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Poland Cornered Over Its Secret Prisons

WARSAW, Mar 8 2013 (IPS) - A Polish official investigation into the existence of a secret CIA prison on its territory is being stalled, according to official sources, while pressure on the country to tell the truth mounts.

Various public sources, from Dick Marty’s 2007 Council of Europe report to the recent Globalising Torture study of Open Society Foundations, claim Poland hosted a secret CIA prison used in the extraordinary rendition programme from the end of 2002. Under this programme, the U.S. detained and interrogated terrorism suspects in Europe.

Evidence comes from official sources. The 2004 CIA Inspector General report, which discusses CIA’s treatment of prisoners thought to be linked to Al-Qaeda in the period 2001-2003, details the case of Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri, alleged leader of Al-Qaeda in the Persian Gulf and suspected of organising the bombing of warship USS Cole. Seventeen US servicemen were killed in the attack on the ship in the Yemeni port Aden in October 2000.

According to the report, by November 2002 Al-Nashiri had been detained by the CIA and enhanced interrogation techniques (EIT) were applied on him “through to 4 December 2002.” A heavily redacted further section reads, “two waterboard sessions in November 2002 after which (…) Al-Nashiri was compliant. However, after being moved (…) Al-Nashiri was thought to be withholding information.”

These fragments show Al-Nashiri was moved immediately after Dec. 4 to a new location, where EIT were applied on him again.

Poland seems to be this new location. Documents disclosed by the Polish Border Guards to the Polish Helsinki Foundation show that flight N63MU landed at Polish Szymany airport on Dec. 5, 2002, coming from Thailand (where CIA prisoners were thought to have been taken at first) via Dubai with eight passengers and four crew members; it left Poland with only the four crew.

No other flights – but N63MU to Poland – on which Al-Nashiri could have been moved have been discovered: “We have comprehensive data for 200-300 planes suspected or known to have done renditions – all U.S. registered private jets,” Crofton Black, investigator at UK NGO Reprieve, told IPS. “Having surveyed all these planes, it does appear there is no other relevant movement from Thailand on or around Dec. 5.” Black, however, adds that relevant flights might still be discovered.

In addition to such evidence (which can be brought for other terrorism suspects too), officials from governments and intelligence services of various countries, including Poland and the U.S., interviewed by UN and EU bodies, NGOs and journalists, point to the fact that the Polish site was key to the CIA scheme.

Those sources continue to speak under the condition of anonymity because both Poland and the U.S. refuse to officially reveal details about how rendition functioned.

In Poland, a prosecutors’ investigation started in 2008 has recently taken a dubious turn.

Until a year ago, the investigation was conducted by the Warsaw prosecutors’ office, under two successive prosecutors. In 2011, Poland’s main daily Gazeta Wyrbocza reported that the first prosecutor reached the point of asking legal experts about the implications of Poland hosting a site where foreign agents tortured prisoners.

In 2012, Polish media reported that the second prosecutor assigned to the case told Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, Poland’s head of intelligence services between 2002 and 2004, that charges would be brought against him for violating international law by allowing the unlawful detention of prisoners in Poland. Siemiatkowski confirmed the charges.

After this news came out, the case was moved to Krakow.

Mikolaj Pietrzak, the Polish lawyer for Al-Nashiri, has won the right to be updated on the investigation since his client was granted victim status by Polish authorities in 2010. Pietrzak told IPS that he had enjoyed good cooperation with the Warsaw prosecutors, having even been granted access to the entire file (including to classified information) by the second investigator. Since the case moved to Krakow, he has seen solely non-classified information and only after significant pressure from his side.

“It is extremely irregular that a case be shifted to three different prosecutors,” Pietrzak said. “And the fact that in the last year nothing has gone forward apparently is a very sad statement about the investigation.”

Piotr Kosmaty, a Krakow prosecutors’ office spokesperson, confirmed to IPS that the case which was supposed to be finalised this February has received a set extension, but the new timeline is not public.

According to Adam Bodnar, head of the legal division at Helsinki Foundation, “all the steps to prolong the investigation are meant to avoid making a formal and conclusive decision in this case.”

“This is a hot potato situation for Polish prosecutors and politicians,” Bodnar told IPS. “They cannot just redeem Poland, that would cause an outcry, but pressing charges against Siemiatkowski or Leszek Miller (former prime minister of Poland between 2001 and 2004) is also impossible in the current political configuration. So they try to prolong it as much as possible.”

Yet sweeping this case under the rug might be impossible for Poland.

Al-Nashiri opened a case against Poland at the European Court of Human Rights, and lawyers for Abu Zubaydah, the first “high value detainee” in the CIA programme who was also allegedly brought to Poland on the same N63MU flight, are preparing a similar case.

According to Pietrzak and Bodnar, even if Poland does not disclose any information to the ECHR (it has refused to do so until now), there is enough evidence to prove the country violated the Geneva Conventions, for not having offered protection to these individuals on its soil and for allowing them to be transferred to the U.S., where they are vulnerable to the death penalty.

Pietrzak, who has at one point seen the full file of the Polish investigation, claims: “This case is going to be very difficult to overturn, becase there is a lot of evidence, and you simply cannot pretend that what is there in the prosecutors’ file doesn’t exist.”

The lawyer says that in case the Polish investigation is closed with no result, as a representative of a victim he has the procedural right to appeal in front of a Polish court. In that case, he can bring all the confidential information he has seen as evidence. (end)

 
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