaeda member, was held for two months in Lithuania in 2005. Al Nashiri, who is suspected of organizing the attack on the USS Cole, was held in Romania between 2004 and 2005. The case was brought before the court by lawyers, who lodged complaints against the European nations in 2011 and 2012.

In a unanimous vote, seven European judges said Romania and Lithuania violated the ban on torture and failed to protect the two prisoners’ rights to liberty, security and effective legal remedy. Romania also failed to seek US assurances that Al Nashiri would not be sentenced to the death penalty, which is outlawed in Europe, before handing him over to American custody. The two governments will have to pay €100,000 ($117,000) to each man, the court decided. Lithuania and Romania have three months to file an appeal, should they wish to contest the ruling.

In 2014, Zabaydah received a similar ruling by the ECHR in a case against Poland, where he was held at a CIA black site between 2002 and 2003.

The new European ruling comes less than a month after the controversial confirmation of Haspel as the new head of the CIA. Critics call her ‘Torture Queen’ and ‘Bloody Gina’ for the role she played in the US program of torturing terrorist suspects. She also reportedly played a key part in the 2005 destruction of videotapes of the interrogations involving torture by the CIA. Those include the abuses of Al Nashiri and Zabaydah.

During her confirmation hearing in the US Congress, Haspel said she pledged that there will be no more torture under her watch, apparently winning over lawmakers, who intended to block her nomination over her past. Her detractors claim she personally took part in interrogations because she liked seeing prisoners being hurt.

Terrorist suspects were subjected to various forms of what the Bush administration preferred to call ‘enhanced interrogation,’ including waterboarding, sensory and sleep deprivation, being forced to remain in stress positions, confinement in extremely small spaces and various forms of intimidation. The program was stopped by the Obama administration, but he failed to prosecute anyone involved in it. The incumbent president, Donald Trump, expressed support for the approach on several occasions and promised to lock up more terrorists in Guantanamo Bay.

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