How It Looks From Poland

We've learned in recent months that the interrogation of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri described in Chapter 3 took place not only in the CIA's black site in Thailand but also at another black site in Poland, and that it was in Poland that an agent identified by the CIA's Inspector General as “Albert” threatened al-Nashiri first with a gun and then with a power drill. In fact, we now know that al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah were bundled onto a plane to Dubai and then on to Szymany, Poland on December 5, 2002, the very day the CIA's cameras, which that week had recorded al-Nashiri's waterboarding, went dark in Thailand.

When al-Nashiri and Zubaydah—hooded, diapered, shackled—stepped onto the tarmac at Szymany airport with their armed, CIA-contracted escorts, they were setting foot in a country with one of the newest constitutions in the world, a nation which, in the moving words of that document's preamble, “recovered, in 1989, the possibility of a sovereign and democratic determination of its fate” and which remains “mindful of the bitter experiences of the times when fundamental freedoms and human rights were violated in our Homeland.” Ratified in 1997—barely five years before the CIA's plane landed— Poland 's constitution declares simply, in its Article 40,

No one may be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The application of corporal punishment shall be prohibited.

That the United States operated secret prisons anywhere on earth with the specific intention of placing both prisoners and jailors outside the reach of U.S. laws prohibiting torture is outrageous in itself, of course. But there is something especially perverse about basing one of these facilities in a country whose “bitter recent experiences” include first Nazi occupation and extermination camps and then four decades of communist oppression, and whose newly-cemented constitutional republic seems to be the apotheosis of everything the United States has promoted internationally for the past 75 years. It's shocking, in fact: the people of Poland create a state that embraces, without reservation, international human rights ideals including the absolute ban on torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and the first thing the United States does is pollute that state by setting up and running a secret torture facility on Polish soil.

Unfortunately for (and apparently unlike) the United States , the Poles take their new constitution seriously. For the past two years, Polish prosecutors have been investigating the CIA's Szymany black site—the existence of which the Polish government still officially denies— and this past week prosecutors granted Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri so-called “victim status,” a legal designation under Polish law that will allow his attorneys to file motions for evidence and be present at witness interviews.

This official recognition of al-Nashiri's claim that he was tortured in Poland came in response to an extraordinary “Procedural letter concerning representation in proceedings” that was filed last week by Mikolaj Pietrzak, al-Nashiri's Warsaw-based attorney. Far from a dry legal formality, Pietrzak's letter is a vivid and sobering discussion of al-Nashiri's treatment and the United States ' conduct through the lens of Polish sovereignty and Polish criminal law.

In formally petitioning the prosecutor's office to designate al-Nashiri as a victim with rights in the investigation, the letter lays out a litany of criminal laws the U.S. likely violated in its interrogation of al-Nashiri in the blacksite. Many of the crimes are obvious from any perspective (subjecting him to torture and physical violence, illegally imprisoning him, threatening him with death and threatening members of his family). But some offer pointed illuminations of how utterly lawless the CIA's behavior must appear from the Polish point of view: “Albert” used a gun not registered in Poland , a crime in itself. He and his CIA cohorts behaved in a way that they could be characterized as an armed, organized criminal group under Polish law. And because Poland is a signatory to European conventions barring the death penalty and prohibiting parties from delivering individuals into the hands of countries where they are likely to face torture or capital punishment, the potential crimes include not only torturing al-Nashiri in Poland but also later allowing him to be taken from Poland to Guantánamo.

The Procedural Letter of al-Nashiri's attorney names names and calls out the potentially criminal individuals: George Tenet, John McLaughlin, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden, the four successive CIA directors; James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen; Christopher Hill and Victor Ashe, the presiding U.S. ambassadors to Poland; four successive Polish prime ministers and a former president, and the heads of the Polish Armed Forces and intelligence services—plus the CIA agents in charge of the black sites in Thailand and Poland, the supervising medical personnel at the black site, the pilots of two different planes the CIA used for al-Nashiri's renditions, all of whom are also apparently identified by name in redacted passages.

The Procedural letter lays all this out with a controlled but insistent note of outrage that gives a sense of what many Poles must feel—and isn't all that difficult to understand why. How would we feel, after all, if we found out our government had secretly allowed a foreign government to violate some of our most basic laws and fundamental principles on American soil? How about if we'd found something like this out just five years after the founders enshrined those laws and principles in our constitution?

 

 

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