Poland has never officially acknowledged allowing the CIA to hold and interrogate suspects at a secret CIA “black site” in 2002 and 2003, despite a judicial investigation into the affair launched in 2008.
But this week, just days after the visit to Warsaw by President Barack Obama, the issue has erupted into a major political row, after a front-page story in the leading daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza claimed that the prosecutor heading the black site investigation had been removed for political reasons.
The newspaper asserted that the previous prosecutor may have been preparing to charge high ranking officials with crimes against humanity over the human rights abuses that occurred at the site, which included torture and the holding of suspects incommunicado.
On Tuesday, the Polish media additionally reported that Jozef Pinior, a Polish member of the European Parliament, has confirmed the existence of a document signed by Mr Miller regulating the functioning of the secret CIA prison at Stare Kiejkuty. The document, according to Pinior, included establishing what should be done “if a dead body of one of the persons held there should appear.”
His statement—especially in light of attempts by Poland and the U.S. to evade every measure of accountability for torture and rendition—further underscores the need for the European Court to swiftly intervene in the case of Guantánamo prisoner Abd-al Rahim al-Nashiri, who was brutally tortured at that prison and now faces the prospect of an unfair trial by military commission followed by the death penalty.
On May 6, 2011, the Open Society Justice Initiative filed a case against Poland on behalf of al-Nashiri before the European Court of Human Rights. The case—still pending before the Court—seeks accountability for Poland’s active complicity in al-Nashiri’s torture and incommunicado detention at the CIA prison in Poland, as well as in his transfer from Poland despite the substantial risk of his facing the death penalty in U.S. custody. The case also urges the Court to direct Poland to use all available means to preclude the death penalty in his case.
The governments of Poland and the United States appear to be working hand in glove to evade accountability for torture and rendition. According to Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland and the US agreed that the US would not reply to a Polish request for assistance in the pending Polish investigation, so as to prolong the investigation until the case could be suspended.
Meanwhile, on May 16, 2011, the United States Supreme Court declined to review the last remaining legal challenge to U.S. rendition practices in the case of Mohammed v. Jeppesen, leaving intact the dismissal of the case on grounds of the state secrets privilege.
President Obama lavished praise on Poland during his visit there, declaring Poland "one of our closest and strongest allies," and a "leader" on the rule of law.
The visit certainly confirms the strength of the alliance between Poland and the United States. But all the evidence suggests that in dealing with the legacy of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program it is regrettably an alliance to subvert rather than uphold the rule of law. U.S. courts have largely ratified such subversions of the rule of law and denied rendition victims their day in court. It is now up to the European Court of Human Rights to lead the way forward.