Last week, Poland became the first EU country to charge one of its officials over participation in the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program. Zbigniew Siemiątkowski, head of Poland’s intelligence service from 2002 to 2004, was charged in connection with his alleged role in helping to establish an infamous CIA “black site” in Poland and will have to defend his actions in front of a domestic criminal court.
More charges may come, with indications that Mr Siemiątkowski’s deputy at the time, Andrzej Derlatka, as well as Leszek Miller, former prime minister and current head of the Democratic Left Alliance party, might also face charges.
According to several reports, secret detention facilities were set up in several European countries in the early 2000s, as part of the US-led “global war on terror” following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A European Parliament report in 2007 said the CIA carried out over 1,000 rendition flights to Europe using airports in 14 member states. In several EU countries, including Lithuania, Poland and Romania, CIA suspects were allegedly kept and, in some cases, subjected to torture.
In a 2004 “Special Review” of black sites undertaken by the CIA Inspector General, detailed information was given on operations at the Polish detention facility, including the repetitive use of waterboarding on alleged 9/11 conspirator Khalid Sheik Mohammed (approximately 183 times in a single month).
The charges brought against Mr Siemiątkowski last week are part of an investigation launched in 2008 by the Polish government. This attempt to look into the country’s potential involvement in a program that could reveal serious violations of the Polish Constitution and international human rights treaties, is more than has been done by several other countries allegedly involved in the same program.
But human rights organizations have voiced concerns about the effectiveness of the investigation, arguing that political pressure has likely played a role in the sluggishness of the Polish investigation. The absolute refusal of both Mr Miller and Mr Siemiątkowski to cooperate, invoking state security as their rationale, indicates that there is likely some truth in these accusations. Another important roadblock is the fact that the United States has refused to provide legal assistance in the case, on the grounds of national security and state interest.
Nevertheless, the charges brought last week, together with comments from the Polish prime minister, seem to indicate that the Polish government might at last be willing to truly support the investigation. “There is no doubt Poland is a democratic country. This is a painful but very clear proof that no politician, even if hand in hand with the biggest superpower in the world, can do something that will never see the light of the day,” PM Donald Tusk said last week.
But the PM also said that if he had been the prosecutor, he “would not have formulated the charges,” and that Poland was “in a sense the political victim of the indiscretion of some people in the US administration several years ago.”
Polish politicians should know that regardless of their own attitudes, the affair will not be left to rest easily. The European Parliament, citing new information since its 2007 investigation, is preparing a follow-up report. And insiders might blow the whistle at any moment on what has been described as a “global spider’s web.”
Now is the time for Polish politicians to uphold the highest standards of transparency and accountability, and help its courts determine the truth behind the very serious allegations that torture might have been conducted on Polish territory. Anything short of this would be a potential blow to the democratic principles that all governments in post-communist Poland have been elected to preserve.
From Warsaw Business Journal by Alice Trudelle
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