Landmark rulings expose Poland’s role in CIA secret detention and torture

News
July 24, 2014

Landmark rulings expose Poland’s role in CIA secret detention and torture

Poland is the first European Union member state to be found complicit in the USA’s rendition, secret detention, and torture of alleged terrorism suspects, Amnesty International said as it applauded two landmark human rights judgments handed down today.  

The European Court of Human Rights found that the Polish government colluded with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to establish a secret prison at Stare Kiejkuty, which operated between 2002 and 2005. At the site, 180 km north of Warsaw, detainees were held in secret detention and tortured.

“Today’s historic rulings finally unlock the truth about a dark period of Poland’s recent history and mark a milestone against impunity. Poland knowingly became part of the USA’s illegal network of black sites that was used to secretly detain and torture individuals rounded up in counter-terrorism operations,” said Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s expert on counter-terrorism and human rights.  

The Court found Poland in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights for, among other things, the lack of an investigation into the men’s claims; their torture and other ill-treatment, secret detention, and transferred to other places where they were at risk of further human rights violations including torture and other ill-treatment. The Court also reaffirmed the victims’ and the public’s right to truth.

The two claimants lodged their cases with the European Court in 2011 and 2013, respectively. Both men are currently detained at the US Navy's Guantánamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.

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 suffering. Former US President George W. Bush asserted in his 2010 memoirs that he authorized the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”, including “waterboarding” – mock drowning – against Abu Zubaydah in secret CIA detention.

Al-Nashiri faces a capital trial by military commission in Guantánamo. The US authorities have yet to charge Abu Zubaydah with any crime, more than 12 years after taking him into detention.

There has been no accountability to date in the USA for the torture and enforced disappearances attendant to the CIA rendition and secret detention programmes.

European Parliament resolutions in 2012 and 2013 specifically named Poland as complicit in the CIA programmes, named al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah as victims of torture and enforced disappearance, and called on Poland to provide effective redress.

“Poland colluded with the CIA and helped the USA torture and subject these men to enforced disappearance. The Polish authorities must now conduct the effective investigation it has been stalling on and obstructing for all these years,” said Julia Hall.

Following the European Court ruling, Amnesty International is calling on the Polish government to conduct an effective investigation and ensure that those responsible for crimes under international law such as torture and enforced disappearance are brought to justice. Other EU member states with an alleged role in the CIA rendition and secret detention programmes must likewise step up their efforts to reveal the truth.

“Poland is not alone. Many other EU governments colluded with the USA to abduct, illegally transfer, ‘disappear’ and torture people in the course of rendition operations. While today’s judgments are a significant step forward, much more needs to be done to ensure accountability across Europe,” said Julia Hall.

Amnesty International has called for investigations into and accountability for similar allegations in a number of European countries, including Italy, Lithuania, Romania, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Background

Poland has been in the spotlight since 2005, when it was first identified as having hosted a secret CIA detention facility.

In March 2008, the Polish authorities opened a criminal investigation which was repeatedly delayed due to changes in prosecution personnel, a shift in location from Warsaw to Krakow, and claims that cooperation from the US government had not been forthcoming. “National security” was routinely invoked as a justification for the secrecy that shrouded the investigation.

The investigation is still under way, but in the meantime the NGOS Open Society Justice Initiative (al-Nashiri) and Interights (Abu Zubaydah), along with the men's Polish lawyers, filed  Al Nashiri v. Poland  and  Husayn (Abu Zubaydah) v. Poland  at the European Court of Human Rights.

Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists intervened jointly in both cases: 

  • Al Nashiri v Poland: Written submissions on behalf of Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists, 5 November 2012.
  • Al Nashiri v Poland: Written supplementary submissions on behalf of Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists, 15 February 2013.
  • Husayn (Abu Zubaydah) v. Poland: Written submissions on behalf of Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists, 17 October 2013.


In June 2013, a third man who alleges he was held at a secret detention site in Poland in 2003 was granted “injured person” status in Poland’s national investigation into the CIA site. Walid bin Attash, a Yemeni national, is currently detained and awaiting trial by military commission at Guantánamo Bay.

In a separate judgment on 13 December 2012, the European Court held unanimously that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was responsible for the unlawful detention, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment of German national Khaled El-Masri.