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Romania Faces European Court Challenge over CIA Basement Prison

NEW YORK—The Open Society Justice Initiative is calling on Europe’s highest human rights court to address Romania’s involvement in the torture, illegal detention and rendition of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national who faces a death penalty trial before a U.S. military commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Al-Nashiri faces charges relating to the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden harbor in 2000 and other alleged unlawful acts.

He has been in U.S. custody since 2002, when he was first seized in the United Arab Emirates. He was subsequently held secretly by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency at sites in a number of different countries before the U.S. acknowledged his presence at Guantanamo Bay Naval base in September 2006.

The complaint before the European Court of Human Rights alleges that Romania assisted the CIA in landing a secret flight that brought al-Nashiri to Romania sometime after June 2003, then allowing him to be held for an unknown period of time before he was flown out on another secret flight.  

During this period, the complaint alleges that he was held incommunicado in a facility codenamed “Bright Light”, reportedly located in the basement of a Bucharest government building used as the National Registry Office for Classified Information (ORNISS).   

At the Bright Light facility, detainees were reportedly subjected to mistreatment including sleep deprivation, water dousing, slapping and being forced to stand in painful positions.

Al-Nashiri now faces a possible death sentence by a military commission system that does not meet international fair trial standards. 

The complaint asks that the court therefore direct Romania to “use all available means at its disposal to ensure that the United States does not subject him to the death penalty.” 

“Romania continues to flatly deny the existence of the secret CIA prison, while the U.S. administration seeks to draw a veil over these abuses,” said Amrit Singh, senior legal officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative. “With this case, the European Court has an opportunity to break this conspiracy of silence and to uphold the rule of law.”

The application argues that Romania violated the convention by enabling al-Nashiri’s incommunicado detention and ill-treatment on its soil and his transfer out of the country, which exposed him both to the risk of further ill-treatment and the death penalty. The application also argues that Romania has violated al-Nashiri’s and the public’s right to truth by refusing to acknowledge, effectively investigate, and disclose details relating to his case.

Al-Nashiri was captured in Dubai in 2002 by the CIA and held incommunicado and water-boarded at a secret CIA detention site in Thailand before being transferred to Poland around 5 December 2002. He was detained and tortured at a secret CIA prison in northeast Poland some time between December 2002 and June 2003. He was subsequently held for a time in Romania before his eventual transport to Guantanamo Bay.

The Justice Initiative filed a similar complaint before the European Court of Human Rights on al-Nashiri’s behalf against Poland in May, 2011. In June this year, the court required Poland to say whether it had indeed maintained a secret detention site where al Nashiri was held and to provide relevant documentation and other answers. Poland has to respond by September 5. 

In the secret detention site in Poland, U.S. interrogators subjected al-Nashiri to mock executions with a power drill as he stood naked and hooded; racked a semi-automatic handgun close to his head as he sat shackled before them; held him in “standing stress positions;” and threatened to bring in his mother and sexually abuse her in front of him.  US military prosecutors filed terrorism and murder charges against him on April 20, 2011.

Al-Nashiri is represented before the European Court by James A. Goldston, Amrit Singh and Rupert Skilbeck of the Justice Initiative.  

The Open Society Justice Initiative is also representing Khaled El-Masri in litigation pending before the European Court of Human Rights. Mr El-Masri, a German citizen, was subject to torture and abuse at a US site in Afghanistan for four months, after being seized by security officials in Macedonia in December, 2003. He was later flown back to Europe and released.


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