Poland “facilitated” CIA torture in European secret prison, court rules

July 24, 2014

Image of Barbed wire

The European Court of Human Rights has today ruled that the Polish government was not only aware of but actively assisted the CIA’s European “black site” programme, which saw detainees held and tortured in secret prisons across the Continent.

In a judgement handed down today in the case of Abu Zubaydah, a Guantanamo detainee who the US has admitted it mistakenly believed to be a senior member of Al Qaeda, the court concluded that it was “established beyond reasonable doubt” that Abu Zubaydah was flown from a secret site in Thailand to another CIA prison in Stare Kiejkuty in northern Poland.

Judges described the evidence that Abu Zubaydah was detained in Poland as “coherent, clear and categorical,” and ruled that it was “inconceivable” that Poland was unaware of his mistreatment. They concluded that not only was Poland “informed of and involved in the preparation and execution of the [High Value Detainee] Programme on its territory,” but “Poland, for all practical purposes, facilitated the whole process, created the conditions for it to happen and made no attempt to prevent it from occurring.”

In addition, the court ruled that the Polish government failed to conduct a “prompt”, “thorough” and “effective” investigation into CIA secret prisons on their own soil. Abu Zubaydah is still held in Guantanamo Bay. The court stated that his ongoing imprisonment without charge amounts to a “flagrant denial of justice”.

This is the first time that any court has passed judgement on the CIA’s European “black site” programme, which saw dozens of detainees held in secret locations in Europe between 2002 and 2006. Legal charity Reprieve and its partners investigated Abu Zubaydah’s case and brought the application to the European Court in March 2013 after it became clear that Polish domestic investigations were turning into a cover-up.

Reprieve investigator Crofton Black said: “The court has rightly shown that no reasonable mind could accept the Polish government’s denials of its complicity in torture. As the US Senate prepares to release its own report into the shocking abuses perpetrated by the CIA in its European dungeons, it will become exponentially harder for other nations to pretend that nothing occurred. Poland – like other implicated countries such as Lithuania, Romania and the UK – needs finally to accept that the days of denial are over. They must come clean about their involvement and take real steps to ensure that it cannot happen again.”

Joseph Margulies, one of Abu Zubaydah’s American counsel, said: “It’s always gratifying when a court speaks truth to power.  The question now is whether Poland will listen. The rule of law demands more than words on a page.  It demands justice.”


Notes for editors

  1. For further information, please contact Reprieve’s press office: 0207 553 8160
  1. Read the court’s judgment here.
  1. Abu Zubaydah was captured in March 2002 and held in a succession of secret CIA prisons from then until September 2006, when he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay, where he remains to this day. The CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” programme was deliberately constructed around him and tested on him before being applied to other prisoners. At the time of his capture US officials mistakenly believed him to be a high-ranking al-Qaeda operative, although in subsequent legal documents they have admitted that he was not even a member of al-Qaeda. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) concluded Zubaydah was the only CIA prisoner subjected to all of the so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. An enormous body of public information (including official U.S. documentation) details Abu Zubaydah’s detention and torture, including extreme physical and psychological coercion and 83 waterboarding sessions in one month alone. A former national security officer familiar with the treatment of Abu Zubaydah described him as “an experiment. A guinea pig…” Although the existence of the CIA’s Polish black site was exposed in 2005, the Polish government did not open an investigation until May 2008. The investigation has been characterised by unexplained changes in prosecutors and shifts in location, and although charges were at one point prepared against the former head of the Polish intelligence services, they have never been formally brought. The investigation has now been pending for more than five years, with no indication of a genuine attempt to uncover the truth. 4. Contact details for Abu Zubaydah’s legal team are as follows: Joseph Margulies Visiting Professor of Law and Government Cornell University Jm347@cornell.edu+1 607 255 0210   Bartek Jankowski bartlomiej.jankowski@jslegal.pl+48 22 542 40 40

Helen Duffy helen@rightsinpractice.org +31 624 283283   Crofton Black crofton.black@reprieve.org.uk +44 207 553 8182