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Polish 'black sites'

October 7, 2010

The public prosecutor's office in Poland has opened an investigation into claims by a Saudi national that he was tortured in a CIA secret prison in Poland. The Polish government maintains the prison never existed.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Polish prosecutors have accepted requests by a Saudi national to investigate his claims that he was tortured by the CIA on Polish territory, Polish media reported this week.

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who the United States detained on suspicion of planning the deadly October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden, says he was secretly flown to the remote Szymany military airfield in northern Poland, imprisoned and tortured by the American intelligence agency.

Al-Nashiri is currently detained at the US military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He filed a petition with prosecutors in Warsaw last month to investigate his case by interviewing a number of witnesses. A spokesman for the prosecutor's office said prosecutors would judge each of al-Nashiri's interview requests individually.

US aircraft parked at Romanian airfield
Documents appear to show some CIA-operated flights from Poland to RomaniaImage: AP

Body of evidence

There have been repeated allegations by human rights organizations, media outlets and an investigation by the Council of Europe that the CIA used Szymany from 2003 to 2005 as part of its "extraordinary rendition" program, under which terrorism suspects were flown to "black sites" outside US territory and interrogated under ambiguous legal circumstances.

A statement last month from the Open Society Justice Initiative, which supports al-Nashiri's case, said "he is the first victim of the CIA's rendition program to pursue legal remedies in Poland."

Polish authorities have repeatedly denied that the country ever allowed CIA flights carrying al-Qaeda prisoners to land on its territory.

But human rights groups like the Polish chapter of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights have long pieced together a body of circumstantial evidence concerning alleged CIA rendition flights. Among the documents are fragments of Szymany airport logs which seem to prove that Gulfstream aircraft operated by the CIA did land there on several occasions before flying off to other alleged detention centers in Romania and Morocco.

Potential court case

Helsinki Foundation activist Adam Bodnar said if the allegations are confirmed, it could turn into a political catastrophe for several people.

European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
Al-Nashiri's case could land at the European Court of Human Rights, Bodnar saidImage: AP

"I think that the majority of politicians and persons responsible didn't know about this cooperation, which was probably made on the level of intelligence services," he told Deutsche Welle. "But if those facts are confirmed then it means a potential case against Poland in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. My feeling is that we are at the beginning of getting the truth."

Yet there are those who say that the full scope of Poland's alleged involvement in CIA covert operations may never come to light.

Arkadiusz Zukowski, a political scientist at Olsztyn University, around 50 kilometers from the Szymany air base, said any official admission of guilt would be unlikely.

"If one day the truth would be disclosed, the argument would be 'You know, we have our privileged relations with the United States. We have to pay for it, for our security,'" he said. "The price is to send troops to Afghanistan, to Iraq and to take possible prisoners."

Author: Rafal Kiepuszewski, Warsaw (acb)
Editor: Chuck Penfold