Abu Zubaydah v Lithuania

Forum: European Court of Human Rights
INTERIGHTS’ role: Co-representative
Keywords: Liberty & security, extraordinary rendition, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, private life, family, remedies

One of the most well-known victims of the Bush administration’s 'extraordinary rendition' programme, Abu Zubaydah, suffered rendition, torture and secret detention carried out by the U.S. government that was reliant on the cooperation of numerous states worldwide, including Lithuania. His case, filed before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, concerns the responsibility of Lithuania for his enforced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment at a secret detention facility in Lithuania, and a number of other violations of the European Convention on Human Rights. The case was filed in the Strasbourg court by INTERIGHTS, together with a team of U.S. lawyers.

Abu Zubaydah seeks a determination by the European Court of Human Rights recognising him as a victim of torture, secret detention and enforced disappearance on Lithuanian soil. Abu Zubaydah has been deprived of an opportunity to defend himself publicly due to a communication ban imposed by the CIA, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Defense that prevents him from publicising the facts in his case.

This case seeks to give Abu Zubaydah a voice and to reassert his rights as a human being. He also requests the Court to identify measures that states should adopt to prevent similar violations occurring in the future. Abu Zubaydah also seeks a ruling that Lithuania is required to conduct an independent and thorough investigation of his complaints, with his participation, directly and through his representatives.

Abu Zubaydah’s case before the European Court of Human Rights
Aims of the European Court of Human Rights case
Background – Abu Zubaydah as a victim of the CIA extraordinary rendition
Non-existence of allegations against Abu Zubaydah
Abu Zubaydah’s current situation
Related documents

Abu Zubaydah’s case before the European Court of Human Rights
The complaint of Abu Zubaydah before the European Court of Human Rights concerns the responsibility of Lithuania for his unlawful detention, torture and ill-treatment at a secret detention facility in Lithuania, the deprivation of his right to private and family life, his unlawful transfer from Lithuania to further violations and the on-going denial of his right to any legal recourse.

On or about 17 February 2005, Abu Zubaydah was rendered to Lithuania where he was held in a secret detention facility, constructed and equipped specifically for CIA detention, in accordance with prior authorisation from high level Lithuanian authorities. Lithuanian officials were responsible for the establishment of the secret detention facilities for use by the CIA. They participated in and provided cover for the extraordinary rendition of individuals including Abu Zubaydah into and out of Lithuania, and their secret detention and torture on Lithuanian soil. They did this despite widely available information indicating the nature of human rights violations occurring in the CIA-led rendition programme during the relevant periods.

On an unknown date, thought to follow disclosure of the secret detention facilities in Poland and Romania in December 2005, Abu Zubaydah was transferred by extraordinary rendition from Lithuanian territory to detention in an undisclosed facility, from where he was later transferred to Guantánamo Bay.

Since August 2009, information concerning Lithuania’s involvement in the rendition programme has been in the public domain. Lithuania’s President spoke publicly of an early commitment to conduct an investigation and to hold accountable those responsible. The Lithuanian parliamentary inquiry found high levels of cooperation between the CIA and Lithuanian State Security Department, but it failed to reach conclusions on the identities of those transported on CIA rendition flights that landed in Lithuania and detained in two secret prisons built in Lithuania for the CIA. A superficial criminal investigation, conducted by the Prosecutor General at the instigation of parliament, was closed on 14 January 2011 after the prosecutor concluded that “No data has been obtained” indicating that the CIA planes illegally transported detainees and that “no data was received to suggest that” persons were detained in Lithuania. Despite the submission of new evidence recently by two human rights organisations, Reprieve and Amnesty International, on 21 October 2011, the Prosecutor General decided not to re-open the criminal investigation despite this new evidence.

Aims of the European Court of Human Rights case
Abu Zubaydah seeks a determination by the European Court of Human Rights that his rights under the European Convention on Human Rights have been violated. He also seeks a ruling that Lithuania must conduct an effective and thorough investigation of his complaints, with his participation, directly and through his representatives. Abu Zubaydah also seeks diplomatic interventions by Lithuania before the relevant U.S. authorities to put an end to his prolonged arbitrary detention and ill-treatment. Abu Zubaydah also seeks that the Court stipulates what measures states should put in place to prevent similar violations occurring in the future.

Background –Abu Zubaydah as a victim of the CIA extraordinary rendition
Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, more commonly known as Abu Zubaydah, is a stateless Palestinian born in 1971 in Saudi Arabia. He is a victim of 'extraordinary rendition', torture and secret detention carried out by the U.S. government in conjunction with numerous other states worldwide, including Lithuania.

On 28 March 2002, agents of the U.S. and Pakistan seized Abu Zubaydah in Faisalabad, Pakistan. In the course of the operation he was shot several times, in the groin, thigh and stomach, resulting in critical wounds, and taken into the custody of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). For more than four years – from the day he was seized until his transfer to U.S. Department of Defense custody in September 2006 – Abu Zubaydah ‘disappeared’ into incommunicado detention in secret detention facilities (so-called 'black sites') around the world, including in Lithuanian territory.

Abu Zubaydah has been described as the first so-called 'high value detainee' (HVD) to be captured and interrogated by the CIA, and U.S. government documents explicitly connect his capture with the initiation of the CIA detention and interrogation programme. Official U.S. government documents describe the use of authorised and unauthorised interrogation techniques on him, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) concluded that he was the only detainee who was subjected to all of the authorised 'enhanced interrogation techniques.' The U.S. authorities have publicly acknowledged inflicting a battery of waterboarding and other forms of extreme physical and psychological coercion on Abu Zubaydah. A former national security officer familiar with the treatment of Abu Zubaydah has explained that Zubaydah 'was an experiment. A guinea pig … There were many enhanced interrogation [methods] tested on him that have never been discussed[.]'

Non-existence of allegations against Abu Zubaydah
At the time of Abu Zubaydah’s seizure and throughout the period of his secret detention, interrogation and torture, grossly inaccurate claims have been made in an effort to justify his detention and ill-treatment. The U.S. originally claimed, for example, that he was the 'third or fourth man' in al Qaeda, and that he had a role in every major al Qaeda terrorist operation, including as a planner of the attacks on 11 September 2001. However, later all such allegations were withdrawn. The U.S. no longer alleges Abu Zubaydah was ever a member of al Qaeda or that he supported al Qaeda's radical ideology. It no longer alleges that he was Osama bin Laden’s senior lieutenant. Nor does it allege that Abu Zubaydah had any role in any terrorist attack planned or perpetrated by al Qaeda, including the attacks of 11 September 2001.

Abu Zubaydah’s current situation
Abu Zubaydah remains in incommunicado detention in U.S. custody at Camp 7 at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He has been detained for nearly ten years without ever being charged with a crime, or provided with an effective opportunity to challenge the lawfulness of his detention. As a result of the torture and ill-treatment Abu Zubaydah has been subjected to, including in Lithuania, he suffers from serious mental and physical health problems and debilitating on-going pain and suffering. Publicly available records describe how prior injuries were exacerbated by his ill-treatment and by his extended isolation. As a consequence, he has permanent brain damage and physical impairment. He suffers blinding headaches, and has an excruciating sensitivity to sound. Between 2008 and 2011 alone, he experienced more than 300 seizures. At some point during his captivity, the CIA removed his left eye. His physical pain is compounded by his awareness that his mind is slipping away. He suffers partial amnesia, and has trouble remembering his family.

Related documents
Application to the European Court of Human Rights
Press release (27 October 2011)
Additional submission (10 September 2012)
Response to Government's Observations (15 July 2013)