Lithuania is currently embroiled in a bizarre and deeply confusing political controversy which reveals what happens when a country becomes gripped by extremist ideologies. Evidence has emerged that Lithuanian intelligence agencies allowed secret CIA prisons to be maintained in their country during the Bush era. Just because such prisons would be "illegal" under the so-called "law" of Lithuania and various international conventions to which that nation is a signatory, irresponsible leaders of that country are demanding "investigations" and even possibly legal consequences if it turns out crimes were committed. What kind of a backwards, primitive country would do something like this?
[I]ncreasingly, after years of issuing denials, Lithuania's leaders are no longer ruling out the possibility that the CIA operated a secret prison in this northern European country of 3.5 million people, and that its government will have to deal with the fallout.
Last month, newly elected President Dalia Grybauskaite said she had "indirect suspicions" that the CIA reports might be true, and urged Parliament to investigate more thoroughly.
What sort of a newly elected President would get into office and then start demanding that actions From the Past -- rather than the Future -- be investigated, just because they might be "criminal"? This deeply irresponsible Lithuanian leader apparently doesn't care about inflaming partisan divisions, and worse, appears blind to the dangers of criminalizing policy disputes. Even more outrageously, Lithuania faces one of the steepest recessions in all of Europe; obviously, this is a time, more than ever, that Lithuanians should be Looking to the Future, Not the Past. Instead, they're wallowing in deeply inflammatory, partisan and extremist rhetoric like this:
Valdas Adamkus, who was president when the CIA prison was reportedly in operation, from 2004 until 2005, said he had no personal knowledge of the covert program. But he raised the possibility that Lithuanian security officials could face prosecution if the reports are confirmed.
"If this actually did occur, and it is grounded with proof, we have to apologize to the international community that something like this went down in Lithuania," he told the Baltic News Service. "And those who did it," he added, "in my eyes are criminals" . . . .
Dainius Zalimas, a legal adviser to the Lithuanian Defense Ministry, said the existence of a covert prison would violate both Lithuanian statutes and international human rights conventions that the government signed. If firm evidence is gathered by the Parliament, he said, prosecutors would be obliged to open a case and could target both Lithuanian and U.S. officials.
"From a legal point of view, it would mean that Lithuania, along with the United States, was contributing to quite serious violations of human rights," said Zalimas. . . .
"Criminals"? "Prosecutions"? "Obliged to open a case"? "Violations of human rights"? Just because they maintained a few secret prisons in violation of domestic and international law? What kind of crazy, purist, Far Leftist utopians are running that place? They need a heavy dose of pragmatism so they can understand all the reasons why so-called "crimes" like this can be overlooked -- just blissfully forgotten like a bad dream. Even worse, with intemperate and shrill language of the type they're throwing around, it's seems clear that the Lithuanian press is sorely in need of some David Broders, Fred Hiatts, and David Ignatiuses to explain to them that subjecting law-breaking political officials to "investigations" and "prosecutions" is quite disruptive and unpleasant when those crimes involve matters other than consensual sex between adults.
Even more alarming, this "rule of law" and "human rights" fetish seems to be spreading: "In neighboring Poland, prosecutors in the capital of Warsaw have opened a criminal probe into reports that the CIA operated a prison for al-Qaeda suspects near a former military air base." Last month, an Italian court convicted 22 CIA agents of the so-called "crime" of kidnapping someone off their street and sending him to Egypt to be tortured. And the British High Court this week released its written Opinion -- over the objections of British and American officials -- ordering the release of details of Binyam Mohamed's torture at the hands of U.S. agents.
Thankfully, the U.S. remains a bastion of pragmatic sanity in this rising sea of accountability extremism. Unlike those strange Eastern Europeans and absolutist Western European purist judges, we know there are far more important priorities than "investigating" war crimes, compelling transparency, and holding political criminals accountable. As the rest of the world gets distracted by all this chatter about The Past, our President gallantly protects us from such divisive unpleasantries by aggressively blocking any war crimes investigations and concealing evidence -- even modifying decades-old transparency laws to do so if necessary. Even more inspiring, our patriotic media enthusiastically plays a crucial helping role; The Washington Post has known since 2005 in exactly which countries the CIA maintained its illegal, secret prisons but still refuses to say, even though they've now been banned by Executive Order and even though Lithuania and Poland are launching investigations which the Post could easily answer, but chooses not to.
When President Obama was in China last week, he proudly boasted of the American commitment to transparency and lamented that China lacked such values. Fortunately, he doesn't get carried away with "principles" the way that these short-sighted Lithuanians and Polish and others do. Unlike those unhinged primitive nations with no democratic traditions, we understand that government crimes should be disclosed, investigated and punished only when they occur during a time other than the Past. It's vital that we maintain our leadership role in teaching this critical value to the world, lest the type of crazed accountability/rule-of-law fetish currently engulfing Lithuania spreads even further like some uncontrollable virus.
UPDATE: Jonathan Schwarz notes that in 2005, Donald Rumsfeld traveled to Lithuania and visited a museum in Vilnius which once housed a KGB prison, where the Soviets tortured prisoners. That museum exhibits "solitary confinement rooms which were used to break down the prisoners and make them confess." Shockingly, "the walls are padded and soundproofed, made to absorb the cries and shouts for help," as it was the site of barbaric acts like this:
Prisoners either had to stand in ice-cold water or to balance on a small platform. Every time they got tired they fell down into the water.
After his visit, Rumsfeld released an "Open Letter to the People of Vilnius," in which he solemnly observed that "the museum was a stark reminder of the importance of preserving our liberty at all costs." Schwarz asks: "Did Rumsfeld Tour KGB Torture Museum to Pick Up Useful Tips?"
© 2009 Salon
Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book "How Would a Patriot Act?," a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, "A Tragic Legacy", examines the Bush legacy.
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