Poland is paying a quarter of a million dollars to two terror suspects allegedly tortured by the CIA in a secret facility in this country — prompting outrage among many here who feel they are being punished for American wrongdoing.
Europe's top human rights court imposed the penalty against Poland, setting a Saturday deadline. Poland is now the only country in the world to face legal repercussions for the secret rendition and detention program which the CIA operated under then-President George W. Bush in several countries across the world after the 9/11 attacks. No other nation involved, from Pakistan and Thailand to Romania and Lithuania, has been held accountable.
The Polish Foreign Ministry said Friday that it was processing the payments. However, neither Polish officials nor the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw would say where the money is going or how it was being used.
For now, it remains unclear how a European government can make payments to two suspects who have been held for years at Guantanamo with almost no contact to the outside world. Even lawyers for the suspects were tight-lipped, though they said the money would not be used to fund terrorism.
European court's ruling
Witold Waszczykowski, an opposition lawmaker, says he considers the punishment unfair because the suspects were in the sole custody of American officials during their entire stay in Poland in 2002 and 2003 — and never under Polish authority.
"I think we shouldn't pay, we shouldn't respect this judgment,'' Waszczykowski said. "This is a case not between us and them — it's between them and the United States government.''
The European Court of Human Rights ruled last July that Poland violated the rights of suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri by allowing the CIA to imprison them and by failing to stop the "torture and inhuman or degrading treatment'' of the inmates.
It ordered Warsaw to pay 130,000 euros ($147,000) to Zubaydah, a Palestinian, and 100,000 euros ($113,000) to al-Nashiri, a Saudi national charged with orchestrating the attack in 2000 on the USS Cole that killed 17 U.S. sailors.
Poland appealed the ruling but lost in February. Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna said at the time that "we will abide by this ruling because we are a law-abiding country.''
The ruling also required Poland to seek diplomatic guarantees from the United States that the suspects not face the death penalty, a request that Poland sent several weeks ago. That move was largely symbolic given that a foreign government cannot dictate such a matter to the United States. But the court wanted Poland to make a "good faith effort'' to pressure its U.S. ally not to impose the death penalty, said Adam Bodnar, a human rights lawyer with the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, who been a sharp critic of Poland's role in the detention program.
The ruling is also generating anger across the Atlantic. The father of one of the U.S. sailors killed in attack on the USS Cole, Jesse Nieto, says he finds it unjust that a man suspected in the killing of his son Marc and 16 others should receive money.
"This is highly upsetting,'' Nieto said. "And I think Poland is crazy for paying this.''
But Nieto is even more disturbed by the European court pressing the United States not to execute him.
"Why should they dictate what is going to be the ruling of a U.S. court?'' Nieto, a 71-year-old retired Marine, said from his home in Newnan, Georgia.
Human rights lawyers for the two suspects take a different view, stressing that neither of the two men has ever been found guilty in a court of law. They say they were subjected to torture, and that their rights continue to be violated as they remain held at Guantanamo.
Al-Nashiri is expected to be tried by a military commission, though it hasn't started yet, and he could face the death penalty.
Abu Zubaydah was subjected repeatedly to waterboarding, death threats, ice baths, sleep deprivation and a vast array of other harsh techniques, according to a report released last year by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee. He remains in custody since 2002 with no charges ever being brought against him.
It's a limbo that was predicted in 2002 by CIA terror experts, according to the Senate report. In a 2002 e-mail to CIA headquarters, the CIA's interrogators said they wanted assurances that Zubaydah would never be allowed to publicly describe what they were doing to him, recommending that he should "remain incommunicado for the remainder of his life.''
"This secret rendition program was generated by the CIA, but it could not have taken place without the active collaboration of states like Poland,'' said Amrit Singh, a lawyer with the Open Society Justice Initiative, who represented al-Nashiri before the European court. "Had states like Poland said no this, torture would not have happened.''