(London) - The landmark rulings against Poland by the European Court of Human Rights on July 24, 2014, underscore the need for wider European accountability for involvement in US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) counterterrorism abuses, Human Rights Watch said today. The court ruled Poland was complicit in the rendition, secret detention, and torture of two terrorism suspects.
In linked rulings of Al Nashiri v. Poland and Husayn (Abu Zubaydah) v. Poland, the European Court found that the Polish authorities knew that the CIA was using its territory between 2002 and 2003 for renditions and secret detention and that CIA interrogation practices in Poland and elsewhere amounted to torture. Both men are currently in US custody at Guantanamo Bay.
“The European Court has said loud and clear that Poland shares responsibility for CIA counterterrorism abuses on its territory,” said Benjamin Ward, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s a reminder that Poland and other European governments haven’t properly investigated their involvement in CIA torture, rendition, and secret detention.”
The existence of a secret CIA detention facility in Poland was first revealed by Human Rights Watch in 2005 and confirmed by the Council of Europe in 2007.
The court found that Poland should have known that torture was occurring on its territory and ought not to have allowed the two men to be sent from Poland to other locations because of the risk they would be tortured further.
The US Senate Intelligence Committee has completed a 6,300-page report documenting the CIA’s torture program, though it remains secret. A redacted executive summary of the report is to be released to the public this summer. The names of specific countries where detainees were held, including Poland, will not be included in the public release, media reports indicate.
Poland is not the only European country implicated in the CIA renditions program. There is credible evidence from the United Nations, the European Parliament, and Council of Europe that many other European countries – including Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Spain, Sweden, and the UK – were involved to various degrees.
Of these, only Italy has prosecuted anyone in relation to the program – convicting 2 Italians and, in absentia, 23 US agents for the abduction of an Egyptian man. Macedonia was found responsible by the European Court of Human Rights in 2012 for its involvement in the CIA’s abduction and illegal transfer of Khaled Al-Masri.
Since US President Barack Obama declared in 2009 that the US will “look forward, as opposed to looking backwards,” no one in the US has been prosecuted for involvement in torture or other ill-treatment in the CIA program.
The government in Poland sought to contest the proceedings, pointing to ongoing criminal investigations into the cases by a Polish prosecutor, which began in 2008. The European Court found that those investigations were not sufficient to meet the requirement under the European Convention on Human Rights for a prompt and effective investigation when torture is alleged. Those criminal investigations should now be intensified, and anyone found responsible held to account, Human Rights Watch said.
The European Court found Poland liable for violations of both men’s right to a fair trial and right to family life because of the incommunicado nature of their detention. In the case of Al Nashiri, who faces trial before a US military commission with the possibility of the death sentence if convicted, the court found a violation of the right to life and the prohibition on the death penalty. The court also ruled that there was a real risk that Al Nashiri’s trial before the military commission would amount to a flagrant denial of justice.
Poland was ordered to seek assurances from the US government in Al Nashiri’s case that it would not result in the death penalty. Both men were awarded 100,000 Euros in damages.
“The vast majority of the victims of US and European counterterrorism abuse are still waiting for justice,” Ward said. “It’s high time for accountability on both sides of the Atlantic.”