In an important case, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled against Poland, for the CIA torture of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah, conducted at CIA black sites operating on Polish soil.
Europe's top human rights court ruled Thursday that Poland broke the law by allowing the CIA to secretly imprison two terror suspects on Polish soil from 2002-2003 and facilitating the conditions under which they were subject to torture.
The ruling by the European Court of Human Rights marked the first time any court has passed judgment on the so-called "renditions program" that President George W. Bush launched after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The Strasbourg-based court said Poland violated the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to stop the "torture and inhuman or degrading treatment" of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah, who were transported to Poland in 2002.
The CIA brought a number of suspected al-Qaeda members to the prison, including Zubaydah, Nashiri and Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-admitted mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. While imprisoned on a military base in northern Poland, a pair of CIA contractors waterboarded Mohammed 183 times. A CIA operative also subjected Nashiri to a mock execution and put a drill to the head of the blindfolded man, according to several former CIA officials and a report by the agency’s inspector general.
The two unanimous rulings found that the rendition programme was completely illegal, as its rationale had been "specifically to remove those persons from any legal protection against torture and enforced disappearance and to strip them of any safeguards afforded by both the US Constitution and international law".
The ECHR, in its press release on the case, said that "the Polish state, on account of its acquiescence and connivance in the HVD [extraordinary rendition] Programme, had to be regarded as responsible for the violation of the applicants' rights committed on its territory".
It added that Poland had been aware that the men's transfer to and from its territory had been carried out by the process of "extraordinary rendition".
"Consequently, by enabling the CIA to transfer the applicants to its other secret detention facilities, the Polish authorities exposed them to a foreseeable serious risk of further ill-treatment and conditions of detention in breach of Article Three [prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment]," it said.
The judgement, which is not final, was announced on Thursday morning by the Court, which found that in both cases, Poland had violated a number of articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, including the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment as well as the right to a fair trial.
In today’s judgement, “The Court found that Poland had cooperated in the preparation and execution of the CIA rendition, secret detention and interrogation operations on its territory and it ought to have known that by enabling the CIA to detain the applicants on its territory, it was exposing them to a serious risk of treatment contrary to the Convention.”
The two claimants lodged their cases with the European Court in 2011 and 2013, respectively. Both men are currently detained at the US Navy's Guantánamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.
The first is Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi Arabian national alleged to have masterminded the bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000. He has claimed that he was questioned in a secret facility in Poland and subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques” and other human rights violations, such as “mock execution” with a gun and threats of sexual assault against his family members.
The second, Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, also known as Abu Zubaydah, a stateless Palestinian born in Saudi Arabia, is also believed to have been held in Poland, where he says he was subjected to extreme physical pain and psychological suffering. Former US President George W. Bush asserted in his 2010 memoirs that he authorized the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”, including “waterboarding” – mock drowning – against Abu Zubaydah in secret CIA detention.
Al-Nashiri faces a capital trial by military commission in Guantánamo. The US authorities have yet to charge Abu Zubaydah with any crime, more than 12 years after taking him into detention.
Landmark rulings expose Poland’s role in CIA secret detention and torture, Amnesty International
Joseph Margulies, a visiting professor of law and government at Cornell who is one of Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers, called the ruling a seminal decision that would help force a public reckoning in Europe and the United States about the secret rendition program and its tactics.
“By any measure, this is a historic decision in that it’s the first time a court has condemned a European state for its role in the rendition program,” he said in a telephone interview. “It establishes the public’s right to know what happened. From top to bottom, the case is a comprehensive condemnation of the C.I.A., the black-site program and Poland’s role in it.”
Professor Margulies said the ruling could have legal implications for other European countries, including Romania and Lithuania, which have been accused of participating in the program in cases before the human rights court.
And while the United States is outside the court’s jurisdiction, he said the ruling would help force the Obama administration to address the moral and legal questions raised by the rendition program. “This is the beginning of a genuine accounting of what happened on whose watch and on whose word,” he said.
European Court Censures Poland Over C.I.A. Rendition Program, New York Times
The judgment comes as the CIA dawdles over declassifying the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report. One reason for the delay, prior reporting has said, comes from a desire to protect our foreign partners in crimes — notably the UK and Poland.
So now that Poland’s role has been confirmed, can we please get the torture report?