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Under Pressure Over CIA Jail, Poland Sends Out Mixed Messages

  • Reuters

Former Polish President Aleskander Kwasniewski, left, and former Prime Minister Leszek Miller, second left, who were in power when the CIA ran a secret prison in Poland, speak to reporters in Warsaw about a report on CIA techniques, Dec. 10, 2014.

Former Polish President Aleskander Kwasniewski, left, and former Prime Minister Leszek Miller, second left, who were in power when the CIA ran a secret prison in Poland, speak to reporters in Warsaw about a report on CIA techniques, Dec. 10, 2014.

This month's acknowledgment by Poland's former president that he allowed the CIA to operate a secret interrogation center throws the Polish government's appeal against a European court ruling on the jail into disarray.

In July, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that two inmates of the U.S military prison at Guantanamo Bay were held in a CIA jail run in a Polish forest in 2002 and 2003, had been subject to torture, and that Poland failed in its duty under human rights law to prevent that happening or investigate.

The Polish appeal, contained in a letter reviewed by Reuters, said it was unproven a CIA jail operated in Poland and that if it had, officials might not have been aware.

It was sent two months before ex-president Alexander Kwasniewski broke with years of blanket denials by Polish officials by saying he had agreed to let the CIA use a secret site but did not know prisoners were being tortured there.

The mixed messages underscore the pressure U.S. allies have come under with the release of details of the secret detention program set up by the CIA in the wake of the Sept. 2001 attacks on U.S. cities, complicating future security ties.

Kwasniewski's acknowledgment of the existence of the jail for the first time was prompted by a U.S. Senate report into the CIA program.

Poland's appeal had said the European court admitted it did not have “any direct evidence that the applicants were in the territory of the Republic of Poland and that the respondent state was not in possession of such evidence.”

Reuters asked the foreign ministry whether it had known, when it sent the letter to the Strasbourg-based court, that the jail existed with the consent of officials at the time.

In a written response, the ministry said only that court procedure did not let it amend its appeal in the light of new information and that Poland was conducting its own investigation into allegations of a CIA jail.

Blind eye

Helen Duffy, a lawyer for one of the plaintiffs in the European court case, Abu Zubaydah, said that after the Senate report and Kwasniewski's comments, it was now more difficult for the government to argue there is insufficient evidence of its knowledge about the jail.

“It is absurd to suggest that Poland agreed to house a secret CIA detention site but is not responsible as it turned a blind eye and didn't know exactly what was happening there and to whom.”

The European court ruled Poland had violated its human rights commitments by allowing the CIA to hold people on Polish soil without allowing them a court hearing or giving them access to lawyers.

It has no direct implications for individual Polish officials, but its ruling that Poland had failed to properly investigate allegations about the case adds to pressure for the completion of a Polish inquiry into the jail launched in 2008.

The foreign ministry said recent information would be taken into account in that inquiry, implying both the Senate report and Kwasniewski's statement making clear Polish officials were aware of the site and concerned by U.S. secrecy about what it was doing there. It did not say how it would be considered.

“It is hoped that the material will help bring the investigation to a conclusive end,” its statement said, without elaborating.

The rules of the European court mean it can only consider the existing case file when deciding whether to allow a re-hearing. If a re-hearing is allowed, the new information can be considered. A spokeswoman for the court declined to comment.

Dated Oct. 23, the letter containing the appeal, which has not been previously reported, questions the standards of proof used by the court in determining that Abu Zubaydah and the second man, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were in Poland, describing the evidence cited by the court as mostly circumstantial.

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