Romania’s Role in CIA Torture and Rendition Comes Before European Court
NEW YORK—Romania’s efforts to draw a veil over its support for the Central Intelligence Agency’s program of torture and secret rendition a decade ago will come under unprecedented scrutiny later this month at the European Court of Human Rights.
On Wednesday, June 29, the Strasbourg court will hold a public hearing in the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national currently held at U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, who accuses the Romanian government of allowing his incommunicado detention and torture at a secret CIA base in the Romanian capital, Bucharest.
Pleadings filed on behalf al-Nashiri say that in 2002 Romania entered into a secret agreement with the CIA to host the prison—code named “Bright Light”—where al-Nashiri and others were secretly detained between 2003 and 2005. Romania received millions of dollars from the U.S. to host the prison. However, after the Washington Post disclosed, in November 2005, that Eastern European countries were hosting CIA prisons, the Romanian government demanded the Bucharest prison’s closure, and prisoners were transferred out of Romania. This sequence of events coincides with the account presented in the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report, released in 2014, in reference to the facility the report calls "Detention Site Black."
Romania assisted the CIA to transfer al-Nashiri in and out of Bucharest, and permitted his secret detention in the Bucharest CIA prison. In May 2004, during his detention in Bucharest, the Senate report confirms that al-Nashiri was subjected to “rectal feeding” after an attempt at launching a hunger strike. He was forced to lie facing upwards with his head below his torso as CIA operatives infused a nutrition drink, Ensure, into him through his rectum. The Senate report refers to the practice of rectal rehydration as one that was imposed “without evidence of medical necessity,” that CIA medical officers discussed as a “means of behavior control.” Al-Nashiri was also subjected to abusive CIA conditions of confinement while held in Romania, including solitary incommunicado detention, blindfolding or hooding, continuous noise, continuous light, leg shackling and forced shaving. During the first month of detention there, prisoners were subjected to sleep deprivation, water dousing, slapping and forcible standing in painful positions.
After being secretly transferred out of Romania, al-Nashiri was subsequently moved, also in secret, to another country before he was brought in September 2006 to Guantanamo Bay, where he now is facing an unfair trial and the threat of a death penalty before a U.S. military commission. Al-Nashiri’s counsel ask that the Romanian government urgently seek assurances from the U.S. government that he will not be subjected to the death penalty and a flagrant denial of justice.
Despite a report from the Council of Europe identifying Romania as hosting one of the CIA’s so-called “black site” secret prisons, the Romanian government has persistently denied any knowledge of these operations. Romania was one of over 50 governments around the world that supported a program of secret rendition and torture launched by the CIA after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, as detailed in the Justice Initiative’s 2013 survey, Globalizing Torture: CIA Torture and Extraordinary Rendition.
Al Nashiri will be represented in the June 29 oral hearing by Justice Initiative lawyers Amrit Singh and Rupert Skilbeck, and Romanian counsel, Diana-Olivia Hatneanu.
This case before the ECHR follows the court’s July 2014 ruling in a similar but separate case brought by the Justice Initiative on al-Nashiri’s behalf against Poland, where he was also secretly detained and interrogated. The court ruled then that Poland was responsible for his secret detention and torture at a CIA prison at Stare Kiejkuty; an appeal by the Polish government against the decision was turned down.
The Justice Initiative argues that Romania violated al-Nashiri’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, by hosting the secret CIA prison where he was subjected to torture and ill-treatment, and by allowing his transfer out of the country despite the risk of further ill-treatment, an unfair trial and possible death sentence. The complaint also accuses Romania of failing in its duty to properly investigate what happened, as required by the convention.
In December 2012, in another case argued by the Justice Initiative, the European Court of Human Rights condemned the arbitrary arrest, detention and interrogation of Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen who was seized and secretly detained by Macedonian agents in 2004, handed over to the CIA, and flown to Afghanistan for further secret detention and interrogation.