Twelve years ago, in a village on the edge of a pine forest not far from Lithuania’s elegant capital Vilnius, workmen constructed an unusual warehouse. It was the size of an Olympic swimming pool with no windows, many air vents and no stated purpose. The site had formerly been a riding stables and a paddock. It had also served as a local watering hole — a welcome one since the village lacked a bar or restaurant. The new building was shiny and modern, incongruous amid the tumbledown farm buildings and Soviet-era housing blocks. The convivial atmosphere of the riding club was replaced, in the words of one local inhabitant, by “this certain emptiness”.
Naturally, the neighbours were curious. They speculated about the new building’s function. Was it a military listening post? A drug factory? A clandestine organ transplant lab? None of them guessed that it might be a key facility in the US Central Intelligence Agency’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation programme, one of a secret network of “black sites”, set up in half a dozen countries to house undisclosed prisoners out of reach of lawyers, the Red Cross or other branches of the US government. Why should they? Lithuania was a long way from the front lines of the war on terror, and the village of Antaviliai, although only 20 minutes by car from the capital, was known for summer lake swims rather than for covert operations.
The secret detention programme, as it was gradually uncovered, stretched across the globe. The network of sites we have documented encompasses Antaviliai and Kabul, North Carolina and Skopje, Columbia County, Milan, Tripoli and Bucharest. In our journeys through this material, we have sought to portray the appearance of disappearance.