The European Court of Human Rights has finally officially confirmed the facts of a story that the U.S. and European governments have sought to deny for more than a decade: The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency operated a secret torture center on Polish soil in the aftermath of the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.
In a historic ruling, the court concluded beyond reasonable doubt that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri—represented by the Open Society Justice Initiative—and Abu Zubaydah were held in secret and tortured by the CIA at a military base called Stare Kiejkuty in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. They were then transferred out of Poland despite the risk of further abuse.
The court also found that Poland had failed to properly investigate these breaches of its own law, and had failed to cooperate as required with the court in these two cases.
This is the first time any court anywhere has ruled on the CIA’s secret prisons. It sends a clear message that such abuses will not be tolerated in modern Europe, and that those who perpetrate them will be held accountable.
Nashiri was captured in Dubai in October 2012, and secretly transferred to CIA custody. He was taken to a secret CIA prison (also known as a “black site”) in Afghanistan known as the “Salt Pit,” and then to another black site in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was waterboarded.
On or about December 5, 2002, the CIA “rendered” Nashiri to Poland. The Polish authorities provided extraordinary levels of security cover for this flight.
In Poland, U.S. interrogators subjected Nashiri to mock executions with a power drill as he stood naked and hooded, racked a semi-automatic handgun close to his head as he sat shackled before them, held him in “standing stress positions,” and threatened to bring in his mother and sexually abuse her in front of him. (These details were corroborated in a report by the CIA's own Inspector General.)
But the court’s ruling deals with more than the events of the past. Our client Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is currently facing charges before a U.S. military commission in Guantanamo Bay, linked to his alleged role in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole warship in Aden harbor. The European ruling delivered a damning indictment of this military court system, saying Poland had allowed Nashiri’s transfer out of the country despite the likelihood he would face a “flagrant denial of justice,” and the risk of a death sentence.
Beyond that, the court has called on Poland to seek diplomatic assurances from Washington that Nashiri will not face the death penalty before this fundamentally flawed military commission system.
This is a powerful wake-up call to the American court system, which has yielded to executive power over the CIA’s torture and rendition program and denied every victim of CIA torture his day in court.
The ruling comes as the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is preparing to release a 480-page summary of its massive examination of the CIA interrogation and detention program, including its use of waterboarding and other abusive interrogation techniques against prisoners.
Rick Kammen, the civilian lawyer representing Nashiri before the military commission, welcomed the European Court’s ruling in a statement saying:
We are extremely pleased that a court has recognized that the United States’ experiment with military commissions is doomed to produce a secret, expedient, and ultimately unreliable fact finding which will produce verdicts that are simply not reliable or worthy of credit. It is however disappointing that that court is not a U.S. court but rather a European court.
It is equally gratifying that a court recognized that what happened to Nashiri while he was in CIA custody was torture. But it is again disappointing that it was a European court that spoke out, not a U.S. court. The U.S. courts, especially the military commissions, seem dedicated to hiding rather than finding the truth of the CIA’s actions.