Polish authorities must ensure independent investigation into secret CIA prison

June 29, 2013 12:27 pm

Global human rights organization Amnesty International called for immediate completion of the investigation into Poland’s involvement in the US-led secret detention programs and to bring justice in fair trials to those responsible for human rights violations.

According to published information, the Polish government is accused of colluding with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to establish a secret prison at Stare Kiejkuty, 180 km north of Warsaw, where suspects were subject to enforced disappearance and were tortured between 2002 and 2005. The investigation has dragged on since 2008 and has been repeatedly delayed due to changes in prosecution personnel, a shift in location from Warsaw to Krakow, and claims that cooperation from the US government has not been forthcoming.

“Secrecy and delay cannot be used as tactics to avoid accountability. The Polish government must come clean about a period in the country’s history when those in authority appear to have colluded with the USA and other states in the unlawful apprehension of people and their transfer to places where they were tortured and subjected to enforced disappearance. The genie is out of the bottle – there is a stream of credible public reports by the media, intergovernmental, and non-governmental organizations – not to mention official data from Polish governmental agencies – that leaves little doubt that Poland hosted a secret detention site operated by the CIA. If there is enough evidence to lay charges against former officials and intelligence operatives for their participation in these illegal activities, those people should be prosecuted now,” said Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s expert on counter-terrorism and human rights.

According to Amnesty International’s report “Unlock the truth: Poland’s involvement in CIA secret detention”  two men have been granted “injured person” status in the investigation. The first is Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi Arabian national alleged to have masterminded the bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000. He has claimed that he was questioned in a secret facility in Poland and subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques” and other human rights violations, such as “mock execution” with a gun and threats of sexual assault against his family members. The second, Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, also known as Abu Zubaydah, a stateless Palestinian born in Saudi Arabia, is also believed to have been held in Poland, where he says he was subjected to extreme physical pain and psychological pressure. Former US President George W. Bush admitted in his 2010 memoir that Abu Zubaydah was subjected to “waterboarding” – mock drowning – while in secret CIA detention.

“The US has confessed that its agents tortured and illegally detained people. If Poland was complicit in these violations, it must also acknowledge its own role and hold the perpetrators accountable. The severity and systematic nature of these crimes require nothing less,” Julia Hall said.

Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri are currently detained at the US Navy’s Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. The other Guantanamo detainee Walid bin Attash recently became the third man to seek victim status in Poland’s investigation into the CIA secret detention centre.

“The Polish public has a right to know what its government has done in its name, including any involvement of Polish territory or authorities in human rights violations and crimes under international law such as torture and enforced disappearance. If Poland is committed to human rights and the rule of law, its authorities must have the political courage to tell the truth about the CIA secret site and what happened there. The criminal investigation must be truly independent and effective, and anyone responsible for torture or enforced disappearance must be brought to justice,” Julia Hall stated.CIA

Benjamin Ward, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Division, stressed that HRW echoes the call by Amnesty International for the Polish authorities to renew its efforts to properly investigate Poland’s role in these abuses.

“Human Rights Watch first reported on 2005 that our research uncovered flight records indicating that CIA flights known to contain terrorism detainees had stopped in Poland en route to Afghanistan. We said that this information corroborated claims reported in the media that Poland had allowed the CIA to operate a secret detention facility on its territory. In 2007, that Council of Europe published a report confirming that there was a CIA secret detention facility in Poland at some point between 2003 and 2005. Subsequent investigations, including by the European Parliament, have provided further corroboration,” the expert said in an interview with news agency “PenzaNews.”

He also added that it is not clear whether the Polish authorities derived any benefit from the arrangement, but it is clear that the United States for a number of years following the September 11 attacks operated a global network that allowed it to capture detain and interrogate terrorism suspects outside the framework of US law.

“Human Rights Watch believes that terrorism is a crime and that people suspected of planning or carrying out acts of terrorism should be dealt with through the criminal justice system not through a parallel system. Operating a parallel system, whether secret or not, denies suspects’ legal protection and makes them vulnerable to abuse, including torture,” Benjamin Ward said.

“We hope that the Polish authorities will recognize that the most effective way to draw a line under this incident and ensure that it does not happen again is to mount a credible criminal investigation and hold those responsible to account,” he added.

Anthony Glees, professor of Politics at the University of Buckingham and director of its Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies (BUCSIS) noted that the issue of extraordinary rendition is a complicated one because it was a struggle against war fighters who were not soldiers of any state and were not fighting in uniform.

“Warfare is governed by very strict rules and has been for several hundred years. But these rules always concern those who fight in uniform and under military command. Those detained are as far as I have been able to judge individuals against whom there are very serious suspicions of complicity in Islamist terrorism activity. After 9/11 I think the US was entitled to take action to disrupt and remove such people from where they could do harm. You cannot let such people free to continue to commit acts of terrorism; ideally they should be tried wherever possible. I think the mistake the US made was not to try them in the US and then deport them back to where they were taken,” the expert explained.

However, he stressed that torture is always illegal, totally wrong and counter-productive in both intelligence and political terms – because evidence obtained through torture cannot always be considered reliable and because torture is what totalitarian states do, not what democracies should even think of doing.

“But these were secret prisons — not necessarily illegal ones. Such people have to be detained somewhere and I do not think doing so is contrary to law; what is contrary to law is waging terror on people for political purposes. That said all secret activity must be subject to proper oversight and must be lawful. If there were no oversight in Poland that is a problem for the polish government, I would accept that,” Anthony Glees said.

He also emphasized that further developments depend on the strength of public and political opinion in the polish parliament.

“We in the west face an ongoing and sustained threat from Islamist terrorists and our governments need to protect their citizens from it – that includes the vast majority of Muslims throughout the world who want nothing to do with Islamist terrorism and are its chief victims. In a war there is fighting and killing and war for that reason always had to be a last resort. However sometimes it is necessary. The best way forward is to win the security war and then talk peace to those whom one has defeated, from a position of strength,” the professor said.

Taking into account that the United States played a major role in the creation of such centers, the analyst suggested that the US government should explain fully what it did, give us the reasons for its actions and then let us decide if we can accept them.

“My guess is that most people will accept them — although not the use of torture, which can never be accepted,” the expert emphasized.

Konstanty Gebert, a Polish journalist, ECFR associate fellow, drew attention to the fact that the official Polish position is that no secret prison existed.

“However, a growing body of circumstantial evidence, including official Polish documents, for example, confirming the landings at Szymany of a US aircraft identified in separate EU investigations as having transported secret prisoners, make this position highly questionable,” he said.

According to him, the main purpose of the prison – if it existed – would clearly be to circumvent US law.

“And Polish authorities could not have set it up without violating Polish law. Therefore its existence could not be justified,” the expert noted.

He also stressed that no democratic government could maintain secret prisons at its pleasure, whatever the reason.

“If the US government believed that it has a legitimate need for having such prisons set up, it should have first convinced the US Congress and then, if successful, should have contacted other governments which, if convinced themselves, would in turn have to convince their own legislatures. Such proceedings are necessarily cumbersome, though they can be streamlined in an emergency,” Konstanty Gebert explained. CSI

In his opinion, it seems obvious that the current and former Polish leaderships are not supportive of the investigation.

“They claim national security reasons, which might or might not be legitimate. But again, no democratic government can, just by invoking national security, obstruct the course of justice,” he said.

“The current state of affairs can continue for some time. There is not much public opinion pressure on the authorities not to obstruct the course of justice, as there is not enough appreciation of the fundamental rights issues involved,” the analyst noted.

According to him, it is therefore implausible that the secret prisons will become an electoral issue, the more so that a national security consensus does exist among political elites involved — and only the risk of losing votes would force the ruling elite to reconsider.

“Yet the cat is already out of the bag, and media are taking a lively interest in the case, as are a number of human rights NGOs. Ultimately, I believe they will prevail and the basic facts of the case, whatever they are, will eventually be exposed,” the expert concluded.

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