It’s time for Romania to face up to the truth. Romanian officials have repeatedly denied reports that the country played host to a CIA “black site” where alleged terrorist suspects were secretly imprisoned and interrogated. Now a joint investigation by reporters from the Associated Press and Germany’s ARD television network has revealed the precise location of one of the sites in Romania: in the basement of the offices of a government agency in a busy residential neighborhood in central Bucharest. Here, the CIA reportedly subjected its prisoners to unlawful interrogation methods including water dousing, forced standing, slapping, and sleep deprivation.
The prison, in the National Registry Office for Classified Information (ORNISS), operated from 2003 to 2006. Those held and interrogated there included Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is now facing capital charges before a US military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, and whose torture and incommunicado detention at a CIA site in Poland have been brought before the European Court of Human Rights by the Open Society Justice Initiative.
We have known that there was a secret CIA site in Romania since 2005, when Human Rights Watch first reported on its existence. Further confirmation came in two Council of Europe reports authored in 2006 and 2007 by Swiss Senator Dick Marty, who led an investigation into CIA secret prisons in Europe. The 2006 report notes that on September 22, 2003 a “rendition plane” with registration number N313P flew from Poland (where the CIA hosted another secret prison), probably to drop off detainees. (Documents released by the Polish border guard in July 2010 confirm this flight). The report also notes that the same plane, N313P also landed in Timisoara, Romania, on January 25, 2004.
Recent court documents uncovered in litigation against CIA contractor Richmor Aviation, show that rendition flight N85VM flew during January 25-28, 2004, from Washington to Geneva, Doha, Riyadh, Amman, Bucharest, and Barcelona, before flying back to Washington. The same flight, N85VN, also flew during April 11-13, 2004 from Washington, to Guantanamo, Tenerife, Bucharest, and Rabat, before returning to Washington.
The 2007 Council of Europe report notes, moreover, that high level officials—including former Romanian President, Ion Iliescu and as well as President Traian Basescu—“knew about, authorized and stand accountable for Romania’s role in the CIA’s operation of ‘out-of-theatre’ secret detention facilities on Romanian territory.”
Despite overwhelming evidence, the Romanian authorities have maintained their pleas of ignorance, and there has been no effective investigation into the subject to date. The most recent denial came in September 2011, following a call from Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner, for Poland, Romania and Lithuania to reveal the full truth about secret CIA prisons on their territories.
It is time for Romania to account for its complicity in grave human rights violations conducted in the name of countering terrorism. In the case of our client, al-Nashiri, Romania violated the European Convention on Human Rights by enabling his ill-treatment and incommunicado detention on its territory, as well as his transfer from Romania despite a real risk that he would be subjected to the death penalty and further ill-treatment in U.S. custody. Romania further violated the European Convention by failing to conduct an effective investigation into the secret prison on its territory, and the associated violation of al-Nashiri’s rights.
More generally, these violations undercut rule of law safeguards established for all Europeans, including Romanians. It is striking that all three European states that hosted secret CIA prisons— Lithuania, Poland and Romania— only returned to democracy with the end of Communism in the early 1990s. All three have all the more reason to defend, rather than flaunt Europe’s human rights guarantees.