- By Hanna KozlowskaHanna Kozlowska is a fellow at Foreign Policy. She previously worked as a fixer, researcher and freelance contributor for the New York Times in Poland, and as the associate editor for Poland Today, an English-language magazine. Her work has also appeared in the Huffington Post and several Polish publications. She graduated from Swarthmore College where she was coeditor in chief of The Daily Gazette.
In a damning decision for Poland, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Wednesday that the country broke the European Convention on Human Rights by allowing the CIA to detain and torture two terror suspects on its territory. The two men — Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri of Saudi Arabia and Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian — were reportedly held at a CIA black site at a Polish military base at different times in 2002 and 2003. The European convention prohibits the use of torture.
"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 court said in a statement.
Lawyers for the two men brought their cases before the European court after an investigation in Poland by domestic prosecutors languished in the country’s courts, which have been investigating the case for six years. The men, alleged members of al Qaeda currently held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, were granted "victim" status by Polish courts. The European court ruled Thursday that the Polish state should pay the men $135,000 each in damages and awarded Abu Zubaydah $40,000 to pay for unspecified costs.
The case of the Polish black sites was first revealed to the public in a 2005 Washington Post article. Since then the American and, to a lesser extent, Polish media have intensely scrutinized evidence in the case. A recent investigation by the Post showed that CIA agents paid $15 million to the Polish secret service to facilitate the operation.
Despite overwhelming proof that the site was on Polish territory and that the CIA had operated there with the consent of Polish authorities, Warsaw has repeatedly and vehemently denied any knowledge of or involvement in the operation. The reactions Thursday were no different.
"The ruling of the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg seems to be premature," said Marcin Wojciechowski, a spokesman for the Polish Foreign Ministry. The domestic investigation is still underway, he said.
Leszek Miller, who served as prime minister while the black site was up and running, said that the ruling is "unfair and immoral." "I hope that the Polish authorities never pay out the amount because this money would fuel the accounts of terrorists and would be used to prepare other attacks," he said.
Observers in Poland have long called for ramping up the investigation and criticized politicians for having an apathetic attitude toward the case. "Poland had the right to show that human rights in our country take precedence over the interest of those in power, that we can admit to a mistake, and fix it," the journalist and commentator Ewa Siedlecka wrote in the prominent daily Gazeta Wyborcza. "The country didn’t take the opportunity, and suffered a devastating failure: It was declared guilty of facilitating serious human rights violations, and branded for hiding them."