Ten years after US torture experiments began, Poland charges former spy chief over criminal complicity in CIA abuse

March 28, 2012

Image of Abu Zubaydah

On the 10th anniversary of the CIA’s seizure of its torture ‘guinea pig’ Abu Zubaydah, Poland has emerged as the first government to charge one of its own officials over the abuse of prisoners in the European secret prison system.

Charges laid against the former head of the Polish intelligence services include unlawful deprivation of liberty, unlawful failure to provide access to a neutral tribunal, abuse of office by a public official and using “corporal punishment” against a prisoner.

The Polish charges have emerged  almost exactly ten years after the CIA’s first torture victim Abu Zubaydah, a stateless Palestinian erroneously thought to be a ‘high value’ prisoner, was seized in Pakistan on 28th March 2002. This marked the beginning of the CIA’s experimental torture programme; a former national security officer called Zubaydah “a guinea pig…there were many enhanced interrogation [methods] tested on him that have never been discussed”.

The Polish charges are also significant because, of all the CIA’s illegal secret prisons, Poland’s Stare Kiejkuty was “the most important one” according to former CIA Executive Director A.B. Krongard.  Abu Zubaydah was one of many prisoners tortured in Stare Kiejkuty en route to Guantánamo Bay; he was famously waterboarded 83 times in August 2002 alone.

Abu Zubaydah was finally transferred back to Guantánamo Bay in September 2006, following a rendition-to-torture tour of Thailand, Poland, Guantánamo Bay, Morocco and Lithuania. He remains held indefinitely without charge or trial.

Reprieve Legal Director Cori Crider said: “Poland deserves credit for this step, as the first European state to begin to deal with CIA torture on its own soil. There is much still to be done, of course, and all eyes will be on the new prosecutors to see what they do next.  Abu Zubaydah would be the first to say that this investigation ought not to be a witch-hunt– rather, it is a vital effort to ensure that Europe never again plays host to torture chambers. Romania and Lithuania, who have done far less to grapple with their own CIA black sites, would do well to follow Poland’s lead.“

Reprieve’s Secret Prisons Investigator Crofton Black said: “This is potentially important – and very positive – news from Poland. But it is a shame that we have only heard it from a newspaper and not from the Prosecutor himself. When will Mr Seremet, the Prosecutor General, confirm that charges were brought? Why was the case file moved to another city, away from the jurisdiction of the Warsaw prosecutor’s office, only days after charges were communicated? How will the new prosecutor respond? All these questions still need to be answered.”

American counsel for Abu Zubaydah, Joseph Margulies, said:  “It is sad but no longer surprising that a development like this comes from a former communist country and not the United States.  For some places, the rule of law is still a treasure.”



For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea or Donald Campbell at Reprieve’s Press Office on katherine.oshea@reprieve.org.uk/ donald.campbell@reprieve.org.uk  +44(0)20 7427 1099 or go to www.reprieve.org.uk/abuzubaydah

Background on Abu Zubaydah

1. Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, more commonly known as Abu Zubaydah, is a stateless Palestinian born in Saudi Arabia. He was held in secret detention by the CIA of the United States of America from the time of his abduction from a home in Faisalbad, Pakistan on 28 March 2002 until approximately 6 September 2006, when it was announced that he was transferred to the custody of the U.S. Department of Defence (“DOD”) at Guantánamo  Bay. He remains in indefinite detention in DOD custody at Guantánamo Bay but has never been charged with any crime, either in proceedings before a military commission or in a civilian court.   Abu Zubaydah was the first so-called “high value detainee” to be captured, detained and interrogated by the CIA.  For the purpose of his interrogation, the CIA devised a set of “enhanced interrogation techniques” intended to create a state of learned helplessness through the application of severe physical and psychological stress. He is one of three detainees subjected to the waterboard, and U.S. government documents show that he was waterboarded at least 83 times in one month. As the first so-called ‘high value detainee’ to be captured, detained and interrogated by the CIA, Zubaydah became the guinea pig for the techniques then being developed to create a state of learned helplessness through the application of severe physical and psychological stress. According to former CIA Director George Tenet, once Abu Zubaydah was in custody, the CIA “got into holding and interrogating high-value detainees . . . in a serious way.” US government documents attest that Abu Zubaydah was chained to a chair for week, hung naked from the ceiling, kept awake for eleven consecutive days and subjected to the ‘waterboard’ 83 times in one month.   Throughout the period of Abu Zubaydah’s secret detention, interrogation and torture by the CIA he was falsely alleged to be a member of al Qaeda and a close associate and senior lieutenant of Osama bin Laden. He was also falsely alleged to have had a role in various al Qaeda terrorist acts. After more than six years of incommunicado detention, Zubaydah obtained access to U.S. lawyers, who challenged his detention in U.S. courts and forced the U.S. Department of Justice to withdraw all such allegations. The United States no longer alleges Abu Zubaydah was ever a member of al Qaeda or that he supported al Qaeda’s radical ideology. The United States no longer alleges that Abu Zubaydah was an associate of Osama bin Laden or that he was his senior lieutenant. The United States no longer alleges that Zubaydah had any role in any terrorist attack planned or perpetrated by al Qaeda. Poland has been investigating its complicity in CIA torture since December 2010, when Zubaydah’s lawyers – Bartlomiej Jankowski working with INTERIGHTS, Reprieve and Joe Margulies – supplied evidence that their client was transferred from Thailand to Poland by the CIA on 5 December 2002 and held there for nine or ten months. The legal team also supplied evidence of the roles played by CIA agents and Polish officials in the CIA programme in Poland, the rendition flights that transported Mr Zubaydah into and out of Poland; the private companies involved in those flights and the operation of the CIA’s secret prison site at Stare Kiejkuty. In January 2011 Abu Zubaydah was granted all-important ‘victim’ status in the inquiry.

2. Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives.  Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA. Reprieve has represented, and continues to represent, a large number of prisoners who have been rendered and abused around the world, and is conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’