For sale: CIA ‘black site’ where terror suspects were tortured in Lithuania


A menacing steel barn outside the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius where CIA terror suspects were once held in solitary confinement, subjected to constant light and high-intensity noise, is soon to go on the market.

The government’s real estate fund, which handles assets no longer needed by the state, said on Monday it was preparing to sell the notorious former “black site”, known as Project No 2 or Detention Site Violet, for an as-yet unknown price.

Part of Washington’s secret “extraordinary rendition” programme – in which suspected Islamist militants from conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq were captured and held in jails outside the US – the 10-room building served as a detention centre in 2005 and 2006.

In its windowless and soundproofed rooms, “one could do whatever one wanted”, Arvydas Anusauskas, who led a Lithuanian parliamentary investigation into the site in 2010, told Reuters. “What exactly was going on there, we did not determine.”

Lithuania’s top tourist attraction is a former Russian KGB jail in central Vilnius where 767 people were executed during an anti-Soviet uprising in the 1940s and thousands were tortured, but there are no plans to turn the former CIA facility, which has its own power generator and water supply, into a museum.

“We don’t push any buttons, so as not to turn anything on by accident,” an employee of the real estate fund said of the facility, where fluorescent lighting and the hum of air conditioning dominate the now-empty rooms.

The European court of human rights heard in 2018 that prisoners at the site, used as a training facility by Lithuania’s intelligence service from 2007 until 2018, were shaved on arrival and blindfolded or hooded, with their legs shackled.

Earlier this month it was revealed that the Lithuanian government had paid Abu Zubaydah, the so-called “forever prisoner”, €100,000 ($113,319) in compensation for the treatment he suffered at the site, following the court’s ruling that the government had violated European laws banning torture.

Zubaydah, was captured in Pakistan six months after 9/11, accused of being a senior member of al-Qaida, and has been held without charge ever since. He is unlikely to have suffered the most brutal forms of torture in Lithuania that the CIA applied elsewhere – he was waterboarded 83 times in a single month in Thailand – but he was subjected to sensory and sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, loud noise and harsh light.

A summary of the US Senate’s report into the CIA’s torture program released in 2014 referred to “Site Violet”, though it withheld the identity of the country in which the building was based.

The creation of the site prompted tensions between different elements of the Bush administration, with the US ambassador to Lithuania complaining bitterly that the state department had been cut out of the planning process and kept in the dark.

The Senate report also noted that by the time the black site was opened, CIA personnel were suffering “mission fatigue vis-a-vis their interaction with the program” – a reference to the trauma that agents experienced as a result of participating in torture.

The detainees who were brought there had also been subjected already to so much “enhanced interrogation” – the CIA’s euphemism for torture – that many had been “all but drained of actionable intelligence”.

The CIA and lawyers for the Bush administration attempted to justify Zubaydah’s torture by claiming he was a very senior figure in al-Qaida, but it emerged he was not a member of the organisation.

Other prisoners held at the site included Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-professed mastermind of the 11 September 2001 attacks.

The site was closed in 2006 after Lithuania refused to admit a third prisoner, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, to hospital. All three men are still in detention at the US detention centre in Guantánamo Bay.