CIA ran secret torture jail in Poland, rules European Court of Human Rights

A protestor in Washington in 2012 calling for the release of Abu Zubaydah, who won his case against Poland yesterday. January 2012. [Justin Norman/Flickr]

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Thursday (24 July) that the CIA ran a secret jail on Polish soil, a judgment that adds to pressure on the United States and its allies to reveal the truth about the global programme for detaining al Qaeda suspects.

The United States has acknowledged the existence of its “extraordinary rendition” scheme in the years after the September 11, 2001 attacks but has never revealed which of its allies hosted the secret detention facilities.

It is becoming harder to maintain that silence, especially after Thursday’s ruling by the Strasbourg-based court, which comes as a US Senate committee prepares to publish parts of a critical classified report about extraordinary rendition.

The court case was brought by two men, Saudi-born Abu Zubaydah, and Saudi national Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who alleged they were flown in secret to a CIA-run jail in a Polish forest and subjected to treatment that amounted to torture.

The two men, who are now in Guantanamo Bay, the US military prison on Cuba, brought the case against Poland for failing to prevent their illegal detention and torture and for failing to prosecute those responsible.

The Strasbourg-based court ruled that Poland had violated Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights that cover torture, the right to liberty, and the right to an effective remedy for victims of crime.

It ordered Poland to pay al-Nashiri €100,000 in damages and €130,000 to Zubaydah. The court ruling did not cover the United States, which is outside its jurisdiction.

Thursday’s decision puts the Polish government in an awkward position. It has a close security relationship with the United States and Polish officials have always denied the existence of any CIA jail on their territory.

The ruling is embarrassing for Poland and is a burden for the country’s image, a Polish presidential spokeswoman said on Thursday.

“The ruling of the tribunal in Strasbourg on CIA jails is embarrassing for Poland and is a burden both in terms of our country’s finances as well as its image,” Joanna Trzaska-Wieczorek said.

She said there is still a possibility for Poland to appeal the verdict.

The ruling may also have implications for other European states alleged to have hosted CIA prisons; similar cases have been lodged with the court in Strasbourg against Romania and Lithuania.

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