2012-04-14 Polish, and other complicity in the CIA rendition and torture program

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)

- Military vans with tinted windows arrived when a 737 from Kabul en route to Guantanamo landed. The airport was not equipped to handle such large aircraft. It was ordered that as few staff as possible was present at this time. (Airport staff member Mariola Przewlocka interviewed by the Guardian and the BBC.)

- At one occasion, a US diplomat was present, and turned her back when Polish military vans arrived. (Airport staff member Mariola Przewlocka interviewed by the Guardian)

- Landing fees were paid by Polish individuals in plain clothes. In one instance, he paid for de-icing of the run way, which should have been covered by the airport. They always paid three or four times the usual price. (Airport staff member Mariola Przewlocka interviewed by the Guardian)

- High ranking airport staff was told that the 'international flights' would be met by officials from the 'unit'. (Airport director Jaroslaw Jurczenko interviewed by the Guardian)

- The military installation in Stare Kiejkuty consists of two areas, a large training center, and a stretch of woods with limited access. This second area has separate road access, leading to a villa in the middle of the woods, about 600m away from the training center. It was also used to host high profile guests such as former presidents Lech Wałęsa and Aleksander Kwaśniewski. (TVP)

- Polish Secret Service drove the prisoners from Szymany to Stare Kiejkuty, dropping them off at the villa. (Gazeta Wyborcza)

- A prisoner describes snow on the ground when he arrived at an unknown airport. He says he was later on offered a water bottle with a Polish address on it. (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in an interview with the Red Cross, as quoted by the BBC)

- The CIA operated a prison in an old riding school in Lithuania. (BBC)

- The CIA operated a prison in Bucharest. (AP and ARD)

- Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg stated that he has seen evidence on a CIA prison in Poland (TVP).

- US diplomatic staff liaised with Polish government officials regarding the press coverage of the CIA prison. (WLC according to Cablegate)

- The Polish Secret Service handed over files about collaboration with CIA to the prosecutor's office. (TVP and Gazeta Wyborcza)

Everything points to the fact that a CIA prison existed on Polish soil. This would have involved a complicity of the military branch of the Secret Service, who made one of their buildings available to the CIA. Moreover, higher ranks of border patrol services would have known about the incoming private flights with diplomatic status, and their rather unusual route. Equally, the US embassy would most likely have been informed about these flights, even if they were not provided with the full facts. Lastly, a larger number of European countries were complicit by allowing for CIA flights to operate discretely.

Some other aspects of the workings of the CIA prison remain obscure, and could potentially provide an avenue for investigation. For instance, deliveries of food supplies could have left an auditable money trail, if they were delegated to a subcontractor.

It also remains to be seen, which part of the Secret Service assisted the CIA with the transfer of prisoners to and from the airport, and with payment of the airport fees. Moreover, it is unclear how close the collaboration in fact was. This last issue is even more important as some evidence suggests that the role of the Polish agencies may not have been limited to practical tasks related to the prison itself:

A report in Rzeczpospolita claims that the Secret Service lent twenty analysts with a special expertize in the Near and Middle East to the CIA, based on Polish sources. A CIA source later confirmed this to Spiegel (however, the Spiegel article does only speak of "agents" without specifying their background). Rzeczpospolita says that they were given tasks by the US, and paid with credit cards without a limit. These tasks involved using their contacts and sources for American interests. Sources told Rzeczpospolita that the collaboration stemmed from the good impression Polish intelligence made when they provided the US with crucial evidence before and after the 9/11 attacks.

If such a collaboration indeed existed, the level of complicity between Poland and the US would be much higher than previously thought. This could in turn make Poland appear as an associate of the United States.

Over the past year, a number of high ranking officials commented on the case. Former PM Leszek Miller said that those investigating the CIA prison "invited al-Qa'ida into the country". It was also recently suggested by a parliamentary committee that Polish agencies should monitor the Arabic media for negative press coverage, to protect Polish citizens abroad from reprisals. According to Cablegate documents covered by WLC Iran had already threatened Poland with a dossier on the prison in 2006.

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