Third Victim of CIA Torture in Poland Granted Victim Status, as European Court of Human Rights Prepares to Hear Evidence

5.11.13

It’s almost exactly eight years since Dana Priest of the Washington Post first broke the story, on November 2, 2005, that, “according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents,” the CIA had been “hiding and interrogating some of its most important al-Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe … part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba.”

The Post bowed to pressure from the Bush administration not to reveal the name of any of the countries in Eastern Europe, but just days later, on November 7, 2005, Human Rights Watch announced that the facilities were in Poland — on the grounds of an intelligence training facility near the village of Stare Kiejkuty, in the north east of the country — and Romania. In June 2007, Council of Europe special investigator Dick Marty issued a detailed report about Europe’s role in the US rendition and torture program in which he stated that he had “enough evidence to state” that there definitely had been CIA prisons in Poland and Romania. It later emerged, in December 2009, that a third European torture prison was in Lithuania, but to this day no one in the Bush administration or the CIA has been held accountable for America’s post-9/11 torture program.

Since the stories of the secret prisons first emerged, only Poland has shown any willingness to tackle the revelations with anything approaching the rigor they deserve. The Romanian government has refused to even acknowledge the existence of its prison, despite a detailed investigation exposing its existence, conducted by the Associated Press and Germany’s ARD Panorama, and although the Lithuanian government opened an official investigation, it was closed in 2011 when the government claimed that there was insufficient evidence, also citing restrictions imposed by its statute of limitations.

Just last week, Lithuanian prosecutors “declined to investigate fresh claims” that Mustafa al-Hawsawi, one of five prisoners facing a trial by military commission at Guantánamo for their alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks, was held in a CIA “black site” in Lithuania between 2004 and 2006, stating that the claims “were nothing new and had been ruled out in a previous pre-trial investigation”, as AFP described it. The other prisoner who has attempted to secure justice in Lithuania is Abu Zubaydah, another alleged “high-value detainee” now held at Guantánamo, who has not been charged (essentially because there is no case against him).

In Poland, however, where an investigation into the “black site” that existed in the north of the country in 2002-03 began five years ago, in March 2008, attempts to shut down the investigation — by or on behalf of the leaders at the time — have failed, and the Prosecutor General continues to seek the truth.

As I explained in an article in March 2012:

In 2008, following investigations by the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, a Polish prosecutor began “investigating the possible abuse of power by Polish public officials with regard to a CIA black site,” although the 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 (another “high-value detainee” held and tortured in Thailand prior to his arrival in Poland) was granted victim status in October 2010, and in 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 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.

Siemiatkowski, predictably, announced his intention not to cooperate — as, of course, the United States has all along — but, undeterred, lawyers have continued to push for former prisoners to be granted victim status, and last week the Polish authorities granted victim status (“injured person” status) to a third man, now held at Guantánamo, who was previously held in Poland. That man is Walid bin Attash, a Yemeni, who is also one of the five men in the 9/11 trial.

In a press release, Julia Hall of Amnesty International stated that the Polish government “must have the political courage to tell the truth about the CIA secret site and what happened there.” The press release also noted, “By granting ‘injured person’ status to a torture survivor currently detained at Guantánamo Bay, the Polish authorities are a step closer to revealing the truth about their involvement in the US-led secret detention and rendition programme in Poland.”

Amnesty International also “believes that the injured person status assignment is a key development, as Poland’s investigation of the CIA ‘black site’ has largely been conducted in secret since it began in 2008, with Polish prosecutors refusing to disclose almost any information related to the investigation or make its findings public.” In the press release it is also noted, “Under Polish law an ‘injured person’ may review files as well as make a complaint concerning refusal to disclose documents. Such a person also has the right to challenge delays in the proceedings.”

Mariusz Paplaczyk, who represents bin Attash, stated, “This is a breakthrough. Information about granting ‘injured person’ status in the Polish investigation is extremely important to my client.”

In its press release, Amnesty International also noted that its representatives, and those of other human rights organisations, were attending a meeting at the United Nations in Geneva, while the Polish authorities were submitting a report to the UN Committee against Torture about their human rights record. Amnesty noted, “The CIA secret site investigation and its progress were key concerns at the session,” adding, “UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also raised them in a recent visit to Poland.”

Poland seeks a secret hearing at the European Court of Human Rights

While bin Attash was being granted victim status, the Polish government asked the European Court of Human Rights to “exclude the media and the public from a court hearing” in Strasbourg about the Polish “black site,” as Reuters described it.

The ECHR has scheduled a public hearing for December 3 to hear arguments in the cases of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and, as Reuters described it, “It will be the first time the allegations have been tested in open court.”

The request for a private hearing was criticized by Adam Bodnar, the Vice President of the Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, who has spent many years working to uncover the truth about Poland’s “black site.” As Reuters described it, the Helsinki Foundation “has uncovered evidence of Polish cooperation with the CIA.” In Reuters’ words, Bodnar “accuses the state of trying to conceal its involvement in the CIA’s ‘extraordinary rendition’ programme behind a veil of secrecy.”

The Polish Foreign Ministry refused to provide a comment to Reuters, referring all inquiries to the court. Reuters noted that, in the past, the Polish government has “cited national security concerns to explain why it wanted parts of the court process to be kept confidential.” Bodnar, however, said that “much of the evidence about the alleged CIA jail was already in the public domain, so there was no point treating it as secret,” as Reuters put it.

“We should have the right to review this case in public,” Bodnar said, adding, “I do not see a reason for [the] confidentiality of proceedings.”

Note: For further information, please read Amnesty International’s 63-page report, “Unlock the truth: Poland’s involvement in CIA secret detention,” published in June 2013.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here – or here for the US).

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4 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone who has been liking and sharing this. Not much coverage in the mainstream media, unfortunately, even though the investigation of these three cases by the Polish Prosecutor is in such marked contrast to their treatment by the US government in Guantanamo, where one man, Abu Zubaydah, is locked up incommunicado, seemingly forever, and the two others are facing military commission trials in which the government is doing everything in its power to prevent all mention of the torture to which they were subjected.

  2. George Drwiega says...

    Some of the Polish high officials claimed at the onset of the USA aggression that they were “not aware” and “uninformed” about the untrue motivations for the attacks.
    So I decided to keep them informed – sending various pieces of information, mostly by investigative journalists, like yourself. My comments were added, to let them know my opposing view.

    Regarding the tortures in Poland, of modern times – I wrote to the Prime Ministers and Presidents and the Senators and legislators informing them from the very beginning that the torture in XXI Century nullify, or neutralize Poland’s claims about the Katyn massacres and other torture the Germans or Soviet Russians perpetrated between September 1st of 1939 till the demise of Josef Stalin (approximately).

    Our enlightened XXI Century saw a new round of torturers – and the game of the amount of the tortured is irrelevant (per the God’s standard: whatever you did to one of my sheep…)

    Poland, the Polish elected and nominated officials are guilty of allowing the tortures to happen. And the new officials of today (November 2013) still obstruct the investigation, including the judicial branch. This very much resembles the obfuscation regarding the Katyn massacre – and the West quietness on this, too (like in Nurnberg).

    Jerzy George Drwiega

    from Illinois, XI-6-2013

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Very good to hear from you, Jerzy, and thank you for your efforts to maintain pressure on senior Polish officials. When I visited in 2011 to tour my film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo,” I was constantly surprised that a country that had endured so much horror at the hands of the Nazis and Russians could have allowed the US to set up a torture prison on their soil, but then I also heard about the country’s desire for recognition and support by the US, to the extent of allowing the unforgiveable to happen. Unfortunately, as I also realized, so much of Poland’s political spectrum was caught up in the scandal that it’s easy to see why an investigation is being obstructed.
    That said, the fact that it is still ongoing is hugely important, and it needs to be talked about as much as possible.

  4. GUANTANAMO: GUILTY EVEN AFTER PROVEN INNOCENT | Caravan Daily says...

    […] the “high-value detainee” Walid bin Attash claimed that al-Rahabi was “a designated suicide operative,” who, in 1999, “trained for an […]

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