The Polish Secret Service briefed both president Aleksander Kwaśniewski and PM Leszek Miller about the existence of a CIA black site on the grounds of a Secret Service training camp, Gazeta Wyborcza reports. The agents kept notes on these meetings, and eventually handed them over to the prosecutor late last year.
In a recent interview with Gazeta Wyborcza, former Polish president Aleksander Kwaśniewski made the following statements:
From late 2002 on, the CIA showed a sudden interest in a remote part of the Masovian countryside. Apart from its beautiful lakes and low population density, this area is only known for hosting a large military installation, containing a training center of the Secret Service. It consists of a cluster of several buildings, and a stretch of woods, which is enclosed by high barbed wire fences. From a distance, antennas can be seen overtowering the trees. An aerial photograph shows several clearings forming symmetrical patterns.
Over the years, a number of news outlets and other organizations have published evidence and witness accounts shedding light on these activities. They present a disturbing narrative:
- The CIA operated a covert flight network on European soil. (Council of Europe report)
- These flights were operated by subcontractors. A recent legal dispute over expenses exposed a wealth of information to the public. (Washington Post)
- Szymany air traffic control logged the CIA flights, but added a remark that flight plans were issued for Warsaw airport. (Rzeczpospolita)
- High ranking Polish border patrol traveled from Warsaw to Szymany to process the CIA flights, even though Szymany airport had own staff. (Airport staff member Mariola Przewlocka interviewed by the Guardian)
This article is solely based on publicly available information. The author of this article is not and never has been affiliated with WikiLeaks, and does not have, and never had inside information on their operations. The article reflects the views of the author only.
The former head of the Polish Secret Service, Zbigniew Siemiątkowski, is accused of false imprisonment and corporeal punishment of prisoners of war in breech of international law, Gazeta Wyborcza and Polish state broadcaster TVP report. These accusations were made by Warsaw prosecutors on the 10th of January 2012. For unknown reasons, the case was moved from Warsaw to Krakow a few days later.
Siemiątkowski remains silent, and indicated that he would do so in the future, to protect the safety of the country.
Based on three sources within the prosecution and the Secret Service, the news outlets report that these accusations were made after the Secret Service revealed their files regarding their collaboration with the CIA during the first years of the war on terror to the prosecutors at the end of 2011.
It has been alleged that the Polish Secret Service made a building on the grounds of their training camp in a remote part of Masovia available to the CIA. The existence of such a camp is supported by flight logs of a nearby airport, which are publicly available, listing CIA flights.
Siemiątkowski now is a lecturer at the institute of Political Studies and Journalism of prestigious Warsaw University. He teaches history of political thought.
For our previous extensive coverage of the case, please see this link.
The investigation, which had been active since 2008, has been moved from Warsaw to Krakow, several Polish news outlets report. According to Piotr Kosmaty, the spokesperson of the Prokuratura Apelacyjna Krakow, the case files have already arrived. He declined to comment on the reasons behind the transfer.
This is not the first unexpected development in this investigation. Earlier last year, Warsaw prosecutor Jerzy Mierzewski was removed from the case, after it emerged that he had planned to file charges. His case files were subsequently obtained by daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. In turn, Gdansk prosecutors opened an investigation into this leak.
Gazeta Wyborcza state that Mierzewski had evidence proving the existence of an extraterritorial US area in breach of the Polish constitution and of international law; moreover it proved that those kept in this area qualified as victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
See this link for our previous coverage.
Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg stated in a recent interview with Polish public TV that he has evidence on a CIA prison on Polish soil, and that he is positive that this material is also in the possession of the Polish prosecutor investigating the case.
He also said that he knew who was held in this prison. Insofar, publicly known evidence only proved that CIA planes landed in Szymany. All other conclusions were based on circumstantial evidence. As a source for this information Hammarberg quoted leaks from various sources, including the CIA itself, and official documents.
Hammarberg has already briefed Polish MFA Radosław Sikorski about his findings, and expects the investigation to proceed very soon.
Currently, there are two separate legal cases underway, an investigation in Poland, and a complaint at the European Court of Human Rights, amongst others for a failure to investigate. WL Central recently reported on a newly released Wikileaks document, which proves a complicity between the US and Poland to cover up the issue of the CIA prison. This document was strangely overlooked by various media partners who had access to this material for several months.
For our previous coverage please see this link.
In early 2006, Polish government officials visited Iran, and subsequently related their impression to US diplomatic staff. A detailed report can be found in the diplomatic cable 06WARSAW203.
MFA Director for Security Policy Robert Kupiecki provided the most in depth account: he describes how he was confronted with a number of rather disturbing arguments, including a biased understanding of the Middle East peace process, holocaust denial and conspiracy theories about the West trying to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear facilities.
One part of his lengthy negotiations with Iranian officials, however, is related in more detail:
"Foreign Minister Mutaki first raised the issue of Ali Ashgar Manzarpour, a British-Iranian citizen now in Polish custody awaiting extradition to the U.S. for violation of the ban on exports to Iran. Mutaki demanded Manzarpour be released and warned of a deterioration in bilateral relations should he be extradited to the U.S. Then Mutaki criticized Poland for voting in favor of a UN third Committee resolution regarding Iran's human rights record. He warned Iran would "open a file" on Poland's alleged hosting of a CIA "secret prison.""
In all likelihood, Mutaki refers to Stare Kiejkuty (see this link for our previous coverage).
This fragment proves that Iran strongly believed the CIA prison existed. It also proves that the Polish side considered it worth reporting the incident, and that the US perceived this piece of information to be important enough to be included in a cable. The latter is perhaps the most telling aspect of this story, and it fits into the general context of US diplomacy in this period. CIA rendition and detention are one of the leitmotivs of Cablegate.
A new Wikileaks release 05WARSAW4030 finally proves that the United States and Poland colluded in their efforts to silence questions about a CIA prison in Masovia.
This is what the cable says:
"[FM] Meller's staff expects that the renditions and "CIA prisons" issue will continue to dog the Polish government, despite our and the Poles' best efforts to put this story to rest. In response to sustained media pressure, PM Marcinkiewicz announced December 10 that his government will order an internal probe "to close the issue." Meller anticipates being asked about renditions by the Polish press while in Washington, and the MFA has asked that we remain in close contact to coordinate our public stance."
In another cable 05WARSAW4037 from the same year, the issue is brought up again:
"[Polish government official Schnepf] noted the GOP's need to find tangible benefit from the mission to gain public support for a continued Polish presence in Iraq. Schnepf also suggested that media reports about alleged CIA prisons in Poland might further undercut this public support."
In hindsight, the assessment that this issue will continue to dog the Polish government was certainly right. Earlier this year, a complaint against Poland was filed with the European Court of Human Rights, amongst others for a failure to investigate the CIA prison. A criminal case which was launched in Poland in 2008 is still ongoing.
The wording of the cable strongly suggest that the US and Poland were trying to influence the press coverage on the matter. How this was to be carried out is not detailed. In fact, very few cables on the topic exist, compared to, for instance, a similar case in Lithuania.
The investigation into an alleged CIA black site in the Masovian village of Stare Kiejkuty has been extended by six months, a spokesperson for the Warsaw prosecutor's office confirms to Polish press agency PAP.
According to a source quoted by PAP, the prosecution requires additional evidence and is at present unable to conclude the investigation. Even though the exact nature of this evidence remains obscure, it is likely to include witness statements of the alleged victims. As Polish public TV reports, the prosecution filed a request for mutual legal assistance to the US to hear Abu Zubaida and Abd al Nashiri in this capacity, and are waiting for a reply. Both are currently held in Guantanamo.
The prosecution has already admitted that more than ten CIA flights landed in Szymany airport, which may also have carried prisoners. Whereas this fact is evident from flight plans that are now freely available on the internet, it is more difficult to establish whether prisoners were tortured inside a potential detention facility, in particular if both the alleged victims and perpetrators cannot be heard.
In a recent issue of leftist daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, three former members of the government discuss a CIA prison on Polish soil that operated in 2002 and 2003. For obvious reasons, they chose to remain anonymous. This article is also available in English.
The three (often hilarious) interviews mark a new stage in reporting on the case. Rather than asking whether there is any evidence for a CIA prison in Stare Kiejkuty, they focus on the question whether Aleksander Kwaśniewski, the then president, knew about its existence. All three politicians state that he was left in the dark about the matter, and that the CIA rendition program was solely known to the government and the prime minister. When Kwaśniewski understood what was going on following a meeting with G.W. Bush, who apparently assumed he knew about it, he ordered the prison to be closed.
This matter is of vital importance for the legal proceedings on a national level, as according to Ryszard Kalisz, former minister of interior affairs, the creation of an extraterritorial area could only be authorized by the president, who would then ask the Sejm for approval.
The three interviewees present their version of the story. Readers should be cautioned that they would face legal actions if their identity was revealed, as they were complicit in the operation of the prison, and, depending on whether this information is classified, obstruction of justice for not coming forward, or leaking state secrets to a newspaper.
Poland is under increasing pressure to investigate fully whether the CIA operated secret torture and detention facilities in Stare Kiejkuty. As Peter Kemp predicted, the European Parliament has now intervened. In a resolution from the eighth of June it says that it:
"5. Reiterates its call to the US authorities to review the military commissions system to ensure fair trials, to close Guantánamo, to prohibit in any circumstances the use of torture, ill-treatment, incommunicado detention, indefinite detention without trial and enforced disappearances, and reminds the EU institutions and Member States of their duty not to collaborate in, or cover up, such acts prohibited by international, European and national law;"
"7. Calls on the EU and Member States authorities, as well as the US authorities, to ensure that full, fair, effective, independent and impartial inquiries and investigations are carried out into human rights violations and crimes under international, European and national law, and to bring to justice those responsible, including in the framework of the CIA extraordinary renditions and secret prisons programme;"
In the meantime, former MEP Józef Pinior reiterated his allegations against former members of the Polish government, claiming that there was a document signed by the then prime minister Leszek Miller regulating the operations of a secret CIA detention facility in Stare Kiejkuty, also defining the status of corpses inside the facility.
The role of European countries in the rendition, detention and torture of alleged terrorists has been scrutinized numerous times. The most comprehensive overview was compiled by Swiss politician Dick Marty on behalf of the Council of Europe in 2006. This report is freely available on the internet.
This document describes a network of European countries facilitating extrajudicial measures taken by the CIA. If these allegations can be proven, they are in violation of national and international law.
In the above report, two European countries are said to have hosted so called "black sites" in which detainees would be subject to torture, Poland and Romania. The main arguments supporting these allegations are flight tables, from which can be proven that aircraft connected to the CIA landed at airports which are not normally used for international traffic of this scale.
These assumptions are also supported by eye witness accounts of airport employees, detainees, and others with a knowledge of these sites.
This information has been in the public domain for years, but there have not been any serious legal consequences for those involved. Even though a parliamentary committee investigation in Lithuania concluded that there were at least two black sites in the country, this did not lead to a prosecution. (Lithuania is not mentioned in the Marty report as these prisons were in operation in 2005 and 2006, during and after the report was written).
Of these three countries, Poland's role has been scrutinized most in the international press:
On the 30th of March, Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza published a fateful article that ultimately led to a criminal investigation. It detailed a document commissioned by Warsaw prosecutor Jerzy Mierzewski, who was then in charge of the investigation into alleged US detention facilities on Polish soil. He had asked external experts for advice on a variety of legal matters. After the external evaluation arrived, Mierzewski was removed from the investigation. Gazeta Wyborcza obtained the 50 page document by unknown means and published extracts from it. As a consequence of this publication, the newspaper itself became the focus of a criminal investigation.
This move came shortly after lawyers acting on behalf of a Guantanamo detainee filed a complaint against Poland at the European Court of Human Rights, and shortly before President Obama's visit to Poland.
According to the Gazeta Wyborcza article, Mierzewski had planned to file charges of breach of the constitution, false imprisonment and assistance in crimes against humanity, and had asked for advice, amongst other things, on the following matters:
- Does international law cover the operations of detention centers for people who are suspected of being terrorists?
- Does the legal framework of a country in which such a detention center exists have the power to shut it down?
- Does a confession that a person - who has been suspected of terrorist activity and has been detained - is a member of al Qaida have any influence on their legal status?
- What does it mean for the legal status of this person that he is detained outside a battlefield or an occupied area?
He received the following answers:
- There is no legal framework allowing foreign agencies to open any facilities in Poland which are beyond our control.
Prosecutors in the Northern Polish city of Gdansk have opened an investigation into the leaking of documents to Gazeta Wyborcza, effectively confirming their authenticity. These documents revealed that Jerzy Mierzewski, a Warsaw prosecutor, had planned to file charges of breach of the constitution, false imprisonment and assistance in crimes against humanity in a case surrounding alleged CIA detention and torture facilities in Stare Kiejkuty and rendition flights to and from Szymany airport in Masuria.
Former Polish PM Leszek Miller, who had been named as one of the persons authorizing a cooperation with the CIA by former MEP Józef Pinior, criticized the publication, calling journalists "useful idiots" who "invited al Qaida into the country".
The investigation is carried out in Gdansk (rather than in Warsaw), because it also concerns the dealings of Warsaw prosecutors.
The decision to remove Mierzewski from the case came shortly after lawyers acting for a Guantanamo detainee filed a complaint against Poland at the European Court of Human Rights, and shortly before President Obama visited the country.
For background reading please see this post, which also contains links to a Council of Europe investigation into the role of Poland in CIA rendition flights and international press coverage:
For other WL Central coverage on the topic please see here.
According to Gazeta Wyborcza, Jerzy Mierzewski, the prosecutor investigating alleged CIA prisons on Polish territory, was removed from the case because he had planned to file charges of breach of the constitution, false imprisonment and assistance in crimes against humanity.
This move came shortly after a lawyer acting for a Guantanamo detainee filed a complaint against Poland at the European Court of Human Rights, and a week before President Obama's visit to Poland.
Recent days have seen a number of articles on alleged CIA rendition flights and prisons on Polish territory in the Polish press. These were also prompted by a statement former MEP Józef Pinior made to Gazeta Wyborcza, saying that there is a memorandum signed by former PM Leszek Miller regulating the operations of a planned CIA prison on Polish territory. Miller strongly denies this.
For other WL Central coverage on the topic please see here.
In the light of President Obama's visit to Europe this week, I would like to take the opportunity to suggest some reading. It is an extraordinary document, a report compiled by Swiss politician Dick Marty for the Council of Europe: "Alleged secret detentions and unlawful inter-state transfers involving Council of Europe member states".
The full text, which has been available online for years, details CIA rendition flights within Europe. According to this report, several European countries facilitated the transfer of detainees to torture camps.
The report also lists a military facility in Stare Kiejkuty, Poland, and nearby Szymany airport as detainee drop off points (see page 17 f.). In the light of a current Polish criminal investigation into alleged CIA rendition flights to and from Szymany, a recent complaint against Poland at the European Court of Human Rights, and President Obama's visit to this country I urge everybody to have a look at this document. It clearly lists information on flights and dates of arrivals.
Many news outlets around the world reported about these rendition flights. On Stare Kiejkuty, these articles might be of interest:
It seems that it was very easy for journalists and Dick Marty to get hold of evidence; one is left wondering why the investigation in Poland is proceeding at a snail's pace.
The Polish press has been keeping the topic in the public's perception over the past years.
Please also take a moment to look up the coordinates 53.631111, 21.078889 on a satellite map of your choice. Various accounts speak about an isolated building in the woods near a military facility which is surrounded by a wall. Can you spot it?
Polish public broadcaster TVP reports that an investigation into alleged secret CIA prisons on Polish territory may have yielded first results. According to a source, Polish investigators have evidence on the exact date prisoner Abu Zubaida was transferred to and from Szymany airport. He is said to have arrived in December 2002 and departed in September 2003.
Files recently released by Wikileaks may help to shed light on the fate of various other prisoners, in particular Abd al Nashiri. Warsaw prosecutor Robert Majewski confirmed that all relevant files will be translated and taken into account.
Read more on TVP.
For other WL Central coverage on the topic please see here.