In a landmark ruling, Europe's top human rights court has found Poland violated the rights of two terrorism suspects by allowing the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to secretly imprison them in the country more than a decade ago.
The European Court of Human Rights says Poland violated the European Convention on Human Rights by allowing terrorism suspects Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah to be secretly imprisoned on its territory between 2002 and 2003. The two are now inmates at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention camp operated by the U.S. military.
They claim they were captured and then flown to a secret jail run by the Central Intelligence Agency in a Polish forest, where they were tortured and mistreated.
The court, which is based in Strasbourg, France, blames Poland for facilitating the process. It ordered Warsaw to pay fines to the two men.
The ruling is the first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at so-called CIA black sites - under a program launched by Washington following the September 2011 terrorist attacks. The United States has acknowledged the program existed, but has not named the countries that cooperated with it.
Lawyers for the two suspects and rights groups hailed the ruling.
"For years and years and years, we have sought accountability for these practices in the USA - there has been virtually no accountability there," said Amnesty International's terrorism and human rights expert, Julia Hal. "So, to have a European government, and in fact an EU member state, found responsible is quite a significant step forward."
Poland's Foreign Ministry said its legal experts need to fully examine the ruling before commenting. But President Bronislaw Komorowski called it "embarrassing." The court also said Poland's own investigation into the allegations is ineffective.
Rights experts like Hall say the ruling may have implications for Guantanamo Bay trials against terrorism suspects like al-Nashiri. He is accused of orchestrating an attack on a U.S. warship in 2000 that killed 17 American sailors.
"The fact that the European Court has ruled he was disappeared, he was tortured, and otherwise ill treated - all of that information will be very relevant to the proceedings in Guantanamo in terms of mitigating the death penalty, which is really the ultimate human rights violation as far as Amnesty International is concerned," she said.
The ruling may also have implications for other European countries suspected of participating in CIA secret detentions.