June 29, 2012
In the long quest for accountability for those who ordered, authorized, or were
complicit in the Bush administration’s torture program, every avenue
has been shut down within the United States by
the Obama administration, the
Justice Department, and
the courts. The only hope lies
elsewhere in the world, and specifically Poland, one of three European
countries that hosted secret CIA prisons where "high-value detainees"
were subjected to torture.
The other two countries —
Lithuania — either have refused to accept that a secret
prison existed or have opened and then prematurely shut an investigation.
But Poland has an ongoing official investigation that
began four years ago and shows no sign of being dismissed, even if numerous
obstacles to justice have been erected along the way.
Last week, two U.S. news outlets — the
Los Angeles Times and
ABC News — reported the latest claims of Senator Jozef Pinior.
ABC News explained that he told the Polish newspaper Gazeta
Wyborcza that prosecutors "have a
document that shows a local contractor was asked to build a cage at Stare Kiekuty."
That was the Polish army base used by the CIA as its main prison for "high-value detainees" from
December 2002 (when the previous prison in Thailand was closed down) until
September 2003, when, for six months, the main "high-value detainees"
held in a secret prison within Guantánamo
before being transferred back to facilities in Europe and
Morocco. Fourteen "high-value detainees" were eventually returned to
Guantánamo as military prisoners in September 2006.
"In a state with rights," Pinior
said, "people in prison are not kept in cages." He added that
a cage was "nonstandard equipment" for a prison, but that it
was standard "if torture was used there." When he was asked "if
he was sure the cage was for humans," he replied, "What
was it for? Exotic birds?"
Pinior said that he had not actually seen the order for the cage but had
learned that the prosecutor’s office investigating the prison,
which is based in Krakow, has a copy of it. He also explained that the
prosecutor’s office has an order signed by Zbigniew
Siemiatkowski, who was the head of Polish intelligence
in 2002, authorizing the establishment of the prison. ABC News claimed that a
source told Gazeta Wyborcza
that the agreement "has a space intended for an American signature, but
that the Americans did not sign the document 'because they do not want
to sign documents inconsistent with their own Constitution and international
law.’" That is a rather risible
conclusion, as it is the use of torture that is "inconsistent with
their own Constitution and international law." A more honest analysis
would have been that the United States wanted plausible deniability; that, in other
words, they did not want to leave any traces of their actions.
Pinior is a key player in the Polish investigation. He worked on the EU investigation
into European complicity in rendition and torture that preceded the Polish
investigation, when he was first told about documents proving the prison’s
existence by a reliable source who explained that he had seen papers that
dealt with the procedures to be followed in case any of the prisoners died.
That, it should be noted, was not mentioned last week in the U.S. reports.
For his efforts, Pinior was ridiculed by an establishment that
closed ranks to protect Alexander Kwasniewski and Leszek
Miller, the president and the prime minister at the time of the prison’s
existence, although with the passage of time Pinior
and his source have come to be regarded as trustworthy, even though the
official denials continue.
Pinior said that he presented his evidence "with regret,"
because he "always valued" Kwasniewski’s presidency,
but to date the only senior official to be charged is Zbigniew
As was reported
in March this year, Siemiatkowski has been charged with allowing prisoners of war to be
subjected to corporal punishment. He has
publicly acknowledged that he is under investigation, but he has refused to say
more. Asked about the existence of the agreement, he said, "If
my signature is on it, it means it is secret and I cannot discuss it, nor even
confirm or deny its existence."
In the Los Angeles Times, there was speculation that the case
might eventually "result in criminal charges" against the former
political leaders, as well as Siemiatkowski. The paper noted that the story of the CIA’s
secret torture prison on Polish soil "has deeply shaken many Poles’
faith in the United States and in Poland’s sense of itself as a
successful democracy born from the ashes of the Cold War,"
and has "damaged the reputation of the country that Poles thank for helping
them to cast off Communist oppression." It was also noted that many
Poles "believe the U.S. took advantage of their gratitude, loyalty and
eagerness to please by setting up a torture site that it would never have
allowed within its own borders."
Mikolaj Pietrzak, a lawyer who represents Abd
al-Rahim al-Nashiri, one of the men held in the "black
site" in Poland, said, "It’s
the kind of thing we expect from Soviet Russia. We remember the Soviet
occupation; we remember the German occupation. The fact that this beacon of
liberty which is America would allow this — it’s a great
disappointment in the United States as the land of the free."
In March, the current president of Poland, Bronislaw Komorowski, declared, "The
reputation of Poland is at stake. Certainly this is a sensitive and touchy
issue and possibly painful for the Polish state, but it is the task of the
legal apparatus to clarify this."
Despite that, lawyers, journalists, and human rights activists have complained that,
as the Los Angeles Times put it, "the
investigation has been halting, opaque and prone to political meddling because
of its potential repercussions for U.S.-Polish relations and for prominent
public figures" involved in the establishment of the prison — most
recently when, for reasons that have not been explained, the case was
transferred from Warsaw to Krakow.
Mikolaj Pietrzak said that he was "frustrated by
prosecutors’ refusal to give him access to classified files"
beyond the brief access he was granted when the case began. His client,
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, is
accused of plotting the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, which
killed 17 U.S. sailors. He is currently
facing a trial by military
commission at Guantánamo,
where he faces the death penalty — a fact that makes Pietrzak
even more frustrated with the glacial pace of the
prosecutors’ case in Poland.
"It’s not a robust investigation if it takes you four years,"
he said, adding, crucially, "This is the single worst case of human
rights violations known in Eastern Europe in the last 20 years," and
that the public "has a right to know" what took place.
The exact contours of what took place do indeed need to be uncovered, to explain,
for example, exactly who knew what. The Los Angeles Times noted that
Polish reporters have suggested that Zbigniew Siemiatkowski "faces possible charges of exceeding his authority and abetting torture" by working with the CIA to
establish the prison at Stare Kiejkuty. However, Adam
Bodnar of the Warsaw-based
Helsinki Foundation for
Human Rights said it was "hard to
believe Siemiatkowski acted on his own authority in
an operation requiring coordination among the intelligence service, the
military and the border control agency,"
although he understood that "chasing responsibility higher up the chain
of command, perhaps all the way to the president’s and prime minister’s
offices, could open a can of worms."
He was also disturbed that some prominent Poles were defending the secret prison,
including former president Lech Walesa, the former leader of the pro-democracy
Solidarity movement, of which Josef Pinior was also a
member. Unlike Pinior, however, Walesa, while
declaring that he is "against torture,"
has stated, "This is war, and war has its particular rules."
Bodnar lamented, "The same guys who helped
create the constitution now seem to be approving the violation of the
The Los Angeles Times also noted that some Polish commentators "fear
negative repercussions for Poland’s relationship with its most valued
ally, the U.S.," which, predictably, has
failed to cooperate with the Polish prosecutors. Even so, Mikolaj
Pietrzak has vowed to continue to push for accountability,
noting, as the paper put it, "If it turns out that senior Polish
leaders are implicated in the end, causing political and social uproar, so be
it." As he explained, "The truth is going to come out sooner
or later. The question is whether it’s going to come out thanks to
Poland, thanks to the active role of the prosecutor, or whether it’s
going to come out in spite of the prosecutor’s failure to act." He added, "It is a hot potato, but I don’t
care. This case isn’t going away."
For now, the agreement about the establishment of the prison, which was handed over
to prosecutors in April — and the information about the cage, which
has just surfaced — demonstrates, not for the first time, that
documents exist revealing what was supposed to remain hidden. My friend Anna Minkiewicz — who
took me to Poland last February to
promote the documentary film "Outside
the Law: Stories from Guantánamo," which I co-directed with Polly Nash — explained
further details that were not mentioned in the U.S. accounts and added her own
Noting that the agreement that bore no U.S. signature — just that
of Zbigniew Siemiatkowski —
was written in both English and Polish, she suggested that someone in the
service kept the document in spite of its having no 'official’
value, either through bureaucratic zeal, for conscientious reasons, hoping that
one day it would serve the purpose it is serving now, or out of a sense of
self-preservation, pointing the blame on those who were culpable if the whole
sordid scenario ever became public.
She also noted that the emergence of the latest documents suggested that someone was "regularly
leaking documents in small doses." She added
that Josef Pinior said that "more and more
people are contacting him with information, including people who live in the area"
where the prison was established, as well as the insiders with whom he has,
presumably, been in communication for many years.
In conclusion, she explained that the current situation is
particularly interesting, because, as a senator, Pinior
has parliamentary immunity and therefore cannot be stopped from speaking out.
It is to be hoped that, as more information continues to leak out, Senator Pinior will continue to point out that too much of a paper
trail exists for this shameful episode in Poland and America’s recent
history to be suppressed.
Andy Worthington is the author of The
Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s
Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press) and serves as policy advisor
to the Future of Freedom Foundation. Visit his website at