European Court of Human Rights Orders Poland to Pay $262,000 to CIA “Black Site” Prisoners


Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, two prisoners held in a secret CIA "black site" in Poland, whose cases were heard by the European Court of Human Rights in December 2013.I’m just catching up on a story from two weeks ago that I was unable to post at the time because I was busy with another couple of stories — the dismissal of David Hicks’ Guantánamo conviction, and the ongoing campaign to free Shaker Aamer.

The story I didn’t have time to report involved the European Court of Human Rights and the CIA “black site” that existed on Polish soil from December 2002 to September 2003. In July last year, the court delivered an unprecedented ruling — that, as the Guardian described it, Poland “had violated international law by allowing the CIA to inflict what ‘amounted to torture’ in 2002 at a secret facility in the forests of north-east Poland. The court found that Poland ‘enabled the US authorities to subject [the detainees] to torture and ill‑treatment on its territory’ and was complicit in that ‘inhuman and degrading treatment.'”

The ruling dealt with two of the “high-value detainees” held in the site — Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian born in Saudi Arabia, for whom the torture program was specifically developed, even though it was subsequently discovered that he was not involved with Al-Qaeda, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi accused of involvement in the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. Both men were subjected to the ancient torture technique known as waterboarding, as well as a variety of other torture techniques, and, while Abu Zubaydah is still held without charge or trial, al-Nashiri is facing a war crimes trial in the military commissions at Guantánamo, a process that has been stuck on the pre-trial phase for years, as his defense team tries to raise the question of his torture and prosecutors do all they can to keep it hidden.

Reporting on the ruling, the Guardian added:

The July ruling marked the first time an international court condemned a nation for its part in the CIA’s “high value detainee extraordinary rendition program”, which aviation records and other clues suggest kept black sites in Romania, Afghanistan, Thailand and the British atoll of Diego Garcia. The court found it “inconceivable” that the CIA operated its international rendition program without Poland’s knowledge and consent.

The ruling was hugely significant, of course, as the quest for accountability for the Bush administration’s program of torture and extraordinary rendition and “black sites” continues.

Since the ruling last July, of course, acres of newsprint and hours of airtime have been given over to the executive summary of the US Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA torture program, published in December — an extremely important addition to our knowledge of the torture program, but there is still no accountability in the US, where President Obama made it clear from the start of his presidency that he was not interested in holding his predecessors accountable for their crimes, and has blocked any attempt to do so in the US courts.

This map identifies the nine “black sites” named in the report — in Thailand, Poland, Romania, Lithuania and Guantánamo, and four more in Afghanistan.

As I explained in an article last February, “Poland and Lithuania Haunted by Their Involvement in Hosting CIA Torture Prisons“:

In the long search for accountability for the torturers of the Bush administration, which has largely been shut down by President Obama, lawyers and human rights activists have either had to try shaming the US through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or have had to focus on other countries, particularly those that hosted secret CIA torture prisons, or had explicit involvement in extraordinary rendition.

Successes have been rare, but hugely important — the conviction of CIA officials and operatives in Italy, for the blatant daylight kidnap of Abu Omar, a cleric, on a street in Milan in February 2003, and the court victory in Macedonia of Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen kidnapped in Macedonia, where he had gone on a holiday, and sent to a CIA “black site” in 2003 until the US realized that his was a case of mistaken identity. In the UK, the whiff of complicity in torture at the highest levels of the Blair government led to pay-offs for the British nationals and residents sent to Guantánamo.

Court cases were also launched in Spain, although there were strenuous efforts to suppress them, in part because of US involvement (under President Obama) — although one case is still very much active, with a judge ruling just three months ago that it can proceed despite a government appeal — and currently there are efforts to hold the US accountable before the the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights for its use of Djibouti in a number of cases involving “extraordinary rendition” and “black sites.”

Those efforts have been reinforced since the publication of the executive summary of the CIA torture report, which is opening up new avenues for those seeking accountability. On December 17, for example, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, in Germany, “lodged criminal complaints against former CIA head George Tenet, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other members of the administration of former US President George W. Bush,” accusing them of “the war crime of torture” under the German Code of Crimes against International Law.

In addition, following up on the mention of Diego Garcia above, in January this year Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to secretary of state Colin Powell, said “nefarious activities” had taken place on the island in the Indian Ocean, which the UK leases to the US military, and added that it was “difficult to think” that the UK authorities could have been unaware of prisoners being questioned there. To date, the UK has only admitted that two flights carrying prisoners stopped on Diego Garcia, which is clearly a far from complete admission.

As I also explained in my article from February last year, “Perhaps the most enduring of the ongoing investigations is in Poland, one of three European countries that hosted CIA “black sites,” the others being Romania and Lithuania.”

All three countries are featured in the Senate torture report, but while Poland has been permanently under the spotlight since October 2010, when al-Nashiri was granted “victim status” as a result of a prosecutorial investigation (followed by Abu Zubaydah in January 2011) — and, as soon as the torture report was issued, “Alexander Kwasniewski, Poland’s president from 1995-2005, admit[ted] for the first time that Poland had agreed to host a secret CIA ‘black site,'” as the Daily Telegraph put it — Romania had persistently stonewalled efforts to address its role in the torture program since the existence of the prisons first surfaced nearly ten years ago.

However, in December, the country’s former spy chief, Ioan Talpes, said that Romania had cooperated with the US torture program, with the provision of “at least” one prison in the country, in which “it is probable that people were imprisoned, and treated in an inhumane manner” between 2003 and 2006. He added, however, that Romania had “explicitly taken no interest in knowing what the CIA did there,” and was only involved in an effort to join NATO.

Lithuania, which briefly investigated its role in 2011, is also under the spotlight again, as Vice News reported in January, stating:

dossier and briefing submitted to the Lithuanian prosecutor cross references newly obtained flight records with extracts from the US Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA detention and interrogation, which was declassified in December.

Investigators working for human rights NGO Reprieve pieced together information on detainee movements, contained in the Senate report, with court records, freedom of information requests and documentation obtained from European air traffic management organization Eurocontrol, as well as other sources. The dossier substantiates allegations that the “Violet” black site referred to in the Senate Intelligence Committee report was a secret prison operated in Lithuania between 2005-6 as part of the US’s post-9/11 extraordinary rendition program.

It also provides the firmest evidence yet that detainees were in fact held on the site, a claim which has consistently been met with Lithuanian denials and US silence.

In Poland, meanwhile, the European court rejected Poland’s appeal, which was filed in October, without providing an explanation on February 17, and, as the Guardian described it, “ordered Poland to pay €100,000 ($114,000) to al-Nashiri and €130,000 ($148,000) to Zubaydah.” The court “also demanded that Poland conduct an immediate and unsparing investigation into what happened at the jail, finding its previous inquiry into the prison flawed and insufficient.”

Responding, Poland’s foreign minister, Grzegorz Schetyna, said that the country would comply with the court order. “We have to do it,” he said in an interview on Trójka Polish Radio, “because we are a country that abides by laws.”

He stated that details would have to be worked out in the next few weeks, addressing the “question of how the money will be spent and if we will have to pay it directly to the people who sued us,” and added, “They will have a hard time using it while still in jail.” Joe Margulies, one of Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers, told The Bureau of Investigative Journalism that his client would donate the payment “to victims of torture.”

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, the director of “We Stand With Shaker,” calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, 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).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

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2 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. I’ve just added some additional information to the article – about the torture case against the Bush administration in Spain, the ongoing case related to Djibouti, calls for prosecutions in Germany, questions raised in the UK about Diego Garcia …

  2. Cui îi cântă Băsescu „Guantanamera”? | Revista Kamikaze says...

    […] deja au recunoscut și au fost obligați de CEDO să plătească daune familiilor celor hyper-hidratați pe teritoriul lor, un fost director CIA […]

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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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