Polish PM Reveals that US Tortured at Black Sites in his Country

Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk is now more or less admitting what has long been suspected: The Bush administration established a secret CIA prison in Poland and had Polish security officials help torture al-Qaeda suspects there.

These steps were unconstitutional in Poland on two grounds: first, high Polish officials surrendered sovereignty over Polish territory to the US Central Intelligence Agency. Second, torture is forbidden in Poland. In addition, it contravenes European Union conventions and treaties.

Poland had only escaped the grip of the Soviet Union in 1989, and so its democracy was a fledgling one. For the Bush administration to seduce its high officials into committing torture risked permanently marring its politics and undermining that democracy. Polish human rights workers have been deeply critical of Soviet-era torture, and to be put in the position of having to acknowledge this practice in their own country weakens their moral standing and besmirches the name of those tortured in the Stalinist era.

Waterboarding and extreme stress techniques are also illegal in US law and practice.

One of the suspects tortured in Poland was Abu Zubayda, an addled safehouse keeper whom the Bush administration built up into a mythical ‘number three man in al-Qaeda.’ Abu Zubayda still suffers ill health and increased symptoms of mental illness as a result of the torture.

Some detainees at Guantanamo are guilty of plotting or carrying out terrorist operations of some magnitude, and that George W. Bush should have transformed them into victims of torture is the most degrading thing he did to those killed on September 11. In other instances, the US swept up a lot of innocents or petty criminals in its dragnet against al-Qaeda, and torturing them was not only useless and illegal, but actually a way to lose hearts and minds in the Muslim world and so was supremely self-defeating.

President Barack Obama ordered, on coming into office, that waterboarding and other torture cease. He has, however, gone out of his way to block victims of torture from launching legal actions, and has run interference for guilty officials, ensuring that there is no accountability for the torture programs.

Former Polish officials who allowed the torture on their soil, including the then head of Polish intelligence and the then prime minister and president, may be called to testify before the State Tribunal, Poland’s equivalent of the Supreme Court. The prime minister was Leszek Miller. The President of Poland at the time, Aleksander Kwasniewski, had not been told by his intelligence officials about the black site. But in 2003 when George W. Bush visited Warsaw, he thanked Kwasniewski so profusely and warmly for Poland’s help in the “war on terror” that the Polish leader became suspicious, since he hadn’t to his knowledge actually done much. He made inquiries, discovered the truth, and shut the prison down.

This darkly comic anecdote demonstrates a number of important points. First, W. is thick as two blocks of wood. Second, he knew about the torture programs and about the farming out of torture to US allies, which is a punishable offense in US law. Third, the practice of torture, being illegal in Europe, impels intelligence agencies to go rogue and establish black cells inside themselves that can hide operations from the president and other civilian political leaders. (Allegedly PM Miller did know about the operation). This procedure, adopted under US pressure, profoundly undermined democracy and human rights in Poland.

In essence, Polish intelligence behaved the way Stieg Larsson depicted Swedish intelligence as behaving, in his Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Or it behaved as Barry Eisler’s CIA and DIA villains do in his Ben Treven novels, such as Inside Out . Unfortunately, what happened in Poland is all too real, and it also happened in Langley, as Glenn Carle discovered (see his The Interrogator. Carle refers to what happened in the Bush era as a “coup.”

Aljazeerah English reports on the investigation:

The USG Open Source center translated an article in mid-February that spilled the beans about the torture program in Poland and the lawsuits it is generating, which may help explain why PM Tusk has gone so public.

‘More Guantanamo Detainees Claim To Have Been Tortured by CIA in Poland
Report by Ewa Losinska: “Poland Again Accused of Torture”
Saturday, February 18, 2012
Document Type: OSC Translated Text …

The Palestinian Abu Zubayda maintains that he was imprisoned in the Mazury region [of Poland].

The number of prisoners from Guantanamo who maintain that they were tortured by the CIA in Poland is increasing. Lawyers feel that the successive allegations undermine our country’s credibility.

The Palestinian man Abu Zubaydah is considering filing a complaint against Poland in Strasbourg — says Bartlomiej Jankowski, one of his defense attorneys. Already last year, the Palestinian filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights against Lithuania, where he alleges he was detained starting in 2005.

In May 2011, the Saudi man Abd al Rahim Al-Nashiri, suspected of involvement in the attack against the American warship the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, filed a complaint with the court. It speaks of torture and the violation of his right to life. He is demanding recognition that Poland violated the human rights convention guaranteeing the right to life and freedom. He also complains about the sluggishness of the Polish investigation into the CIA prison case.

That investigation has been underway since 2008. Now it has been suddenly shifted from the prosecutor’s office in Warsaw to the one in Krakow.

The Saudi and the Palestinian are today in the US prison in Guantanamo, but they have the status of wronged individuals in the Polish investigation. “The change of prosecutor’s office will further prolong the proceedings,” says Mikolaj Pietrzak, representing al-Nashiri. Al-Nashiri’s defenders have asked the court in Strasbourg to treat his complaint as a priority. He faces the death penalty in the United States.

The Yemeni man Walid bin Attash (who is also at Guantanamo), suspected of preparing the attack against the USS Cole destroyer, claims that he was imprisoned in Poland. His representative Cheryl Bormann has just visited Warsaw. She wants to file a request to have her client awarded the status of a wronged individual in the Polish investigation. She met with lawyers from the Helsinki Human Rights Foundation and members of parliament from the Palikot Movement.

“The American attorney asked us to take an interest in the prison issue,” confirms MP Artur Debski from the Palikot Movement, a member of the Intelligence Services Committee.

A CIA prison is alleged to have existed in the Mazury region from December 2002 to September 2003. This is confirmed by data obtained by the Helsinki Foundation from the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency and Border Guard about the routes of US military planes and landings at the airport in Szymany. It is also discussed by a report from the CIA’s inspector general.

“Another prisoner who was brought to Poland was Khalid Sheikh Mohammad,” says Dr. Adam Bodnar from the Helsinki Human Rights Foundation. The Palestinian is said to have led al-Qa’ida’s preparations for the attack against America in 2001. “Europe will not cease to be interested in the case of CIA prisons in Poland. Our credibility and prestige depend on the results of the Polish investigation,” he adds.

The UN Human Rights Council and the Council of Europe are interested in the Polish investigation. “We know who was held in CIA prisons in Poland and what interrogation methods were used,” Thomas Hammarberg, commissioner for human rights, said in October 2011. In his view, they may be deemed to constitute torture.

Will the result of the Polish investigation be charges against politicians or intelligence chiefs for consenting to the use of torture? Theoretically the former highest ranking Polish officials could be summoned before the Tribunal of State for relinquishing sovereignty over part of Polish territory — lawyers say. Such a motion would have to be backed by 115 members of parliament. However, politicians are denying the existence of CIA prisons in Poland.

(Description of Source: Warsaw Rzeczpospolita in Polish — center-right political and economic daily; widely read by political and business elites; paper of record; often critical of Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform (PO) and sympathetic to Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law and Justice (PiS) party; tends to be skeptical of Poland’s ties with Russia and positive on US-Polish security ties; urges interest in Warsaw’s policy toward eastern neighbors)

20 Responses

  1. “first, high Polish officials surrendered sovereignty over Polish territory to the US Central Intelligence Agency.”

    I don’t know if your above-cited statement was meant to be literal or figurative. If literal, it is clearly wrong. Polish officials may have granted the Central Intelligence Agency permission and authority to use “black sites” in Poland, but that certainly does not equate to granting to the CIA “sovereignty” over Polish territory.

    • Gee, as a practical matter, is there a substantive difference in that picayune distinction that the “renditioned” would notice? Or the fellas and gals administering the “enhanced” treatments?

      And I wonder, maybe others do to, whether any useful “intelligence” came from any of those exercises in “sovereignty over the persons to be treated,” or whether the whole exercise is just fun for the abusers, with a vain hope that the threat that one will be “renditioned” would somehow deter a person who might contemplate what our Experienced Persons consider to be “terroristic.” And gee, also, do I have this wrong or is it the case that most interceptions of “terroristic” activities are accomplished by plain old police work (when the police aren’t militarizing themselves and availing themselves of “State Security” toys like tracking GPSs in cell phones and trying to draw potentially weak-willed people into ‘terrorist plots’)?

      Of course, “we’ll never know how much the Players have done for (or is it TO?) us,” now will we? We are supposed to just be grateful, to shut up and keep generating Real Wealth for the Players to Experience with, and pay no mind to the screams from down the corridor. I think the Professor had it right, as written. Whatever the Security Dictionary has to say about “precise definitions.”

      But the Experienced Players know they are immune, and just too big for anyone to rein in.

      Pedantry trumps propriety, every time.

      • “Gee, as a practical matter, is there a substantive difference in that picayune distinction”

        Only a dilletante or a fool would consider as “picayune” the distinction between maintaining sovereignty while granting permission for the use of sovereign territory and the actual transfer of sovereignty.

  2. Not prepared fully to believe Obama’s order to stop torture until he opens the secret prisons he is operating in Afghanistan, Somalia(?) and who knows where else, and illustrates that it is not being done there and has not been done there under his administration.

    • How about the treatment meted to Bradley Manning at the Quantico Marine brig that Obama considered “appropriate.” Appropriate for what? Extort a confession that Julian Assange was criminally involved in the leaded files? Amnesty International and the UN Rapporteur on Torture were both concerned that Manning’s treatment might qualify as torture. I seem to recall that candidate or newly-inaugurated president Obama said that under his administration torture would “end on United States soil” or words to that effect. What about on soil other than the United States? Like, maybe Bagram?

  3. “President Barack Obama … has, however, gone out of his way to block victims of torture from launching legal actions, and has run interference for guilty officials, ensuring that there is no accountability for the torture programs.”

    He is a company man.

  4. Darkly comic? Charlie Chaplin would have loved it? The Little Torturer?

    OTOH, maybe the Polish government will reveal the CIA figures involved (and their own!). That would place the USA in the position of being (along, of course, with, as I suppose, USSR, China, Israel, much of Middle East and Africa, etc., officially opposing torture whilst continuing to do it and continuing to protect those who do it and who did it — all while the law forbids/forbade it.

    On second thoughts, Chaplin might have made it funny.

    Then, for an encore, he could have had us convulsing in the aisles over jokes about the USA, China, et al., nearly completely ignoring climate change — see the head lines now — “Bigger than the Holocaust!”, “Bigger than Stalin’s murder of 30 million Ukrainians!”, “Coming soon to theaters near you, the now-inescapable effects of formerly preventable climate change!”.

    Why complain about a little measly torture? But why are they spinning their wheels on torture (or terrorism) when the world has REAL problems?

    • Tortures are a ‘real problem’. “A little measly torture? maybe societies deserve ‘global warming”, if our species has become so callous to dismissive the use of barbaric tortures and abuse. I can only think, one who dissed the use of brutal enhanced tortures feels safe and far away from such abuses happening to them.

      The use was broader than just in ‘black opt sites’.

  5. Thanks for underlining the dregs to which Obama sank in defending torturers in his administration.

    Like, the biggest disappointment ever, that man.

  6. The real underlying problem is that Poland depends too much upon an outside power for its own defense. Poland’s weakness meant that it was easily pressured to participate in aggression and against Iraq, and in other serious war crimes, by its major power protector.

    This was also true of the Baltic members of the so-called “Coalition of the Willing.” Weak countries can be herded into wars of aggression at the bidding of the power upon whom they depend. The protector, for its part, has little interest in promoting the real defense capability of its satellite.

    The Poles have often been naive, now as in the past, about the sincerity of Western countries in their defense. But whether it’s been Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill, or George W. Bush, no Western leader has ever done anything except use the Poles, then sell them down the river, and usually at a discount.

    You’d think the Poles would have learned a thing or two by now, from their own history.

    Poland is good example of how nuclear proliferation could be a good thing. Poland cannot defend itself in conventional military terms. But if Poland possessed even a modest intermediate range nuclear counter-value capability, the Poles could be quite well defended–indeed they could become the very Bulwark of Europe, at an affordable economic cost, and without soiling themselves in the schemes of foreign powers.

    A nuclear-armed Poland could have impolitely told George W. Bush exactly what to do with himself–and could then turn around and tell Putin the same.

    Instead, the Poles have become aggressors, they have become torturers, and they are still kept dangling today by Obama for some miserable tidbit of a missile shield. This is all because they won’t take their country’s defense into their own hands, using affordable, reliable, technology that could negate their historic conventional military disadvantages.

    • This is all because they won’t take their country’s defense into their own hands, using affordable, reliable, technology that could negate their historic conventional military disadvantages.

      Wow. Who do you work for, again?

      Is it not obvious that the whole stupid tail-chasing, circular-firing-squad, asymptotically wasteful idiocy of the global MIC “thing” is what’s dragging us all down into a fool’s endgame?

      Which “affordable, reliable technology” are you referring to? Nukular weapons? You think the Right People here in Amurica, who invent a desire by Iran to build bombs as a casus belli, and assist the Israeli warlords to have their own little stockpiles and delivery systems, are going to just say “OK, Stash, you start enriching uranium and neutroning up some plutonium, we think you need to be able to DEFEND yourself. And I’m sure the Russians think so too.”

      My ever-loving G_d.

      • Agree or disagree with Roland, at least he presents a cogent case, unlike some on this forum whose only posts consist of tantrums and unintelligible rants, Mr. McPhee.

  7. Just a correction for the sake of getting details right:
    You write: “it contravenes European Union conventions and treaties”.
    I am not sure about that, and the link you provide links to the website of the Council of Europe, which makes much more sense, as banning torture is part of the Council of Europe’s mandate, and the European Court of Human Rights is part of the council of Europe.

    Fact is, the Council of Europe (CoE) is not the same as the European Union (EU), nor is it an EU organ. All 27 countries of the EU are members of the CoE (and it is a requirement), but the CoE has 47 member countries, some of which apply to EU membership, and some of which don’t.

    Since Poland has been a member of the CoE since before it was a member of the EU, this information does not lessen your argument in any way.

    Disclosure: I have worked at the Council of Europe

  8. Pretty sure Obama Is still torturing but have no fear, the next u.s. President will come into office & also say “let’s not look backwards,but forwards & also torture is no longer torture” Then we will see more other countries presidents be charged with torture or other crimes that we commit but Who Cares Because We Are In Charge Here! When bush dies I most likely will give that news a Standing Ovation.

  9. For those interested, the film which won the top awards of 2010-11 in Poland, Essential Killing, by Polish new wave/avant garde director Jerzy Skolimowski was predicated on the existence of this very prison and the nearby airport. link to imdb.com

  10. Did I miss something?
    Has there been a virus infection around the world destroying integrity and honor over the last 30 years, particularly in the US? And US Presidents/Candidates?
    Where are the post WW2 values I grew up with?
    I have a new born Son, 3rd day, do I tell him as he grows: nothing and no one can be trusted, expect to be tortured?

    • If you want him to Live Large, that would likely be good advice. And for a lucrative career path, maybe encourage the New Liberal Arts Equivalent, a degree in Organizational, Software and Homeland Security, with a minor in Dutch Rubbing and Partial Drowning. Better to be the torturER, than the torturEE. Though we are told that the inflicter of pain suffers too… Bwahahahahaha!

      As a Boomer and Vietvet, my money is on the reality conveyed by Joseph Heller via “Catch-22:” for the most part, there ain’t no such things as “integrity” and “honor.” Not even between thieves, or Players. It’s all about the Main Chance, and the Bigger Better Deal.

    • It goes back well over 30 years, Peter.

      Look at the history of the long torture of Soviet defector Yuri Nosenko in the 1960s. The conclusion was that he was a bona fide defector, but the CIA put him through years of isolation and physical torture.

      Look at the MK/ULTRA mind control tests where humans were used as guinea pigs. This was our own government.

      The Church Committee found widespread CIA abuses in the mid-1970s but it never slowed down the CIA from all types of conduct that was questionable. The CIA set up and supplied equipment for the intelligence network known as Operation Condor in the panhandle of South America operated by Argentina, Brazil, Chile and other nations in that region; it is responsible for abduction and torture of tens of thousands of persons, including the Harvard-educated journalist chronicled in the 1980s film “Missing”, starring Jack Lemmon.

      The U.S. set up the SAVAK intelligence service in Iran under the Shah that engaged in systematic repression; one of its architects was Norman Schwartzkopf. The Shah was installed by the CIA in 1951 and was a college pal of future CIA Director Richard Helms.

      America has promoted torture in the Third World and suffers a backlash because of it. John McCain has agreed the U.S. should not be in the torture business.

  11. It would be interesting to find out what quid pro quo was received by Poland in exchange for the concession in having this base and also to what extent that Polish citizens were involved directly or indirectly in its operation.

    The United States had egg on its face over Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and likely felt that placing such a facility in Poland would obviate media scrutiny. However thses facilities appear to be CIA-operated as opposed to being run by the U.S. Armed Forces, as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo were.

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