European Court Finds Romania Hosted CIA Secret Prison

NEW YORK—Europe’s human rights court has called on Romania to account for its role in the campaign of secret detention, torture, and extraordinary rendition run by the CIA in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

In a unanimous ruling delivered today in Strasbourg, the European Court of Human Rights found that Romania hosted a secret CIA prison between September 2003 and November 2005. It further held that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi citizen, was secretly flown from the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to this site in April, 2004, and secretly flown out of the country in late 2005 to another detention site in either Lithuania or Afghanistan.

The court concluded that al-Nashiri was subjected to unlawful treatment while held in Romania, including detention conditions that included blindfolding and hooding as well as “incommunicado, solitary confinement; continuous noise of high and varying intensity played at all times; continuous light such that each cell was illuminated to about the same brightness as an office; and use of leg shackles.”

The Romanian government has never officially acknowledged that it hosted a CIA “black site” in Bucharest, despite a mass of evidence presented in a complaint filed on his behalf by the Open Society Justice Initiative. In 2014, the U.S. Senate intelligence committee released a report confirming the existence of this site and al-Nashiri’s secret detention and ill-treatment there. The report referred to the site as “DETENTION SITE BLACK.”

Amrit Singh, the lead lawyer on the case with the Justice Initiative, said: “This ruling stands as a sharp rebuke to Romania’s shameful attempts to cover up the truth about its hosting of a secret CIA prison. It is critical for ending impunity for European complicity in the CIA’s torture program.”

Al-Nashiri is currently facing death penalty charges before a United States military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, on charges relating to the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Aden harbor. After being seized and handed over to the CIA in 2002, he was tortured and abused at several CIA black sites, including in Thailand, Poland, and Romania. His military commission proceedings have dragged on for years, riddled with challenges to his torture; they were recently indefinitely suspended after his civilian lawyers resigned, citing a hidden microphone in the room where they regularly met him in the U.S. military–run facility.

The European court’s ruling comes just two weeks after the U.S. Senate confirmed President Donald Trump’s appointment of Gina Haspel as CIA director. Haspel is known to have supervised the CIA black site in Bangkok, Thailand, where al-Nashiri was subjected to waterboarding.

“The European court’s ruling is critical for upholding standards of international law—including that torture is absolutely prohibited,” said Singh. “It stands in stark contrast to the United States’ decision to promote Gina Haspel to CIA director despite her role in my client’s torture.”

In addition to cooperating with al-Nashiri’s secret detention, torture, and rendition, the court found that Romania had breached the protections of the European Court of Human Rights by allowing him to be flown out of the country to face an unfair trial and a possible death sentence. It instructed Romania to seek assurances from the United States that al-Nashiri will not face the death penalty.

The court found that al-Nashiri’s treatment involved:

  • violations of Article 3 (prohibition of torture) of the European Convention on Human Rights, because of the Romanian government’s failure to effectively investigate al-Nashiri’s allegations and because of its complicity in the CIA’s actions that had led to ill-treatment;
  • violations of Article 5 (right to liberty and security), Article 8 (right to respect for private life), and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) in conjunction with Articles 3, 5, and 8;
  • violations of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial within a reasonable time), and Articles 2 (right to life) and 3 taken together with Article 1 of Protocol No. 6 (abolition of the death penalty) because Romania had assisted in al-Nashiri’s transfer from its territory in spite of a real risk that he could face a flagrant denial of justice and the death penalty.

It ordered that Romania pay al-Nashiri €100,000 in damages.

The Open Society Justice Initiative acted as cocounsel in Al-Nashiri v. Romania, together with his Romanian lawyer, Diana Hatneanu.

The court combined al-Nashiri’s case against Romania with a separate complaint brought on behalf of another Guantanamo Bay captive, Abu Zubaydah, against Lithuania, which also supported the CIA’s post–September 11 campaign.

The al-Nashiri ruling marks the third ECHR case brought by the Open Society Justice Initiative related to the CIA’s program. In 2012, the court ruled against Macedonia in the case of Khalid el-Masri, a German citizen who was kidnapped, abused, and flown to Afghanistan after being seized in Macedonia in a case of mistaken identity. In 2014, the court ruled against Poland, also in favor of al-Nashiri, over Poland’s role in his rendition, secret detention, and torture.

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.