24th Mar 2018

Court rules Poland complicit in CIA renditions

  • Twelve EU countries stand accused of colluding in CIA rendition (Photo: Zach Stern)

A European rights court Thursday (24 July) found that Poland allowed the CIA to operate a secret rendition and interrogation camp at its Stare Kiejkuty military base and did nothing to stop it.

The unanimous verdict, by the seven judges at the European Court of Human Rights, is likely to have wider implications on pending cases against Lithuania and Romania for their alleged involvement in the rendition programme.

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The Strasbourg-based court found that “Poland had cooperated in the preparation and execution of the CIA rendition, secret detention and interrogation operations on its territory” and knowingly exposed people to abuse in violation to the European convention of human rights.

The ruling is likely to be an embarassment to Warsaw which has always denied the presence of a CIA jail on its territory.

Former US President George W. Bush began the "extraordinary rendition" programme in the aftermath of the September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Expert witnesses and evidence obtained through several international inquiries and various documents convinced the European judges the renditions had taken place.

The court also noted that Poland’s refusal to hand over evidence entitled it “to draw negative inferences from the government’s conduct”.

The judgement stands in contrast to national-led inquiries by the member states, which have yet to produce any conclusive results.

The same court had passed a similar judgement two years ago on the arbitrary arrest, detention and interrogation of Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen who was mistakenly seized in Macedonia in 2004 and handed over to the CIA before being shipped to a cell in Afghanistan.

The case involves Saudi national Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and stateless Palestinian Abu Zubaydah.

Both men were apprehended by the Americans and detained at Stare Kiejkuty in late 2002 where they were allegedly subjected to mock executions and prolonged stress positions over a months-long period.

They eventually ended up at the US military base in Guantanamo Bay where they remain to this day.

Al-Nashiri is accused of blowing a hole in the side of the US Navy ship USS Cole in 2000. Charged in 2008, he has yet to be convicted of anything.

Zubaydah, who has not been formally charged with any crime either, was allegedly involved in the 9-11 attacks in New York.

Amrit Singh, the lawyer who represented al-Nashiri, told this website by phone from London that it is the first court to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that there was CIA-run detention centre on EU territory.

“It is a profound significance not only for Poland but numerous other European nations that collaborated with the US in this programme. These are facts that have never been officially acknowledged by either the United States or Poland,” she said.

The court’s ruling adds pressure on Poland to bring to justice officials complicit in the affair.

It also means Polish authorities need to convince the Americans not to execute al-Nashiri, who is likely to face the death penalty, according to Singh, his lawyer.

The Swiss-based International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said the court’s decision affirms a member state’s responsibility to uphold human rights.

“This judgment should help to ensure that such wholesale denials of the rule of law never happen again in Europe,” noted ICJ secretary-general Wilder Tayler.

Both al-Nashiri and Zubaydah have similar individual complaints lodged against Romania and Lithuania - where they respectively say they were also held - at the Strasbourg court.

The court ordered Poland to pay al-Nashiri €100,000 in damages and €130,000 to Zubaydah.

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