PressEurop yesterday came forward with an obscure piece of news from Poland that may nonetheless soon resonate internationally. Citing an article in that day’s edition of the mainstream Polish national daily Rzeczpospolita, they noted that no less than Polish ex-President Aleksander Kwaśniewski, his ex-premier Leszek Miller, and an “ex-head of intelligence,” one Zbigniew Siemiątkowski, were facing the prospect of going before a State Tribunal on war crimes charges stemming from the secret prison they allegedly allowed the American CIA to set up in their country back when the “War on Terror” was at its height, and which might well have been the scene for prisoner torture.
Good work, that, although the PressEurop editors did somehow miss within that Rzeczpospolita piece the credit that journal was willing to give to its arch-rival Gazeta Wyborcza for actually getting the scoop, in the form of this article which appeared the day before the Rzecz report. Also, Zbigniew Siemiątkowski was not “head of intelligence” but rather Minister of the Interior; and there is another ex-Minister of the Interior who is under investigation in this connection as well, one Krzysztof Janik.
In any event, the combined reporting from Poland’s two most-respected national dailies provides a fascinating glimpse into a story with explosive potential that still is being treated as a Top Secret matter by the prosecutorial authorities involved. As the Gazeta piece reminds us, the first indication the world had that something funny was going on in Europe was the reporting in the Washington Post of early 2005 that alleged the existence of CIA-run “black site” prison facilities in European countries. The Council of Europe then took that as a cue to investigate on its own, and soon concluded that such installations were in place in Romania, Lithuania, and Poland. When questioned at the time, Polish authorities were noticeably unhelpful, eventually admitting only that yes, there was an airport in the northeastern Polish wilderness that the government had made available for CIA flights.
Unfortunately, the Poland-based Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (actually known as Helsińska Fundacja Praw Człowieka) recently released a document it had (somehow) procured from the Polish office of Border Security showing that the CIA flights to and from that airfield in 2002 and 2003 had departed with a total of at least 20 fewer passengers than they came with, i.e. there had to be some sort of holding facility there. Perhaps a luxury hotel? Not a chance; it was a prison facility which Polish officials at the very highest levels (thus President Kwaśniewski and Premier Miller) had approved for CIA use from December 2002 to September 2003. And then, strangely enough, after the Americans left the Ministry of Interior carried out a thorough cleaning and refurbishment of the installation.
The trouble these gentlemen are in, in the first instance, involves the questionable approval they provided for this CIA facility and the associated air access, which in several respects seems to have violated ordinary norms of Polish sovereignty, i.e. the control any nation is routinely supposed to have over the use of its airspace, as well as which people are deprived of their freedom at installations upon its territory and why – oh, and how those people are treated within those installations as well, for in other contexts there have been clear revelations of actual CIA torture of terrorism suspects carried out during this period at other such “black sites.” So the charges against these top officials could conceivably extend to enabling the practice of torture on Polish sovereign territory as well.
But Did They Know?
Well, that’s if it can be shown that they knew what was going on there. Remarkably, ex-President Kwaśniewski was actually willing to speak to the Gazeta reporters about this affair, after first admitting that he has not even (yet) been called in for questioning by the investigators. Then: “There was cooperation with American intelligence [authorities]. That’s how you had those CIA flights to Szyman [airport's location]. There wasn’t any prison.”
Gazeta: “Within the framework of that cooperation could Poland have given the Americans permission for a prison and torture?”
Kwaśniewski: “The Americans never asked us for any such permission.”
Gazeta: “Maybe they did it without our permission?”
Kwaśniewski: “I don’t have any information about the Americans torturing prisoners in Poland.”
Ex-Interior Minister Janik also spoke a bit to the Gazeta reporters, expressing his view that, whatever may or may not have happened at any prison that may or may not have existed, he actually doubted that Kwaśniewski or Miller would have known about it.
Again, for all the caginess of their comments (after all, Kwaśniewski denies the existence of a prison which does seem to have been there), these gentlemen were actually being quite cordial with their comments, inasmuch as the Polish prosecutors are refusing all comment since this is still supposed to be a Top Secret matter – understandable, since such serious charges, lodged against such prominent men in Polish politics, must be brought before the parliament itself (the Sejm) and approved there for prosecution before the State Tribunal.
In all, though, this raises the prospect of rather hopeful (if unexpected) further news to come out of Poland soon – namely of high political officials responsible for torture actually facing prosecution for their actions! What a concept! Admittedly, there has also been further progress along this line in Britain, what with the renewed inquiries into that country’s cooperation with the American “War on Terror” occurring with the advent of the new coalition government. Just no hint of anything similar coming along from the wellspring of the “enhanced interrogation” concept, the USA. How long can that situation last once the Obama administration sees foreign officials going to jail for acts that American officials ultimately ordered but that his Justice Department refuses to prosecute?
Postscript: I thought I would offer my readers the following embedded video for their consideration as an addendum to this post. I ran across it during my research, and it’s just over four minutes of a Gazeta Wyborcza reporter, Ewa Siedlecka, explaining to the TV camera what is known so far in this CIA prison matter. Yes, it’s all in Polish, with no sort of translation of any kind. Still, I found it irresistible (yes it’s true, I can understand it) and even historical in a way, to watch such a sober report about a Polish prison and especially the torture that was feared to have gone on there: noise, deprivation of sleep, with licensed physicians standing by to ensure that the abuse would take the prisoner up to the edge of death, but not over – it’s all there, and one can assume that it has a shocking effect on any Polish citizen that might have run across it. (Please pardon the juvenile 15-second cookie commercial you’ll have to put up with at the beginning to be able to see the rest of the clip. Cookies, torture: then again, Central Europe has always been drenched in irony . . . and the additional page-view you provide presumably ultimately redounds to the benefit of the Gazeta Wyborcza company, headed by that truly heroic and historical dissident Adam Michnik.)