“I think the country was Poland...It was here that the most intense interrogation occurred”.
Khalid Sheik Mohammed, former CIA secret detainee now held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba
In April 2009 Amnesty International launched a campaign calling for accountability for alleged crimes committed in Poland as part of the CIA’s program of rendition and secret detention.
Amnesty International called for the investigation into the long standing allegations initiated by the Polish National Prosecutor’s Office in 2008 to be transparent and thorough, in contrast to the previous investigation by the secret services committee of the Polish parliament conducted in 2005 and 2006.
New allegations of torture in Poland
In April 2009, a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, was leaked to the press. The report detailed allegations of torture and other ill treatment of 14 “high value” detainees held in the CIA secret detention program who had subsequently been transferred to the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The detainees variously describe being subjected to beatings, confined in small spaces, deprived of sleep and forced to listen to loud music constantly. Three of the 14 reported to the ICRC that they were subjected to “suffocation by water” or “waterboarding”. All were victims of enforced disappearance.
One of the detainees, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the USA, told the ICRC that he was transferred from Afghanistan in March 2003 and that he thought the country he was subsequently detained in was Poland because
“on one occasion a water bottle was brought to me without the label removed. It had an email address ending in “.pl”. The central heating system was an old style one that I would only expect to see in countries of the former communist system”.
He told the ICRC that, while held in this location, he was waterboarded five times, beaten including by having his head repeatedly banged against a wall and deprived of sleep and clothes and when not being interrogated, was forced to stand for prolonged periods, shackled to the ceiling and floor.
Prosecutor’s investigation: wide scope, transparency needed
In March 2008, the Warsaw Public Prosecutor’s office initiated an investigation alleged crimes as part of the CIA program. In June 2008, the investigation was moved to the National Public Prosecutor’s office.
Amnesty International welcomed this investigation but stressed that it must be thorough and independent, and expressed concerns about its proposed scope and powers. Former government officials had reportedly said that although they were willing to speak to investigators, their testimony would be limited by Poland’s laws on the confidentiality of state secrets.
Since Amnesty International launched its campaign, the National Public Prosecutor’s Office has written to the organisation stating that the scope of the prosecutor’s investigation will not, as previously thought, be limited to offences under Article 231 of the Polish Penal Code, relating only to public officials overstepping their official powers. Rather, the investigation will cover the entirety of circumstances related to verification of findings described in the resolution of European Parliament concerning the alleged illegal detention and transportation of CIA detainees. This reassurance is welcome.
However, Amnesty International also called for the Prime Minister to ensure its findings and its methodology is made public. Unfortunately, the Public Prosecutor’s Office told Amnesty International that the findings of the investigation will not be made public, as they are considered state secret and thus protected as classified information.
Serious crimes, including torture and enforced disappearance, have allegedly been committed on Polish territory as part of the CIA’s rendition and secret detention programmes.
With the opening of an investigation by the National Public Prosecutor’s office into alleged crimes in the context of CIA secret detention, the Polish government has taken positive steps. This investigation and any subsequent prosecutions or other court proceedings must establish the truth and bring to justice those responsible.
The way to dispel any doubts over these allegations is to ensure that the investigation and any resulting prosecutions can be thoroughly scrutinized by the public.