For those seeking accountabiity for the senior Bush administration officials and lawyers who established a global torture program
in the "War on Terror," involving extraordinary rendition and torture
in a variety of secret prisons, the news that the Polish Prosecutor has
today accepted the claims of Abu Zubaydah,
a former CIA "ghost prisoner," that he was a victim of extraordinary
rendition and secret detention in Poland is enormously significant.
Zubaydah, one of 14 "high-value detainees"
transferred to Guantánamo from secret CIA prisons in September 2006,
was held for four and a half years in prisons whose existence has been
routinely denied by the United States, and by the countries who hosted
secret prisons on behalf of the CIA - Thailand, Poland, Romania,
Lithuania and Morocco - which were used to hold Zubaydah, 27 other
"high-value detainees," and at least some of the other 66 "ghost prisoners" whose existence has been acknowledged by the US authorities.
The news from Poland provides hope following recent disappointments in the quest for accountability - revelations by WikiLeaks
that the Bush administration put pressure on the German goverment to
drop an investigation into the kidnap and torture of Khaled El-Masri (a
case of mistaken identity) and that the Obama administration put
pressure on the Spanish government to drop an investigation into the
crimes committed by six Bush administration lawyers, as well as the
recent decision by the Lithuanian government to drop its own investigation into a secret prison - or two secret prisons - near Vilnius.
Reassuringly, the Spanish probe is still ongoing, and I recently appeared on Democracy Now!
and at an event in New York with Katie Gallagher of the Center for
Constitutional Rights, just after CCR and the Berlin-based European
Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) had filed two submissions in Spain
in connection with the investigation into the "Bush Six," and another
investigation into Maj. Gen, Geoffrey Miller, the commander of
Guantánamo during the worst years of torture at the prison (2002 to
2004), who was later sent to "Gitmo-ize" faclities in Iraq, including,
notoriously, Abu Ghraib.
However, the main focus for those seeking accountability remains
Poland, where Abu Zubaydah is the second "victim" recognized by the
Polish Prosecutor, following the recognition of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri
(another of the 14 "high-value detainees" transferred to Guantánamo in
September 2006) as a victim in October last year. This, as Prosecutor
Jerzy Mierzewski told the Associated Press, "entails a number of rights
for the injured party," and as Reprieve and INTERIGHTS announced in a press release today
(on behalf of their partners in the Zubaydah complaint, Polish lawyer
Bartlomiej Jankowski and US lawyer Joe Margulies), victim status "allows
Abu Zubaydah's lawyers to participate fully in the criminal
investigation, which includes introducing further evidence, calling
witnesses and taking part in the questioning of witnesses and suspects."
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Although the secret prisons in Poland and Romania have been known about since November 2005, when the Washington Post first identified their existence, and Human Rights Watch
then identified the countries involved, and their existence was then
confirmed in a report for the Council of Europe in June 2007 (PDF)
by CoE Rapporteur and Swiss Senator Dick Marty, based on two years'
research and interviews with over 30 current and former members of the
intelligence services in the United States and Europe, it was not until
March 23, 2009 that the first details of specific flights into Szymany
were officially confirmed in Poland, by the Polish Air Navigation
Service Agency. Moreover, it was not until August last year that further
incriminating details were added by the the Polish Border Guard Office,
who released a number of crucial documents to the Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, as I explained in an article at the time, New Evidence About Prisoners Held in Secret CIA Prisons in Poland and Romania.
As a result of these revelations, the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza
reported that former Prime Minister Leszek Miller and former President
Aleksander Kwasniewski "may face war crime charges for agreeing to host
the facility," and I reported details of the ongoing investigation in my
article, Will Poland's Former Leaders Face War Crimes Charges for Hosting Secret CIA Prison?
Since then, the story has refused to go away, despite being largely
ignored in the US mainstream media, with further damning reports about
the torture program - and the moving of "high-value detainees" between
Poland, Romania, Lithuania and Morocco - published by the Associated
Press in August and September (Terrorist interrogation tapes found, Former FBI Man Implicated in CIA Abuse, and Poles Urged to Probe CIA Prison Acts), and the announcement about the "victim" status of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri on October 27.
The timing of the Polish Prosecutor's announcement about Abu
Zubaydah's "victim" status is also useful in terms of a week-long Polish
tour of the film "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo"
(co-directed by Polly Nash and myself), which former Guantánamo
prisoner Moazzam Begg and I are undertaking in the first week of
February (details to be announced soon). Moazzam and I are primarily
undertaking this tour, with the support of organizations including
Amnesty International and Le Monde Diplomatique, to raise
awareness of the real stories of the men held at Guantánamo (most of
whom had nothing to do with terrorism), and also to raise awareness of
the need for new homes to be found for men who cannot be repatriated
safely, but we are also keenly aware that the Polish government's
complicity in the establishment of a secret US torture prison on Polish
soil needs to be discussed, and we are anticipating that experts
involved in the cases of al-Nashiri and Zubaydah will be joining us for