Will Poland’s Former Leaders Face War Crimes Charges for Hosting Secret CIA Prison?

5.8.10

The mainstream media in the United States (and in the UK) has ignored the release last week of documents in Poland confirming that planes chartered by the CIA flew to the site of a secret CIA prison in north eastern Poland in 2002 and 2003. The documents, released by the Polish Border Guard Office, confirm previously released flight information disclosed by the Polish Air Navigation Service Agency, and also confirm that three “high-value detainees” — Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Ramzi bin al-Shibh — were flown from Thailand to Poland on December 5, 2002, as I reported exclusively here.

The documents also provide the date for a flight into Poland — March 7, 2003 — that corresponds with the date cited for the arrival of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in an article in Der Spiegel last year, and also reveal the number of prisoners on seven separate flights between December 2002 and September 2003. In addition, they provide some tantalizing information about the exchange of prisoners between the Polish prison and another secret CIA facility in Romania.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal took up the story. Although reporter Marcin Sobczyk also ignored the recent release of documents, he ran through the story of the prison’s existence, as disclosed in various documents between 2005 and 2009, and explained that the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza had just reported that former Prime Minister Leszek Miller and former President Aleksander Kwasniewski “may face war crime charges for agreeing to host the facility.”

As Sobczyk stated, “Kwasniewski and Miller may stand trial before the State Tribunal, a rarely-used special court designed to try Poland’s top officials.” He added, “The prosecutor on the case wants to ask the Speaker of Parliament to start the criminal procedure against the former leaders, according to the report. The case would first go to a parliamentary committee and then to the lower house of parliament, which has the power to decide whether or not to press charges.”

Adam Bodnar of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, who filed the Freedom of Information requests that secured the release of last week’s documents, provided me with further information, through an English translation of the article in Gazeta Wyborcza, in which it was explained that Jerzy Mierzejewski, the prosecutor responsible for the “top secret” investigation, which opened in 2008, began by “conduct[ing] an investigation about the government officials’ abuse of powers,” but now, according to the newspaper’s sources, “wants to charge them for participation in war crimes.”

As Gazeta Wyborcza also explained, “The starting point of the investigation was a secret note by the Polish Intelligence Agency confirming that a base controlled by the CIA existed on Polish territory,” and the prosecutor was initially investigating questions relating to “the consent of the Polish authorities for its creation.” The newspaper also reported that Mierzejewski “listened to the testimonies of tens of witnesses — among them former Prime Ministers and bosses of intelligence agencies.”

Under Polish law, senior officials, including the President and the Prime Minister, cannot be tried before a regular court for alleged crimes committed while in office, and can only be tried via the State Tribunal, which, as Marcin Sobczyk explained, “has so far handled just a handful of cases since its creation in 1921.” Gazeta Wyborcza added that, in addition to former President Aleksander Kwasniewski and former Prime Minister Leszek Miller, Krzysztof Janik, the former head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration, could also be charged, and today the newspaper Rzeczpospolita reported that the charges could also extend to Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, the former head of Polish Intelligence Agency.

Whether a trial will actually go ahead is another matter, of course. Aleksander Kwasniewski told Gazeta Wyborcza that the prosecutor had not spoken to him, and explained that “there was co-operation with the American intelligence, and that’s the reason for the CIA flights to Szymany.” He insisted, however, that “there were no prisons.” The following exchange also took place:

Q: Could Poland as part of the co-operation give Americans consent for the prison and for torture?
A: The Americans never asked for such consent.
Q: Could they do it without our knowledge?
A: I have no information whatsoever about Americans torturing prisoners in Poland.

In addition, Leszek Miller responded to questions posed by the newspaper by stating, “I have nothing to say about this case,” and Krzysztof Janik said that “he had nothing to do with this case,” adding that the Polish intelligence centre in Kiejkuty “was not part of my responsibility as Minister of Internal Affairs.” Also asked to comment was Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, who stated bluntly, “When I’m objectively asked by entitled agencies, and when finally I’ll be exempted from secrecy, then I’ll answer.”

These responses may or may not reflect the truth, but in September 2008, when a Polish intelligence official confirmed that the CIA had held terror suspects in a military intelligence training base in Stare Kiejkuty between 2002 and 2005, he added that only the CIA had access to the prison, and that, although Prime Minister Miller and President Kwasniewski knew about it, “it was unlikely either man knew if the prisoners were being tortured because the Poles had no control over the Americans’ activities.”

Krzysztof Janik provided Gazeta Wyborcza with a similar version of events. After saying that he would be “astonished” if a State Tribunal were to proceed, and also stating his belief that the Polish government “had the right to sign a contract with the American government on the issue of the joint war on terrorism,” he added, “As far as I know, our government had no idea what the Americans are doing with the prisoners, and surely not that they were tortured.” When asked, “If the CIA tortured prisoners, could Kwasniewski and Miller have known about this?” he replied, “I can’t answer for them. However, knowing the mechanisms of power, I doubt that they knew.”

For any trial to go ahead, “The prosecutor’s motion will require political support in parliament,” as Marcin Sobczyk explained. He added that generating majority support for “the concept that the country must reveal its secrets and prosecute its leaders for cooperating with their US ally may be difficult if not impossible to build.”

This is almost certainly correct, especially as the release of documents to date — including last week’s startling disclosures, still do not contain names or other information that categorically include the elusive “smoking gun.” As MP Konstanty Miodowicz, who heads the Parliamentary Special Services Committee, told Rzeczpospolita last week, “There is still no evidence that these people were terrorist suspects, imprisoned by the CIA.” As The News added, Miodowicz pointed out that there was nothing in the documents “to suggest that the people on the aircrafts — described in one document as being ‘businessmen’ — were al-Qaeda suspects.”

Technically, this is true, but anyone who believes that the CIA was transporting “businessmen” into Stare Kiejkuty from December 2002 to September 2003, and was going to such extraordinary lengths to disguise its flights, as Council of Europe Rapporteur Dick Marty first revealed in a major report in June 2007 (PDF), must also be hoping that none of the “30 current and former members of the intelligence services in the United States and Europe” with whom Marty spoke, whose testimony enabled him to conclude that “secret detention facilities run by the CIA did exist in Europe from 2003 to 2005, in particular in Poland and Romania,” will be willing to speak openly about what they knew.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on Cageprisoners. Cross-posted on Eurasia Review, Uruknet and New Left Project.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the use of torture by the CIA, on “high-value detainees,” and in the secret prisons, see: Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man (July 2007), Jane Mayer on the CIA’s “black sites,” condemnation by the Red Cross, and Guantánamo’s “high-value” detainees (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) (August 2007), Waterboarding: two questions for Michael Hayden about three “high-value” detainees now in Guantánamo (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now? And What About the Torture? (February 2008), The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts (April 2008), Guantánamo Trials: Another Torture Victim Charged (Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, July 2008), Secret Prison on Diego Garcia Confirmed: Six “High-Value” Guantánamo Prisoners Held, Plus “Ghost Prisoner” Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (August 2008), Will the Bush administration be held accountable for war crimes? (December 2008), The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part One) and The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part Two) (December 2008), Prosecuting the Bush Administration’s Torturers (March 2009), Abu Zubaydah: The Futility Of Torture and A Trail of Broken Lives (March 2009), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part One), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part Two), 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow Condemns Bush Torture Program, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah?, CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months before DoJ Approval, Even In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low (all April 2009), Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi Has Died In A Libyan Prison , Dick Cheney And The Death Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, The “Suicide” Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence?, Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s “Suicide”, Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney On Use Of Torture To Invade Iraq, In the Guardian: Death in Libya, betrayal by the West (in the Guardian here), Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney’s Iraq Lies Again (And Rumsfeld And The CIA) (all May 2009) and WORLD EXCLUSIVE: New Revelations About The Torture Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (June 2009), The Logic of the 9/11 Trials, The Madness of the Military Commissions (November 2009), UK Judges Compare Binyam Mohamed’s Torture To That Of Abu Zubaydah (November 2009), UN Secret Detention Report Asks, “Where Are The CIA Ghost Prisoners?” (January 2010), Binyam Mohamed: Evidence of Torture by US Agents Revealed in UK (February 2010), Torture Whitewash: How “Professional Misconduct” Became “Poor Judgment” in the OPR Report (February 2010), Judges Restore Damning Passage on MI5 to the Binyam Mohamed Torture Ruling (February 2010), What Torture Is, and Why It’s Illegal and Not “Poor Judgment” (March 2010), Abu Zubaydah’s Torture Diary (March 2010), Seven Years of War in Iraq: Still Based on Cheney’s Torture and Lies (March 2010), Protests worldwide on Aafia Siddiqui Day, Sunday March 28, 2010 (March 2010), Abu Zubaydah: Tortured for Nothing (April 2010), Mohamedou Ould Salahi: How a Judge Demolished the US Government’s Al-Qaeda Claims (April 2010), Judge Rules Yemeni’s Detention at Guantánamo Based Solely on Torture (April 2010), How Binyam Mohammed’s Torture Was Revealed in a US Court (May 2010), What is Obama Doing at Bagram? (Part One): Torture and the “Black Prison” (June 2010), New Report Reveals How Bush Torture Program Involved Human Experimentation (June 2010), UN Secret Detention Report (Part One): The CIA’s “High-Value Detainee” Program and Secret Prisons, UN Secret Detention Report (Part Two): CIA Prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq, UN Secret Detention Report (Part Three): Proxy Detention, Other Countries’ Complicity, and Obama’s Record (all June 2010), Abu Zubaydah and the Case Against Torture Architect James Mitchell (June 2010), The Torture of Abu Zubaydah: The Complaint Filed Against James Mitchell for Ethical Violations (June 2010), Calling for US Accountability on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (June 2010), How Jay Bybee Has Approved the Prosecution of CIA Operatives for Torture (July 2010), In Abu Zubaydah’s Case, Court Relies on Propaganda and Lies (July 2010). Also see the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

12 Responses

  1. Tweets that mention Will Poland’s Former Leaders Face War Crimes Charges for Hosting Secret CIA Prison? | Andy Worthington -- Topsy.com says...

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Worthington, Susan Hall. Susan Hall said: RT @GuantanamoAndy: Will Poland’s Former Leaders Face War Crimes Charges for Hosting Secret CIA Prison? – The latest news from Poland: http://bit.ly/bDTMdY [...]

  2. “Going Nuclear” & “Imminent Collapse” « Jamblichus's Weblog says...

    [...] incomparably dedicated Andy Worthington parses the story on Poland’s hosting of secret CIA prisons, for those who missed the release last week of [...]

  3. Bhanu Tiwari says...

    As I read the outrageous The End Of Nations Hubpages article I determined that Andy Worthington’s frequenters absolutely have to read this: http://hubpages.com/hub/Global-Union-The-End-Of-Nations

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Here are a few comments from Facebook:

    Paul Rigby asked:

    How about the CIA thugs who designed and superintended the entire disgusting business?

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    This was my reply:

    Well, obviously, yes, Paul, but they’re still hiding behind their “golden shield” — the OLC torture memos and David Margolis’ decision that breaking the law to endorse torture was merely “poor judgment.” Little by little, we get closer to them …

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote:

    Good work, Andy. We have to expose the whole rotten structure.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    AniTa Hernan wrote:

    Yes ditto Willy. Andy is a trooper. It’s difficult to believe how evil the governments are. Don’t forget to sign any petitions to defend wikileaks either…

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Felicity Arbuthnot wrote:

    US and UK leaders set the whole horror in train — Bush and Blair should be on the first really uncomfortable journey to the Hague. The rest can follow.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Dennis O’Neil wrote:

    good job, andy

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Allie Mcneil wrote:

    wow … really good question with huge implications for Bush and Cheney too … thank you for bringing this to light …

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Wilfredo E Cespedes wrote:

    Thank you Andy for championing the cause for true justice and keep up the great work on our behalf.

  12. Bringing Guantánamo to Poland — and Talking About the Secret CIA Torture Prison « Eurasia Review says...

    [...] New Evidence About Prisoners Held in Secret CIA Prisons in Poland and Romania and followed up with Will Poland’s Former Leaders Face War Crimes Charges for Hosting Secret CIA Prison? This was when I first made contact with Adam Bodnar of the Helsinki Foundation — a contact that [...]

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