Romania still silent on CIA secret prisons

Human rights lawyers and activists say that it might be already too late for an effective Romanian investigation of the CIA extraordinary renditions program, one of the darkest chapters of former President George W. Bush’s ‘War on Terror'.

Ana Maria Luca
Ana Maria Luca NewsMavens, Central & Eastern Europe
Romania still silent
on CIA secret prisons - NewsMavens
Gina Haspel, official CIA portrait

Why this story matters:

As the United States swore in the first women director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the debate over her alleged role in the infamous CIA secret detention program -- that saw terrorism suspects tortured in black sites across the globe -- took place solely in the United States.

In Eastern Europe, where some countries are still expecting rulings at the European Court of Human Rights for allegedly hosting CIA black sites and turning a blind eye to human rights violations, the silence in deafening.

With Poland grudgingly paying damages to two terrorism detainees, Lithuania still investigating, and Macedonia even apologizing for having detained an Egyptian citizen and turning him in to the CIA, Romania stands out for simply not doing anything about it.

Romanian offcials only said they had no knowledge about anything that CIA operatives might have done on Romanian territory.

And that is a problem in itself, human rights lawyers and activists say.

And what is truly unsettling for any citizen, many human rights experts say, is the lack of awareness from Romanian officials on what human rights are and that they need to be protected. Moreover, justice delayed is justice denied, Romanian human rights activists say. Even if the Strasbourg court rules that Romania is obliged to properly investigate the matter, it would be too late.

Details from the story:

  • An upcoming ruling at the European Court of Human Rights, ECHR, is expected to punch a hole in the wall of official denial in Bucharest and a pending decision at the International Criminal Court, ICC, could yet bring more scrutiny.
  • Prosecutors in Romania launched their own investigation, however, only after receiving confirmation of the Strasbourg case in 2012, 10 years after the fact. The investigation is still pending.
  • But legal experts fear it will come too late to trigger any meaningful follow-up by Romanian authorities into who knew what about the alleged creation in 2002 of a secret CIA interrogations site codenamed ‘Bright Light’.
  • In 2015, former Romanian President Ion Iliescu appeared to break the silence when he told Der Spiegel that he had accepted, in principle, a CIA request for a location in Romania and that the details were handled by his then national security adviser Ioan Talpes. But he said Romania “did not interfere” in how the CIA used the location.
  • Incumbent President Klaus Iohannis, however, said a few days later that Iliescu had misspoken and that the site he had agreed to was a CIA bureau -- “a small office.” Iliescu himself also later backtracked.
  • Human rights activists say al-Nashiri’s case against Romania was vital in combating the practice of rendition in Eastern Europe, where the intelligence apparatus of some countries have yet to be fully reformed and often work according to their own rules with limited oversight.
  • Questions also remain over Turkey’s pursuit in Eastern Europe of Kurdish activists and accused collaborators of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says was behind a failed coup in 2016 against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
  • A decision pending at the ICC on whether to pursue an investigation into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, the scope of which may include the renditions programme and European ‘black sites’, threatens yet more scrutiny of Romania’s alleged role.
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