Poles say aiding the CIA's torture program 'was simply being a good ally'

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Marco Werman: Many of the harsh CIA interrogations described in the Senate Intelligence Committee report took place at secret detention facilities all over the globe. The countries that hosted those so-called “black sites” are not named in the report, but we know one of them was Poland. Jan Cienski is a correspondent for The Economist in Warsaw and he’s been reporting on Polish involvement with the CIA torture program.


Jan Cienski: At the beginning of the so-called War on Terror, Poles allowed the Americans to use a disused military base in the north of the country in 2002 and 2003. Supposedly the CIA used this to hold people as it was ferrying them around the world. As well, allegedly two CIA prisoners, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaida, were supposedly held at this base and were apparently tortured while being held there.


Werman: So, does the 500-page report that came out today add any additional details about what we know about Poland and CIA torture?


Cienski: Officially the report has country names redacted out of it. In the report, the “blue site” is Poland -- there’s about 80 mentions of that in the report. Then there’s mentions of al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaida. However, both of these are prisoners who are still being held at Guantanamo, so part of their time in American custody was in Polish territory but they’ve still been in US custody up until now.


Werman: Poland has dealt with the release of declassified documents before, illuminating their involvement in CIA renditions in torture. A year ago, the European Court of Human Rights declassified documents related to an alleged CIA secret prison on Polish territory, where some detainees may have been tortured. What did those documents indicate?


Cienski: Pretty much the same thing as the CIA files, basically that these two were held at the military base; apparently that the Poles helped the CIA set up the site but then weren’t actually involved in the transfer of prisoners and in any maltreatment of prisoners at the site itself. The two men actually brought a law case against Poland before the year, European Court. They were each awarded $135,000 in damages and Abu Zubaida got an extra $40,000 for unlawful imprisonment on Polish territory. There’s also a very slowly unfolding Polish prosecution, which so far has charged the intelligence chief at the time that this base was operating. Other senior Polish officials, including the prime minister and the president at the time, have consistently denied knowing anything about CIA activities at the prison, but theoretically are open to prosecution as well.


Werman: How would you so Poland is different from, say, Lithuania and Romania, which allegedly also worked with the CIA torture program?


Cienski: Poland is actually, as far as I know, a fairly unique case in that it is the only country, including the United States, which was involved in this whole torture program, where any officials face any legal jeopardy at all -- nobody else seems to be being investigated or prosecuted at all, which the Poles feel is unfair because they allowed the CIA on to Polish territory and this was the highpoint of the Polish-American alliance. The Poles were involved in the initial invasion of Iraq and they sent troops to help the Americans in Iraq, and Warsaw really felt that the US was their key foreign ally at this point, and that cooperating with the CIA was an integral part of being a good NATO ally. So, they really feel that they’ve been quite badly burnt by this, that the Americans took advantage of the Poles and hung them out to dry afterwards.


Werman: How have ordinary Poles reacted to the report, to the background that you’ve just described? Are they upset?


Cienski: It’s an interesting mix because the humans rights groups feel that the prosecution of Polish officials is justified and that the prison was illegal, but many Poles, including most Polish politicians, feel that even if torture took place, that it was acceptable because of the circumstances after the 9/11 attacks and that Poland was simply being a good ally.


Werman: Jan Cienski, correspondent for The Economist joining me from Warsaw. Thanks very much for your time.


Cienski: You’re welcome.