- By Reid StandishReid Standish is associate editor, digital, at Foreign Policy. Reid writes on Russia, Ukraine, and Central Asia and is the newsroom’s digital point person. He has lived in and reported from Finland, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine, where he covered everything from Santa Claus to drug trafficking. A native of British Columbia, he holds a B.A. in international studies from Simon Fraser University and an M.A. from the University of Glasgow.
The Polish government has long denied accusations that it hosted a CIA black site where suspected militants were detained and tortured using so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. But on the heels of a scathing U.S. Senate report blasting the CIA torture program, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski admitted Wednesday that Warsaw had let the American spy agency run a secret prison inside his country from 2002 to 2003.
Speaking to journalists in Warsaw, Kwasniewski said the prison was part of Poland’s “deepened” intelligence cooperation with the United States in the fight against terrorism after 9/11, and that he had no knowledge of what went on inside it. Kwasniewski, who was president from 1995 to 2005, said that the CIA prison was eventually closed under pressure from the Polish government.
According to the Senate report released Tuesday, Poland threatened in 2003 to bar the CIA from transferring al Qaeda suspects — including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was reportedly waterboarded 183 times — to the secret jail but became more “flexible” after the CIA gave Warsaw a large sum of money. “The agreement to host a CIA detention facility in Country X created multiple, ongoing difficulties between Country X and the CIA,” the report said. All mentions of the name of the country were blacked out, but the dates and name of the detainees match those of previous reports about Poland.
Poland isn’t the only country where the Senate report has kicked up a storm. In Canada, human rights groups and lawyers are using the torture report’s findings to question Ottawa’s future intelligence sharing with the CIA.
Canada allowed the CIA to use its airspace for secret flights transporting detainees to prison sites outside the United States after Sept. 11, 2001. Moreover, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police famously provided inaccurate information to the CIA about Canadian citizen Maher Arar, leading to his rendition in 2002 to Syria, where he was held and tortured for a year before being released.
Washington is also facing a barrage of condemnation at the United Nations. Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, said on Wednesday that that senior U.S. officials who authorized and carried out the torture program must be prosecuted. “The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorized at a high level within the U.S. government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability,” Emmerson said.
The report has received a somewhat different reaction in France, where the country’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen said she wouldn’t condemn the use of torture and insisted that it could be both a necessary and effective way of making terrorists talk. “There can be cases, if I may say so, when a bomb is going tick-tock and will explode in an hour or two and will perhaps kill 200 or 300 people, when it is useful to make the person talk,” Le Pen said during a television interview. The possible presidential contender later backtracked from her remarks, taking to Twitter to say that she had meant “legal means, obviously not torture.”
Countries that often face American criticism of their own shoddy human rights records have been relishing the opportunity to point their finger at the United States and accuse Washington of hypocrisy. China, for instance, urged the United States on Wednesday to correct its ways in the wake of the U.S. Senate report. “America is neither a suitable role model nor a qualified judge on human rights issues in other countries, as it pertains to be,” said an op-ed by state-run news agency Xinhua.
China is no stranger to thumbing its nose to the United States on human rights issues and has even taken to publishing its own annual report detailing alleged American abuses. “Perhaps the U.S. government should clean up its own backyard first and respect the rights of other countries to resolve their issues by themselves,” the Xinhua op-ed added.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, took a break from criticizing the United States about racism in Ferguson on his extremely active personal Twitter account to relay sharp condemnation of Washington for the torture program.
With more than 500 pages to pick through, America’s allies are likely to continue to feel the heat for cozying up to Washington in the aftermath of 9/11, and the United States’ detractors will probably have many more opportunities for schadenfreude.
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