Former CIA “Ghost Prisoner” Abu Zubaydah Recognized as “Victim” in Polish Probe of Secret Prison


For those seeking accountabiity for the senior Bush administration officials and lawyers who established a global torture program in the “War on Terror,” involving extraordinary rendition and torture in a variety of secret prisons, the news that the Polish Prosecutor has today accepted the claims of Abu Zubaydah, a former CIA “ghost prisoner,” that he was a victim of extraordinary rendition and secret detention in Poland is enormously significant.

Zubaydah, one of 14 “high-value detainees” transferred to Guantánamo from secret CIA prisons in September 2006, was held for four and a half years in prisons whose existence has been routinely denied by the United States, and by the countries who hosted secret prisons on behalf of the CIA — Thailand, Poland, Romania, Lithuania and Morocco — which were used to hold Zubaydah, 27 other “high-value detainees,” and at least some of the other 66 “ghost prisoners” whose existence has been acknowledged by the US authorities.

The news from Poland provides hope following recent disappointments in the quest for accountability — revelations by WikiLeaks that the Bush administration put pressure on the German goverment to drop an investigation into the kidnap and torture of Khaled El-Masri (a case of mistaken identity) and that the Obama administration put pressure on the Spanish government to drop an investigation into the crimes committed by six Bush administration lawyers, as well as the recent decision by the Lithuanian government to drop its own investigation into a secret prison — or two secret prisons — near Vilnius.

Reassuringly, the Spanish probe is still ongoing, and I recently appeared on Democracy Now! and at an event in New York with Katie Gallagher of the Center for Constitutional Rights, just after CCR and  the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) had filed two submissions in Spain in connection with the investigation into the “Bush Six,” and another investigation into Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the commander of Guantánamo during the worst years of torture at the prison (2002 to 2004), who was later sent to “Gitmo-ize” faclities in Iraq, including, notoriously, Abu Ghraib.

However, the main focus for those seeking accountability remains Poland, where Abu Zubaydah is the second “victim” recognized by the Polish Prosecutor, following the recognition of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (another of the 14 “high-value detainees” transferred to Guantánamo in September 2006) as a victim in October last year. This, as Prosecutor Jerzy Mierzewski told the Associated Press, “entails a number of rights for the injured party,” and as Reprieve and INTERIGHTS announced in a press release today (on behalf of their partners in the Zubaydah complaint, Polish lawyer Bartlomiej Jankowski and US lawyer Joe Margulies), victim status “allows Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers to participate fully in the criminal investigation, which includes introducing further evidence, calling witnesses and taking part in the questioning of witnesses and suspects.”

Although the secret prisons in Poland and Romania have been known about since November 2005, when the Washington Post first identified their existence, and Human Rights Watch then identified the countries involved, and their existence was then confirmed in a report for the Council of Europe in June 2007 (PDF) by CoE Rapporteur and Swiss Senator Dick Marty, based on two years’ research and interviews with over 30 current and former members of the intelligence services in the United States and Europe, it was not until March 23, 2009 that the first details of specific flights into Szymany were officially confirmed in Poland, by the Polish Air Navigation Service Agency. Moreover, it was not until August last year that further incriminating details were added by the the Polish Border Guard Office, who released a number of crucial documents to the Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, as I explained in an article at the time, New Evidence About Prisoners Held in Secret CIA Prisons in Poland and Romania.

As a result of these revelations, the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported that former Prime Minister Leszek Miller and former President Aleksander Kwasniewski “may face war crime charges for agreeing to host the facility,” and I reported details of the ongoing investigation in my article, Will Poland’s Former Leaders Face War Crimes Charges for Hosting Secret CIA Prison?

Since then, the story has refused to go away, despite being largely ignored in the US mainstream media, with further damning reports about the torture program — and the moving of “high-value detainees” between Poland, Romania, Lithuania and Morocco — published by the Associated Press in August and September (Terrorist interrogation tapes found, Former FBI Man Implicated in CIA Abuse, and Poles Urged to Probe CIA Prison Acts), and the announcement  about the “victim” status of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri on October 27.

The timing of the Polish Prosecutor’s announcement about Abu Zubaydah’s “victim” status is also useful in terms of a week-long Polish tour of the film “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and myself), which former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg and I are undertaking in the first week of February (details here). Moazzam and I are primarily undertaking this tour, with the support of organizations including Amnesty International and Le Monde Diplomatique, to raise awareness of the real stories of the men held at Guantánamo (most of whom had nothing to do with terrorism), and also to raise awareness of the need for new homes to be found for men who cannot be repatriated safely, but we are also keenly aware that the Polish government’s complicity in the establishment of a secret US torture prison on Polish soil needs to be discussed, and we are anticipating that experts involved in the cases of al-Nashiri and Zubaydah will be joining us for the tour.

Below is the press release issued today by Reprieve and INTERIGHTS:

Polish Prosecutor officially recognises Guantánamo prisoner Abu Zubaydah as a victim in Poland’s CIA secret prison investigation; decision will allow former ‘high-value detainee’ to testify against his US torturers and their allies

WARSAW—Guantánamo prisoner Abu Zubaydah has been granted all-important ‘victim’ status in the pending criminal investigation into a CIA black site in Poland, following a complaint brought by Polish lawyer Bartlomiej Jankowski working with INTERIGHTS, Reprieve and Joe Margulies.

The Polish Prosecutor is the first state official to accept Abu Zubaydah’s claims that he was a victim of extraordinary rendition and secret detention in Poland. Until now both the Polish and US governments have repeatedly denied that he was illegally imprisoned and tortured in a secret prison near Szymany; the Prosecutor’s office has now accepted that Abu Zubaydah’s claims are not only credible but also extremely serious.

Poland’s decision is a crucial step towards uncovering the truth about the CIA’s rendition and torture programme in Europe. Victim status allows Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers to participate fully in the criminal investigation, which includes introducing further evidence, calling witnesses and taking part in the questioning of witnesses and suspects.

The Polish Prosecutor’s leadership stands in contrast with the Lithuanian Prosecutor General’s bizarre decision, announced this week, to close his investigation into the CIA black site in Lithuania in which Abu Zubaydah was also held and tortured. Like many other European states, Lithuania was instrumental in the operation of the CIA’s illegal rendition and torture programme, and has urgent legal obligations to provide robust and transparent investigations in order to uncover the facts.

Today’s decision follows weeks of urgent litigation by Abu Zubaydah’s international legal team. On 16 December 2010, Bartlomiej Jankowski filed applications with the Polish Prosecutor’s office showing his client was transferred from Thailand to Poland by the CIA on 5 December 2002, and held there for nine or ten months. The applications included extensive evidence of the roles played by CIA agents and Polish officials in the CIA programme in Poland, the rendition flights that transported Abu Zubaydah into and out of Poland, the private companies involved in those flights, and the operation of the CIA’s secret prison site at Stare Kiejkuty, near Szymany.

Joseph Margulies, a law professor at Northwestern University in Chicago and US counsel for Abu Zubaydah said: “To recognize Abu Zubaydah as a victim is to accept his humanity, which is the first essential step to recovering from the hysteria of 9/11. It is not surprising, that this step should be taken by the Poles before the Americans.”

Bartlomiej Jankowski, Polish cousel for Abu Zubaydah said: “Following the arrangements made with Mr Jerzy Mierzewski, the prosecutor in charge of the investigation, who personally informed me that Abu Zubaydah is recognized as a victim, I will now be able to review at least some of the unclassified documents in the investigation file. We also expect to be given access to the classified documents. Secrecy should not be used to shield gross human rights abuses from disclosure to the Polish public. The Polish criminal investigation should also receive full cooperation from the US government, which should promptly comply with Poland’s legal aid request. It is impossible to speak about justice in this case without hearing the victims as witnesses, whether directly in Poland or at least by video conference.”

INTERIGHTS Litigation Director Helen Duffy said: “The Prosecutor’s decision is a welcome first step, but the Polish government must do much more to vindicate Abu Zubaydah’s rights. As a recognised victim, he should now be entitled to take part in the investigation and to uncover information concerning his abuse. It remains to be seen whether the cloak of ‘state secrecy’ currently surrounding the investigation will be lifted and the Polish authorities will show their commitment to justice. Justice cannot be secret.”

Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith said: “We cannot expect to learn from history, and avoid repeating our mistakes, if we do not know what that history was.  So it is vital that European complicity in the CIA renditions programme is brought into the light, and the prosecutor’s decision is an important step towards that goal. This investigation is not about the persecution of individual officials, but rather about establishing a clear picture of exactly what happened in order to ensure that it does not happen again. It is crucial that those who created the programme and gave the orders are not permitted to pretend it never happened.”

For more information please contact Sarah Harrington at INTERIGHTS on +44 (0)20 7843 0472, or Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office on +44(0)20 7427 1099.

Background on Abu Zubaydah

Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, more commonly known as Abu Zubaydah, is a stateless Palestinian born in Saudi Arabia. He was held in secret detention by the CIA of the United States of America from the time of his abduction from a house in Faisalbad, Pakistan on 28 March 2002 until approximately 6 September 2006, when it was announced that he was transferred to the custody of the US Department of Defence (“DOD”) at Guantánamo Bay. He remains in indefinite detention in DOD custody at Guantánamo Bay. However, he has never been charged with any crime, neither in proceedings before a military commission nor in a civilian court.

Abu Zubaydah was the first so-called “high value detainee” to be captured, detained and interrogated by the CIA. For the purpose of his interrogation, the CIA devised a set of “enhanced interrogation techniques” intended to create a state of learned helplessness through the application of severe physical and psychological stress. According to former CIA Director George Tenet, once Abu Zubaydah was in custody, the CIA “got into holding and interrogating high-value detainees … in a serious way.” He is one of three detainees subjected to the waterboard, and US government documents show that he was waterboarded at least 83 times in one month.

Throughout the period of Abu Zubaydah’s secret detention, interrogation and torture by the CIA he was falsely alleged to be a member of al-Qaeda and a close associate and senior lieutenant of Osama bin Laden. He was also falsely alleged to have had a role in various al-Qaeda terrorist acts — including the attacks on 11 September 2001. After more than six years of incommunicado detention, Abu Zubaydah obtained access to US lawyers, who challenged his detention in US courts and forced the US Department of Justice to withdraw all such allegations. The United States no longer alleges Abu Zubaydah was ever a member of al-Qaeda or that he supported al Qaeda’s radical ideology. The United States no longer alleges that Abu Zubaydah was an associate of Osama bin Laden or that he was his senior lieutenant. The United States no longer alleges that Abu Zubaydah had any role in any terrorist attack planned or perpetrated by al-Qaeda, including the attacks of 11 September 2001 [although it now has a new ploy, as described in my articles, Abu Zubaydah: Tortured for Nothing, In Abu Zubaydah’s Case, Court Relies on Propaganda and Lies and Algerian in Guantánamo Loses Habeas Petition for Being in a Guest House with Abu Zubaydah].

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, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

31 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Kevi Brannelly wrote:

    seems weird to click on “like” so commenting instead- thank you for sharing, i’ll take small bits of hope and justice wherever we can find them…

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes indeed, Kevi. Great to meet you in NYC and DC last week, by the way. Hanging out and doing events with like-minded people with sound values are part of my small bits of hope and justice as well!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Kevi Brannelly wrote:

    anytime– didnt crash your dinner on thurs because Jeffrey said you were fried, but we all have to go out next time you are in town! lots of like minded here abouts. and we greatly appreciate your dedication and moral compass. Keep it up!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Kevi. Trying to plan the next time …

  5. Tweets that mention Former CIA “Ghost Prisoner” Abu Zubaydah Recognized as “Victim” in Polish Probe of Secret Prison | Andy Worthington -- says...

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Worthington and Србија Данас, G. Alexander. G. Alexander said: Former CIA “Ghost Prisoner” Abu Zubaydah Recognized as “Victim” in Polish Probe of Secret Prison |… […]

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    On Digg, Roland Jesperson wrote:

    So much for the US “lead” in human rights concerns; quite the opposite.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Willy Bach wrote:

    Andy, thanks, the more I look at this whole thing it appears that the US government could not have pulled all this off on their own, and we know they didn’t. But there is now a list of accomplice governments as long as your arm, including Ireland. Yes, we knew, but now WikiLeaks provides some of the connecting documents:

    Let’s not be surprised to hear that Sweden, Denmark and Norway were in on it (I have yet to hear this).

    In order to practice torture it becomes necessary to destroy democratic institutions and the whole idea of free expression. We have to be very determined to keep up the pressure.

    It will be necessary to dig deep in London for the Blair torture accomplices who include Jack Straw and David Milliband.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Roland Jesperson wrote:

    Hi Andy, glad to see you were able to enjoy yourself a bit while in the US of A … saw you on Democracy Now, btw,–excellent, as usual.
    Hope the Holidays in London went well for you and yours …

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Holidays were great, Roland, but it seems like a long time ago now! Hope you had a good time too.
    My US visit was excellent. Many more engaged people than on my last East Coast visit 14 months ago (when it was down to the hardcore activists and the Guantanamo lawyers), although now, of course, the problem is graver than ever, as Obama has so thoroughly caved in on closing Guantanamo, releasing cleared prisoners or delivering anything resembling justice to any of the 173 men still held.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Willy. You’re right about needing to keep up the pressure, and I also think it would be useful to compile a list of where we’re up to now on complicity (which I’ll do if I get the chance). Certainly, Norway, Sweden and Denmark are all complicit — my friend Erling Borgen is digging away at the involvement of a major Norwegian firm in providing infrastructure for cell blocks at Guantanamo, Sweden is unable to shake off its involvement in the Egyptian renditions in December 2001, and I recently had an exchange with a Danish friend, who was filling me in on Danish complicity. I’ll dig it out.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    On Common Dreams, glenn ford wrote:

    Thank you Andy Worthington for your brave work in defying the Beast.

    Germany drops a clear case of injustice at Bush Baby’s request.

    And after two or three personal meetings with OilyBombER, Spain’s President caves in with hands off USA War Criminal Attorneys and goes a step further in ostrasizing and legally incapacitating Crusading Champion Spanish Judge Grazon.

    Hopefully Poland will show us that they are one of the most courageous and honest nations in Europe.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    HR-reports wrote:

    Well done, Andy Worthington! Great work, as always… We definitely need to accountability for the Bush Six and others. Lets not forget accountability for military abuses, either. Have you seen this book yet?
    It’s amazing, and really revealing. Keep up the great work, Andy!

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    AD wrote:

    These Star Chambers in the tradition of Charles I in England are torture centers which torture people with the assumption that those accused are guilty until proven guilty.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    manning120 wrote:

    Thanks for the article, and citations. This is important stuff, but I don’t think the U.S. media have “largely ignored” it — they just haven’t publicized it. Kind of like they didn’t publicize Roosevelt’s disability or Kennedy’s infidelities.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Obedient Servant wrote:

    I admire Andy Worthington’s tireless work, and his courageous persistence in shining light into the most dismal and shrouded consequences of the Amerikan Imperium-led capitalist authoritarian conquest of the world.

    So I won’t disparage his cautious optimism.

    Still, it invariably comes down to the point at which the abovementioned Amerikan Imperial government lays its sweaty arm around the shoulders of some upstart nation– Germany, Spain, etc.– through diplomatic channels and whispers that if it doesn’t back off, there’ll be hell to pay.

    That’s a nice little nation you got there, Poland– it’d be a shame if something happened to it!

    In deference to Andy, let’s hope that the third time’s a charm.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    On Op-Ed News, Archie wrote:

    How does a rogue nation of torturers get accomplices like Poland, Lithuania and Romania to assist it in evil? What did the US promise these countries? Was it taxpayers money? Was it membership in an exclusive international club of Western nations? Was it weapons? What was it that made supposedly civilized nations discard their laws, ethics and morals to help destroy individuals?

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s amazing what countries will do to secure influence with the US, eh?

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    On Common Dreams, vdb wrote:

    “Reassuringly, the Spanish probe is still ongoing…”

    best news I’ve had all day, along with the Polish development.
    Thanks Andy.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    robert1234 wrote:

    The saddest thing is that American media continues to ignore the biggest stories of the last 100 years, the downfall and corruption of the American government, the death of the Constitution, the death of the freedoms and liberty that thousands of brave men and women died to create and maintain. And which the cowardly American citizens simply gave up when challenged with just the remote and imaginary possibility of real danger to themselves. Shame on America!

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    sivasm wrote:

    “I admire Andy Worthington’s tireless work, and his courageous persistence…..”

    I like to see end results, are there any self righteous Nations preaching Democracy willing to take a step further and prosecute these bastards or continue their spineless Democracy? I am a Pacifist.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    vdb wrote:

    pacifism does not preclude anger.
    keep the rage alive.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    arroyoribera wrote:

    True, pacifism does not preclude anger. Neither does social change. Nor does a popular uprising. And I agree: “Keep the rage alive”.

    Nevertheless it is a reality that anger and rage are today in the US clearly and effectively socially sanctioned emotions. If you are angry or express rage, you are identified as “out of control”, “dangerous”, “mentally ill”, “need to be dealt with”, etc. We have been, effectively, emotionally decapitated as a result of this socially stigmatizing of anger. Look at the videos of old women in Latin America angrily excoriating riot squads in Oaxaca and other places. Look at rage on the streets all over the world. This rage — product of righteous indignation — is visceral, true human reaction to injustice and crimes against the people. In the US, we are expected to confront and deal with the atrocities of our government and our political-economic system, both here and abroad, without rage and anger.

    Without access to one’s rage and anger, one can not experience and feel one’s humanity to the extent necessary to understand one’s condition fully. And therefore one can not act and be in community nor find solidarity with this common human condition of subjugation to a global regime of terror, exploitation and empire.

    Long live rage, anger and righteous indignation! Power to the people! Stop the atrocities! US imperialists out of Latin America, Iraq, Afghanistan! Stop US war preparations with Iran! Take the billions back from the war mongers and war profiteers! Close the US network of 700 plus military bases!

    David Brookbank ~ ¿Hasta dónde debemos practicar las verdades?

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Progressive101 wrote:

    Encouraging story from Andy Worthington and I wish him success.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    mester391 wrote:

    I have been venting about Bushites for years but where is the change with the Obamaites? I can see none.

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

    […] Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, refused to allow it to be taken over by Osama bin Laden. Just two weeks ago, Abu Zubaydah was granted “victim” status by the Polish Prosecutor in an ongoing investigation into the complicity of the Polish government […]

  26. US Rendition And Torture: A New Front For Accountability Opens Djibouti « Eurasia Review says...

    […] — possibly Romania or Lithuania, where secret prisons are known to have existed, along with a specific torture prison for “high-value detainees” in Poland, even though the Romanians continue to deny their prison’s existence, and the Lithanians recently […]

  27. WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Guantánamo Files, Exposes Detention Policy as a Construct of Lies « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] 2002, who spent four and a half years in secret CIA prisons, including facilities in Thailand and Poland. Subjected to waterboarding, a form of controlled drowning, on 83 occasions in CIA custody in […]

  28. Guantánamo: Military Commissions And The Illusion Of Justice - OpEd says...

    […] investigating his case was so alarmed by documents, which, evidently, he had access to, that he officially designated him — and Abu Zubaydah, another tortured “high-value detainee” — as a […]

  29. Guantánamo: Las comisiones militares y la ilusión de justicia | Amauta says...

    […] su caso estaban tan alarmado por los documentos a los que había tenido acceso, que oficialmente le describió a él –y a Abu Zubaydah, otro “detenido de alto valor” sometido a torturas- como […]

  30. Guantánamo: Las comisiones militares y la ilusión de justicia | Comunicacion Popular says...

    […] caso estaban tan alarmado por los documentos a los que había tenido acceso, que oficialmente le describió a él –y a Abu Zubaydah, otro “detenido de alto valor” sometido a torturas- como […]

  31. Ten Years of Torture: On Anniversary of Abu Zubaydah’s Capture, Poland Charges Former Spy Chief Over “Black Site” « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] 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, […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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