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The CIA torture report puts Poland in an uncomfortable spotlight

Reuters/Kacper Pempel
Not just a CIA thing.
By Hanna Kozlowska
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The American government was bracing for serious blowback from the US Senate investigation of the CIA’s secret interrogations of terrorism suspects. But behind the flurry about America’s post-9/11 misdeeds is news that another country was complicit in the CIA’s program: Poland.

Former Polish president Aleksander Kwaśniewski confirmed to journalists (link in Polish) yesterday that while he was in power, the country hosted one of the CIA’s “black site” detention facilities that tortured detainees.

The Senate report refers only to the CIA’s secret prisons by color-themed codes, but as the Washington Post reports, the “blue” prison site is considered to be a veiled reference to Poland.  A 2005 Washington Post investigation, along with other media outlets and human rights organizations had already drawn attention to Poland’s complicity in the CIA program. But for years Polish authorities staunchly denied the claims, dismissing them as unverified, even after an international court ruled that the country had violated the European Human Rights Convention.

The report, which US president Barack Obama and Polish prime minister Ewa Kopacz discussed ahead of its release, put Poland’s involvement back in the spotlight. At yesterday’s press conference, former president Kwaśniewski conceded that the US had asked for a “quiet site” where they could “obtain information” from cooperative suspects. But neither he nor then-prime minister Leszek Miller, also at the press conference, said they were aware of the harshness of the interrogations.

Adam Bodnar, a human rights lawyer who has been monitoring the case for years, says the Senate report put needed pressure on the Polish government to come to grips with reality. Now “it’s not a conspiracy, the United States has confirmed it itself,” he told Quartz.

Among the new, alarming details revealed by the report is that the US offered Poland payment for its role in the CIA program after the detention site was up and running. According to the report, the CIA offered Poland an undisclosed sum and refused to sign an agreement with Poland outlining the CIA’s role and responsibilities at the site. Polish officials said at yesterday’s press conference that the memorandum included demands to guarantee humane treatment of the prisoners.

“What country will respect us if it turns out that our authorities will agree to anything for several million dollars, even if it is against the Polish constitution?” Polish member of parliament Łukasz Gibała wrote on his Facebook page. Human rights are exalted in Poland’s constitution, which harkens back to the ”bitter experience” of human rights violations during the Stalinist and socialist regimes, including torture, notes Bodnar.

He hopes the report will force the government to charge those responsible for allowing torture on Polish soil. A domestic investigation of Poland’s role in the CIA program has languished since 2008.

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