The Hamilton Spectator

Lithuania Denies Hosting C.I.A. Prison


ANTAVILIAI, Lithuania — First came containers loaded with equipment for a secluded property under renovation on the edge of the forest. It had housed a horseback riding academy and a cafe, but was being reconfigur­ed.

Then muscular young men appeared, jogging through the trees at strange hours and speaking English.

Juozas Banevicius, who watched the comings and goings in the tiny settlement of Antaviliai nearly 20 years ago, recalled thinking it odd that the newcomers would shoo away anyone who came close to the fence they had put up around their property, which was previously open to the public.

“Nobody knew what they were doing inside,” recalled Mr. Banevicius, 66.

The answer has been subjected to intense news media and judicial scrutiny in the years since. It has all pointed to the same conclusion: The village of Antaviliai was home to a secret C.I.A. detention and torture center, one of three socalled black sites that the agency set up in Eastern Europe after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In January, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a secret prison codenamed Site Violet had “beyond reasonable doubt” been located in Lithuania. It did not name Antaviliai, which is near the capital, Vilnius, but the village is the only place in the country that Lithuanian officials have acknowledg­ed as a site of a former C.I.A. facility — although they insist it was not a prison.

Site Violet featured in a report by the U.S. Senate Intelligen­ce Committee in 2014 after an investigat­ion on the C.I.A.’s use of waterboard­ing and other “enhanced interrogat­ion techniques.” According to the report, the site operated from February 2005 until October 2006, when it closed because of unspecifie­d “medical issues.”

The January ruling concluded that Lithuania had violated the European Convention on Human Rights “because of its complicity in the C.I.A. secret detainee program.”

Poland, which initially denied hosting a secret U.S. jail known as Site Blue, acknowledg­ed after the Senate investigat­ion that it had let the C.I.A. hold terrorism suspects on its territory. The Polish president at the time, Aleksander Kwasniewsk­i, insisted he was unaware of the harsh techniques used by U.S. interrogat­ors.

By contrast, multiple court cases and investigat­ions have only reinforced in Lithuania a carapace of official secrecy — and displays of loyalty to the United States by a vulnerable Baltic country fearful of an increasing­ly aggressive Russia.

Lithuania’s well-documented complicity in C.I.A. torture, said Kestutis Girnius, a historian at Vilnius University, “is not something anyone here wants to talk about.”

A big reason for that, he said, was the dependence of his country, a NATO member sandwiched between Belarus and the heavily militarize­d Russian enclave of Kaliningra­d, on the United States for its security. But, he asked: “Do we really have to be so obsequious? When America says jump, we only ask, ‘How high?’ ”

A former C.I.A. site, code-named Site Violet, in Antaviliai, Lithuania. Lithuanian officials deny it was a prison.


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