European Court Rejects Poland’s Bid to Challenge CIA Black Site Ruling

NEW YORK—The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) today confirmed its landmark ruling that Poland illegally allowed the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to operate a secret torture prison on its territory in 2002 and 2003.

Poland had sought to challenge the court's judgment  in the combined cases of al-Nashiri v. Poland and Abu Zubaydah v. Poland with an appeal to the ECHR's Grand Chamber. A panel of five judges rejected the application without giving its reasoning, making final the court judgment given on July 24, 2014.

The Open Society Justice Initiative and the Warsaw-based law firm of Pietrzak Sidor represented Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri before the court. Amrit Singh of the Justice Initiative, who presented the case before the ECHR judges, welcomed the court's decision to confirm last year's ruling:

“The court rightly rejected the Polish government’s latest attempt to evade accountability. Consistent with the court’s judgment, Poland must now conduct an effective investigation into its hosting of a secret CIA prison and obtain assurances from the United States that it will not subject al-Nashiri to the death penalty.”  

In its original arguments before the court, Poland argued that intervention in the case was premature because the state prosecutor’s office had launched an investigation into the alleged abuses in 2008, and that this process was still pending.

Co-counsel Mikolaj Pietrzak, who has also represented al-Nashiri in Polish proceedings, said:

“The Polish state must now take steps to ensure the effectiveness of its investigation. In particular, the Prosecutor must disclose his findings. Poles have a right to know what legal mechanisms failed in Poland, and allowed for such horrific abuses of rights and freedoms to take place on their territory. Transparency is necessary in order to ensure such violations do not happen again.”

The Justice Initiative is also representing Mr al-Nashiri before the ECHR in a separate case against Romania, where he was also held and abused. Abu Zubaydah currently has a case pending against Lithuania before the European Court.

“Other European governments, including Romania and Lithuania, that hosted secret CIA prisons or otherwise collaborated in the CIA program, must also heed the court’s decision," the Justice Initiative's Amrit Singh said. "It sends the message loud and clear that European states involved in this program cannot evade accountability.”

Mr al-Nashiri, a Saudi national, is currently held at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, where he is facing trial and a possible death sentence before a military commission. 

In its ruling, the court found that Poland had violated the European Convention of Human Rights by:

  • allowing his torture on Polish soil by the CIA;
  • allowing his secret detention;
  • allowing his transfer out of Poland despite the risk of further torture and secret detention; and
  • allowing his transfer out of Poland despite the risk of a “flagrant denial of justice” before a U.S. military commission, and the risk of a death penalty.

It ordered Poland to intervene with the U.S. government to secure assurances that al-Nashiri will not be subject to the death penalty. The court also found that Poland had failed in its duty to cooperate with the court, and ordered it to pay al-Nashiri €100,000 in compensation.

In addition to Singh and Pietrzak, al-Nashiri is represented before the European Court by James Goldston and Rupert Skilbeck of the Justice Initiative, and Nancy Hollander.

The European Parliament voted last week to resume an investigation into the extent of the CIA’s rendition and torture program in EU countries, two months after the U.S. Senate intelligence committee published a redacted summary of its six year investigation into the CIA program.

The European Parliament’s committees on civil liberties, foreign affairs and human rights previously investigated the CIA’s program in 2006, and they will now examine new details from the U.S. Senate’s report.

Poland was one of at least 50 governments that supported a program of secret rendition and torture launched by the CIA after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

In December 2012, in another case argued by the Justice Initiative, the European Court of Human Rights condemned the arbitrary arrest, detention, and interrogation of Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen who was mistakenly seized in Macedonia in 2004, handed over to the CIA, and shipped to Afghanistan for interrogation.