Lithuania: ABC News Report 'Not Helping' Our Image

ABC News finds secret prison for al-Qaeda detainees at swank riding academy.

November 19, 2009, 10:25 AM

Nov. 19, 2009 — -- A top Lithuanian official said that a report by ABC News that it had discovered a secret CIA prison in a former riding academy near Vilnius was damaging to his country's reputation.

"Obviously, this is not helping Lithuania's image," Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas told the Baltic News Service Thursday. "Therefore it is vital that we conduct an investigation and clear any doubts." Usackas also warned Lithuanians not to believe "rumors or wild tales."

On Wednesday, ABC News revealed the location of one of the CIA's secret "black site" prisons, where harsh interrogation techniques were allegedly used on accused al-Qaeda terrorists, in a converted horseback riding facility 20 kilometers northeast of the Lithuanian capital. Where affluent Lithuanians once rode show horses and sipped coffee at an attached café, the CIA installed a hidden concrete structure where it could hold up to eight "high value detainees" at a time, a current Lithuanian government official and a former CIA official told ABC News.

For many of the residents of this former Soviet state, it is reminiscent of the KGB's secret prisons. "As a Lithuanian," a local woman told ABC News, "I am not very proud of this."

"The activities in that prison were illegal," said John Sifton, a New York attorney whose firm One World Research investigates human rights abuses. "They included various forms of torture, including sleep deprivation, forced standing, painful stress positions."

It is not known which suspected al-Qaeda figures were in Lithuania, but 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad was moved out of the CIA's secret prison in Poland just before the Lithuanian facility was opened.

According to sources who say they saw the facility, the riding academy originally consisted of an indoor riding area with a red metallic roof, a stable and a cafe. The CIA built a thick concrete wall inside the riding area. Behind the wall, it built what one Lithuanian source called a "building within a building."

Inside the Secret Prison

On a series of thick concrete pads, it installed what a source called "prefabricated pods" to house prisoners, each separated from the other by five or six feet. Each pod included a shower, a bed and a toilet. Separate cells were constructed for interrogations. The CIA converted much of the rest of the building into garage space. Intelligence officers working at the prison were housed next door in the converted stable.

A local woman who lives near the complex, and who refused to give her name for fear of retribution reports that when she often saw cars with black-tinted windows drive up to the buildings. When a garage door opened, all the lights in the complex would go off until the car had entered the building and the door had closed.

Electrical power for both structures was provided by a 2003 Caterpillar autonomous generator. All the electrical outlets in the renovated structure were 110 volts, meaning they were designed for American appliances. European outlets and appliances typically use 220 volts.

Locals report that English-speaking guards worked at the complex, and often swam in a nearby lake. The guards were rotated every 90 days.

Lithuanian officials provided ABC News with the documents of what they called a CIA front company, Elite, LLC, which purchased the property and built the "black site" in 2004.

ABC News first reported that Lithuania was one of three eastern European countries, along with Poland and Romania, where the CIA secretly interrogated suspected high-value al-Qaeda terrorists, but until now the precise site had not been confirmed. Read that report here.

The CIA purchased the property in March 2004, the same month Lithuania marked its formal admission to NATO. Poland joined NATO in 1999, and Romania joined in 2004.

"The older members, the original 15 members of NATO, would never have said yes to something like this," said former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, now an ABC News consultant. "But the new members were easy to please."

CIA Declines Comment

The CIA opened the prison in September 2004, and closed it in November 2005, former CIA officials told CIA News.

The CIA declined to talk about the prison. "The CIA's terrorist interrogation program is over," said CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano. "This agency does not discuss publicly where detention facilities may or may not have been."

The building is now owned by Lithuanian intelligence, which refused to let ABC News past its gates.

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