No Comment — December 8, 2011, 11:37 am

Inside the CIA’s Black Site in Bucharest

Reporters for German network ARD’s Panorama newsmagazine and the Associated Press have pieced together key details surrounding the CIA’s operation of a black site in Bucharest, Romania. AP’s Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo write:

In northern Bucharest, in a busy residential neighborhood minutes from the center of Romania’s capital city, is a secret that the Romanian government has tried for years to protect. For years, the CIA used a government building — codenamed Bright Light — as a makeshift prison for its most valuable detainees. There, it held al-Qaida operatives Khalid Sheik Mohammad, the mastermind of 9/11, and others in a basement prison until 2006, the year some were sent to Guantánamo Bay, according to former U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the location and inner workings of the prison…

Unlike the CIA’s facility in Lithuania’s countryside or the one hidden in a Polish military installation, the CIA’s prison in Romania was not in a remote location. It was hidden in plain sight, a couple blocks off a major boulevard on a street lined with trees and homes, along busy train tracks. The building is used as the National Registry Office for Classified Information, which is also known as ORNISS. Classified information from NATO and the European Union is stored there. Former intelligence officials both described the location of the prison and identified pictures of the building.

The facility’s address is Strada Mure? 4, according to the German account.

With typically wishful thinking, CIA general counsel Stephen Preston claimed in September that “the controversy has largely subsided.” In fact, criminal probes across Europe are just now exposing the full scope of the CIA’s black sites. Under the CIA program, which was terminated by President Bush in September 2006, terrorism suspects were held and questioned using waterboarding and other Justice Department–approved torture methods that the Bush administration labeled “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Bush-era Justice officials continue to insist that the techniques were lawful; their successors at the Obama Justice Department disagree, but have declined to investigate or prosecute their predecessors, giving legitimacy to the “golden shield” memoranda of the Bush DOJ.

It is clear, however, that enhanced interrogation techniques are criminal under the laws of Poland, Lithuania, and Romania, which are bound by the standards of the European Convention on Human Rights. Similarly, the operation of a black-site system where torture takes place is defined as a crime against humanity under the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which went into force on December 23, 2010 (though it simply declares previously existing international law), and which American diplomats, acting under the instruction of the Bush Administration, vigorously attempted to obstruct. WikiLeaks has also disclosed aggressive efforts by American diplomats to interfere with criminal investigations launched in Spain, Germany, and Italy into the CIA’s black-sites program.

The Romanian officials naturally deny everything. It is noteworthy that Romania was seeking admission to NATO in the first few years after 9/11. It appears that the United States pressed Romania to cooperate with its black-site torture network as a means of gaining NATO membership — and indeed, the location of the black site itself, in a building that now sports a NATO flag out front, helps drive that point home.

The AP article goes on to note that the alleged USS Cole bombing plotter Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri appears to have been held in the facility between 2003 and September 2006, when he was removed to Guantánamo.

ARD correspondent John Goetz told me, “What is amazing is that outside of the flight logs and some memos made in Washington, we know virtually nothing about the inside of the CIA prison system. Unfortunately, most editors think it has already been told, when the opposite is the case.” Goetz stated that the new disclosures, which he developed jointly with Goldman and Apuzzo at AP, were made possible by the accounts of former CIA agents, who identified the site. The ARD report airs at 10 p.m., Middle European Time, and a preview can be seen here.

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