Guest Post: Polish Journalist Discusses the Ongoing Investigation into the CIA’s Torture Prison in Poland

17.4.12

Since November 2005, when the Washington Post first reported that the CIA had held “high-value detainees” in its “war on terror” in secret prisons in eastern Europe, and Human Rights Watch then revealed that prisons were located in Poland and Romania, concerned politicians and organizations have worked hard to expose the truth about these prisons (and another that was later discovered in Lithuania).

No one in a position of authority in these countries admitted that these prisons had existed, but important work confirming their existence was done within the EU and the Council of Europe, and of great significance, in June 2006 and June 2007, were two Council of Europe reports (2007 PDF), and a European Parliament report,  in January 2007 (PDF). In the 2007 CoE report, Swiss Senator Dick Marty concluded that, after two years’ research and interviews with over 30 current and former members of the intelligence services in the United States and Europe, stated that he had enough “evidence to state that secret detention facilities run by the CIA did exist in Europe from 2003 to 2005, in particular in Poland and Romania.” Marty also identified both sites, and explained how the flights were disguised using fake flight plans.

One of the MEPs who worked on the EU investigation was Józef Pinior, a former member of the Solidarity movement, who was an MEP from 2004 to 2009, and was first a member, and then the Vice-Chair of the Subcommittee of Human Rights. Pinior has always claimed that, during his investigations, he was told about a document signed by Leszek Miller, Poland’s Prime Minister at the time the CIA prison was in operation, providing information regulating the operations of the prison – in a military intelligence training base in Stare Kiejkuty in north eastern Poland – including information about how, if necessary, to deal with corpses inside the facility.

Although Pinior never saw the document, he has stated that it came from a trustworthy source, although he has refused to name that source. As WL Central noted in an article mentioning Pinior in June 2011, “Asked whether this was a source from within Polish intelligence services, he refused to comment. He added that with 30 years experience in politics, he was fully aware of the implications of such a statement,” although he pointed out that, during his work on the investigation, he spoke to members of the Polish Secret Service, who “were uneasy about the fact that their facility was used for purposes which were not in their interest.”

The WL Central article also noted that Pinior described the document as being “brief, outlining logistics, and being addressed to the Polish Secret Service, wh[ich] operates the base in Stare Kiejkuty,” and also stated that “Zbigniew Wassermann and Zbigniew Ziobro, who were part of the PiS government succeeding Miller, saw and discussed this document along with four other officials, and that there are minutes of this meeting.”

Within Poland, Pinior was ridiculed for his statements at the time, although, as the years have passed, it has become increasingly obvious that his detractors were desperate to hide their knowledge of, or involvement in a project as shameful as the torture prison that they allowed the CIA to operate on Polish soil, and sensible people now recognize the importance of the stand that he took.

As I noted in an article in August 2010, it was not until September 2008 that a Polish intelligence official confirmed that the CIA had held terror suspects at the base in Stare Kiejkuty, and it took until March 2009 for the Polish Air Navigation Service Agency to release information about a specific flight to the site. Further incriminating information emerged in September 2009 and June 2010, and in August 2010 the Polish Border Guard Office provided even more significant information.

As a result of these disclosures, a Polish prosecutor began “investigating the possible abuse of power by Polish public officials with regard to a CIA black site” in 2008, although, as I noted in an article two weeks ago, “[T]he investigation only became widely noted in September 2010, when lawyers working with the Open Society Justice Initiative ‘filed an application demanding that the Appellate Prosecutor in Warsaw investigate and prosecute the people responsible for Guantánamo prisoner Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri’s transfer, detention, and torture on Polish soil.’” Al-Nashiri was a “high-value detainee,” who was held and tortured in Thailand prior to his arrival in Poland. Al-Nashiri was granted victim status in October 2010, and of particular importance to his case was Mikołaj Pietrzak, representing al-Nashiri in the proceedings in Poland, who worked tirelessly to raise his client’s profile.

As I also noted two weeks ago:

[I]n December 2010, following this success, INTERIGHTS, the international center for human rights, working with the legal action charity Reprieve, the Polish lawyer Bartlomiej Jankowski, and Abu Zubaydah’s US lawyers Joe Margulies and Brent Mickum “filed two applications for Zubaydah [another "high-value detainee" for whom the Bush administration's torture program was specifically developed] providing official notification of crimes committed against him while he was held by the CIA in Poland, and requesting that Abu Zubaydah be formally recognised as a victim in the ongoing investigation into abuse of office by Polish officials, and any criminal investigations that may follow.”

In January 2011, Abu Zubaydah was also recognized as a victim, and although the trail has largely gone cold over the last year, it came back to life on March 27, the day before the 10th anniversary of Zubaydah’s capture, when the Polish media announced that Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, who was the chief of Poland’s intelligence services from 2002 to 2004, when the CIA prison was operating, has been accused, by the Warsaw Prosecutor Waledmar Tyl, of “exceeding his powers and breaching international law, with specific charges that he was involved in the ‘unlawful deprivation of liberty’” of prisoners and their physical punishment.

This was an important development, as I explained at the time, and in the hope of keeping the story alive — especially as the Obama administration is pressing ahead with the trial by military commission of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who faces the death penalty if convicted, despite being a recognized torture victim in Poland — I am delighted to be posting below an article written especially for an English-speaking audience by Adam Krzykowski, a journalist for the Polish public TV station TVP2′s “Panorama” program, who was the first to provide proof of the landing in Poland of a specific rendition plane — a Boeing N313P — on September 22, 2003, with input from investigative journalist Wojciech Czuchnowski, who has worked with Adam on investigations about the prison.

I met Adam while former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg and I were in Poland for a tour of a subtitled version of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the documentary film that I co-directed with Polly Nash, in February last year, and Moazzam and I were interviewed for “Panorama.” On that trip, I also had the pleasure to meet Józef Pinior, who is now a Senator, having been elected to the upper house of Parliament in last year’s elections, and Mikołaj Pietrzak, al-Nashiri’s lawyer. The film was translated into Polish by my friend Anna Minkiewicz, who also organized the tour, and Anna also arranged for this article to be written.

The CIA prison in Poland: increasingly less of a question mark
By Adam Krzykowski (with assistance from Wojciech Czuchnowski)
Edited by Andy Worthington

When the prosecutors in charge of the inquiry into the alleged CIA prison in Poland finally received documentation from the Intelligence Agency, following a demand by the chief judge in the High Court, it was supposed to bring the farcical four-year inquiry to an end. This was a Christmas present of sorts, with an additional bonus from Thomas Hammarberg, who, at the time, was the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights.

Last October, during a visit in Paris, I had the opportunity to have an exclusive interview with Mr. Hammarberg, in which he declared that he had hard evidence for the existence of a CIA prison in Poland. He promised me that if the prosecutors would put in a request, he would hand it over to them. This handover took place in December. After the documents had been obtained and analyzed, the first person to be officially charged, on January 10 this year, was Zbigniew Siemiątkowski, the former head of the Intelligence Agency. The prosecutors’ office accused him of having violated two articles of the Polish criminal code, articles 231 and 124, which, in short, deal with civil servants overstepping their powers and violating international law, by facilitating unlawful imprisonment on prisoners of war and inflicting corporal punishment on them.

According to a joint investigation, in which TVP worked with Wojtek Czuchnowski from Poland’s leading daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, the next person to be indicted would be Zbigniew Siemiątkowski’s deputy, Col. Andrzej Derlatka. Most importantly, the prosecutors were preparing a request to the Head of Parliament to put former Prime Minister Leszek Miller, who is currently the head of one of the opposition parties, before the State Tribunal.

They never got a chance to do this. They did not even get a chance to substantiate the charges against Siemiątkowski in writing. By what appeared, on the surface at least, to be a curious coincidence, the General Prosecutor took the Warsaw-based prosecutors of the case, with immediate effect, without providing any justification. He also transferred the inquiry from Warsaw to Kraków.

This, incidentally, was not the first curious event in this case. A year ago, just when the investigation was picking up speed, the General Prosecutor demoted Robert Majewski, one of the two prosecutors conducting the investigation in Warsaw, by cancelling his role as Deputy Appelate Prosecutor, apparently because he was obliged to concentrate exclusively on this investigation, and was unable to meet all the requirements of his job. The justification was not very convincing, however.

A few weeks later, the other prosecutor, Jerzy Mierzewski, was taken off the case. According to unattributed statements in official circles, he was about to press the first charges and, moreover, had contacted experts in international law, asking for their opinion about the lawfulness of detaining CIA prisoners in Poland, and they had answered that it was breaching the law.

Jerzy Mierzewski was replaced by Waldemar Tyl, who had just succeeded Robert Majewski as Deputy Appelate Prosecutor, but as a result it was apparent that Tyl was regarded as being able to combine that function with conducting an inquiry,  even though that was what Majewski had supposedly been unable to do.

The changes may have slowed down the investigation, but they did not lead to it being closed down. Now, however, we are faced with the strange situation — described as a coincidence — whereby, when the charges were pressed, the prosecutors responsible for pressing the charges were taken off the case, which was transferred to Kraków. The only justification provided for this was that it was “for the benefit of the case,” although Kraków is the where the General Prosecutor comes from, so is it really a coincidence?

Zbigniew Siemiątkowski admitted to us that charges had been pressed against him, but that, because of state interest and security, he did not wish to make further comments about it. The same, however, was not true of politicians — and many journalists — who started mudslinging, and exploiting the case as part of their political battles. Former Prime Minister Miller continues to claim that there were no prisons. He also maintains that no charges were pressed in his case because there is no proof that there were any prisons.

Everyone has the right to defend himself, of course, but the current Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, has said that “Poland will not be a country anymore where politicians will arrange something under the table and it will not come to light, even if they do it hand-in-hand with the biggest empire in the world,” and “those in power must be able very effectively to safeguard the dignity of the Polish state; in other words, they must act only in accordance with their conscience, Polish law and international law.”  He also added — answering allegations that the US might now resent Poland — that they should remember that “Poland is the political victim of the indiscretion of some members of the US administration a few years ago.”

Off the record, Wojciech Czuchnowski and I also obtained information about the location where people suspected of terrorism and kidnapped by the CIA were detained, on the premises of the so-called spy school in Stare Kiejkuty in the Mazury region, about 20 km from the airport in Szymany, where planes landed which were used by the CIA. We were also informed about the existence of another relevant building, a two-storey villa — once named as “Marcus Wolf Villa” in honour of the founder of the East German intelligence service — which appeared to have been used as a back office, and may have included housing for the interrogators. It seems that both the villa and the presumed prison building were located in a specific section of the grounds occupied by the spy school, which was separate from the rest and even more heavily guarded.

We had already obtained conclusive evidence to that effect a year ago — the flight records from the airport’s control tower, which had vanished a few years earlier under strange circumstances, as well as the hard disk from one of the computers, which I had managed to get hold of, and from which the data appeared to have been meticulously erased. I had handed over that evidence to the prosecution, and the process of retrieving information from the hard disk is still ongoing.

After the prison was closed, the villa was renovated, which destroyed any biological traces that might have given clues as to the persons who had stayed there. A few months before his death, Janusz Kochanowski, the Civil Liberties Ombudsman who died in the Smoleńsk presidential plane crash on April 10, 2010, confirmed this to me.

For the moment we do not know what direction the inquiry will take, now that its prosecutors have been replaced. It will certainly take more time and it will not be concluded by August this year as had been planned. In addition, we do not know whether the new prosecutors will continue on the line established by the previous investigators. However, information is already surfacing to suggest that they will withdraw the charges already pressed, for lack of evidence. They might do that based on instructions from their superiors, even though, according to my information, the evidence is overwhelming.

In the meantime, the prosecution has initiated an investigation into the leak of information to the press. This means that both myself and Wojciech Czuchnowski — who have disclosed the whole matter, in view of its important public interest — will be dragged time and again to the prosecutor’s office in Gdańsk, which is intended to elucidate how this affair came to see the light of day. This court case will no doubt be concluded sooner than the main investigation …

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, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

9 Responses

  1. Mathias says...

    Interesting. A translation of this (complete) article would be handy as well: http://www.wprost.pl/ar/315313/O-wiezieniach-CIA-musieli-wiedziec-wszyscy-premierzy-i-prezydenci/

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Mathias. Very good to hear from you. I will pass on that link, and see if anyone is up for translating it.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Monique D’hooghe wrote:

    andy, i have shared this article here and drawn attention to your particular kind of tenacious decent investigative journalism when it comes to American policy on incarceration in such matters as guantnamo and now these secret cia prisons…

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank, Monique, for the kind words and the support.

  5. Jeffrey Kaye says...

    Thanks very much for this, Andy. It sounds like further attempts to suppress prosecution, as well as more revelations about what took place, is well underway. I am not aware of how the internal dynamics of Polish politics work these days. The news that the black site was on secret police grounds would mean a heavy penetration of the Polish state apparatus by the CIA and likely other US entities. This should not be surprising, but it is enlightening to see it in action up this close.

    I will be curious to see where HRW, Interights, and the detainees’ US attorneys go with all this.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Jeff,
    Good to hear from you, as always. I’m hoping there’ll be further news soon. In the meantime, I was glad to be given the opportunity to have someone on the ground, who has been studying the case for years — Adam — to provide his perspective on where we’re at. I agree that much seems to be in the air, and that there are unwelcome suggestions about the prosecution being suppressed, but I hope there’s enough opposition to any planned whitewash — in Parliament, amongst lawyers and in the media — to prevent that happening. It’s certainly good news that Josef Pinior is back in Parliament, as a Senator, because of his involvement in the EU investigation that reported in 2007, which led to him being told about the paperwork dealing with logistics at the site, and what to do in the event of there being corpses to deal with. I found that particularly chilling — and, of course, it was reminiscent of the Nazis’ obsession with admin and paperwork, and resonated with everything else we know about how clinical the “high-value detainee” program was, and it also made sense from a legal point of view for the host country. If prisoners died while being tortured, there had to be some sort of responsibility.

  7. Jeff Kaye says...

    The part about the corpses reminds me that I had discovered internal discussions re early deaths at Guantanamo, too, by none other than the Armed Epidemiological Borard and their getting a report from “mortuary affairs” at Gitmo?

    See http://my.firedoglake.com/valtin/2010/12/18/unreported-detainee-deaths-at-guantanamo-in-jan-feb-2002/

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jeff. I wonder how we could revisit that. Perhaps we should talk. There are, as I’m sure you know, a few missing ISN numbers that have never been explained.

  9. Pardon the ad, and connect the dots. « Brian Browne Walker says...

    [...] aware of where it might lead. But one nugget will surely strike home in Poland, as told by Adam Krzykowski, a journalist for Polish public TV, and the first reporter to provide proof of the landing in Poland [...]

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