CIA torture report ricochets in Poland

By bne IntelliNews December 10, 2014

Jan Cienski in Warsaw -


The release of the US Senate committee report on the CIA's use of torture is ricocheting in Poland - which allowed the US agency to use a base in northern Poland to hold detainees in 2002 and 2003 - as politicians scramble to distance themselves from the US findings.

Leszek Miller, Poland's prime minister at the time, and Aleksander Kwasniewski, the former president, held a joint press conference on Wednesday, insisting that neither they nor the Polish government had done anything wrong in agreeing to tighter links with US intelligence following the September 11 al-Quaeda attacks in the US.

The redacted summary of the Senate report does not mention countries, but the phrase “Blue Site” seems to correlate with Poland and its Stare Kiejkuty airbase. According to the US document, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi suspected of being the mastermind of the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, was brutally treated there. He was placed in a “stress position” with his hands over his head for two days, was threatened with execution and with a power drill, slapped and warned that his mother would be raped.

Abu Zubaydah, a suspected al-Qaida member of Palestinian origin, was also held at Site Blue, where he says he was tortured.

US officials wanted to send three more terrorist suspects to the site, but the host country baulked, only relenting after a payment was made. The Washington Post has earlier reported that Poland received $15m in cash.

Kwasniewski admitted that “the financial question written up in the report took place” but said it was not linked to cooperation with the CIA.

An unrepentant Miller told Polish TV on Tuesday that “everyone is worried about the fate of murderers, talking about their rights, but no-one is talking about the rights of the victims. So I am speaking about the right of victims.”

The CIA stopped using the Stare Kiejkuty base in 2003, after Kwasniewski talked to former president George W Bush in the White House, saying he had become “uneasy” about American activities there.

CIA activities continue to cast a cloud over Polish-US relations. Although Ewa Kopacz, Poland's prime minister, talked with president Barack Obama on the eve of the release of the report, and she later said the report would not negatively affect US-Polish ties, she did also call for a quick explanation of the CIA site in Poland. Kwasniewski was blunter, saying “Poland must use methods of limited trust in relations with its largest ally".

The Poland that allowed the US to use the Stare Kiejkuty base was a more fragile and less confident place than it is today. The ex-communists running Poland at the turn of the millennium were keen to stress the strength of their country's alliance with the US. Poland had only joined Nato in 1999 and was not yet a member of the EU.

Paradoxically, Poland is now bearing the brunt of the consequences for the US torture programme. While no US officials have been prosecuted for their role in torturing prisoners, earlier this year Poland lost a case before the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that Warsaw had violated the European Convention on Human Rights in allowing prisoners to be held at the base. Zubaydah and al-Nashiri were each awarded €100,000 in damages, with Zubaydah getting an additional €30,000 in costs.

Polish prosecutors have also been looking into the issue since 2008. Reportedly, Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, Poland's head of intelligence at the time the CIA site was operating, as well has his deputy have been charged, although there is little public information in the top secret case. There are no reports of officials from countries like Lithuania and Romania, which also hosted US detention facilities, being similarly charged.

Siemiatkowski on Wednesday told Polish radio it has been a “total mistake” for the Senate to release the report, and insisted that he had nothing to be ashamed of in helping foster closer ties between Polish and US intelligence agencies.

But Siemiatkowski and other former Polish officials are not yet in the clear. Bronislaw Komorowski, Poland's president, said he hoped the US report would “revive” the slow Polish investigation.


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