Europe, Headlines, Human Rights, North America

EUROPE: Uncovering the Veil Over ‘CIA Prison’

Zoltán Dujisin

BUDAPEST, Apr 29 2009 (IPS) - An official investigation shows that it is more and more likely that a CIA prison existed in Poland at the height of the “war on terror”.

The Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the European Commission all produced reports between 2006 and 2007 in which the existence of CIA (the U.S.’s Central Intelligence Agency) prisons in Poland and Romania is mentioned as highly probable.

The prison in Poland allegedly existed between 2002 and 2005 and was located there partly due to Polish eagerness to cooperate with the U.S. following the Sep. 11 terrorist attacks.

The reported evidence so far comes from leaked documents and anonymous testimonies given to the Council of Europe and U.S. and Polish media.

Among the high-profile suspects to have spent time in Poland is believed to be Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, pointed to as the main organiser of attacks on U.S. soil.

CIA prisons, whose existence abroad was admitted by former U.S. president George W. Bush, without naming countries, are also believed to have been set up in Africa and the Middle East, but the Polish base could have been the most important one, said a June 2008 report in the New York Times.

According to human rights organisations, prisoners in CIA prisons had no access to lawyers, nor were they informed of their location. The prisoners are said to have been subjected to torture, including waterboarding, deprivation of sleep and subjection to extreme temperatures.

The techniques and the detentions were part of a system of “extraordinary renditions” under which the U.S. extracted information from terrorism suspects in countries where it had liberty to apply harsher interrogation methods.

The authorities of Poland and other Central and Eastern European countries have been accused of lack of cooperation and even of refusing to answer questions from international bodies. The governments say the evidence presented in the reports is circumstantial and the sources anonymous.

In August last year, six months after the centrist-liberal government of the Civic Platform (PO) took office, Poland’s National Prosecutor’s Office began probing the issue.

Amnesty International has said it will help investigators contact former CIA detainees who may have been detained in Poland.

The investigation has gained momentum after the change of administrations in the U.S. and Poland. The centrist cabinet of Prime Minister Donald Tusk represents the only major political force that had nothing to do with past cooperation with the CIA, and has little to fear from the results of the investigation.

Press reports say the National Prosecution Office has gained access to top- secret documentation showing that officials from the previous right-wing cabinet had knowledge of the existence of a CIA-run prison near the intelligence school in Stare Krejkuty in north-eastern Poland.

The confidential investigation will allegedly target some of the highest- ranking state officials, such as former prime ministers Leszek Miller and Jaroslaw Kaczynski and former president Aleksander Kwasniewski.

Officials could be accused of overstepping their authority and violating the Polish constitution and international commitments to which Poland subscribes.

“There is now a major emphasis on the fact that a part of Polish territory has been subjected to U.S. control, creating an extra-territorial sphere without any international agreement,” Adam Bodnar from the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Poland told IPS.

The Polish government is also suspected of having offered up to 20 intelligence officers to help their U.S. colleagues with logistics, but few believed they were actually present in any of the interrogations.

“The question of torture there cannot be ignored, including the possibility of negligence by Polish authorities in preventing that kind of crime,” Bodnar says.

Politicians of all affiliations are now denying the detention of terrorism suspects on Polish soil, or are referring to state secrecy to avoid divulging information.

But politicians can no longer hide behind Polish confidentiality laws after Tusk freed top officials targeted by the investigation from any obligation to keep state secrets.

“Many politicians have testified, but we don’t know yet what they have said to the prosecutor because the investigation is secret,” Bodnar told IPS.

So far Polish officials only admit to CIA flight stopovers on Polish soil on their way to the U.S.-run Guantanamo prison in Cuba. Similar stopovers are believed to have occurred in the Czech Republic, Germany, Britain, Slovakia, Norway, Spain and Portugal.

The Polish prison was allegedly set up during the office term of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). The government that followed in 2005, led by the rightist Law and Justice (PiS), is believed to have covered up the case for the sake of good relations with the U.S.

The investigation has enemies in both politics and the media, with arguments ranging from the need to protect state secrets and avoiding a terrorist attack on Poland, to reminding the public of the importance of good Polish-U.S. relations.

It was U.S. media that first published reports of CIA prisons in Poland. For years Polish media and the judiciary did not take the allegations seriously. In 2006, a Polish government commission concluded that the allegations were unfounded.

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