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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » September 17, 2008
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New Probe Into CIA Prisons Claims
September 17, 2008 By W.Ż.    
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Polish prosecutors have launched a probe that aims to establish once and for all whether the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency detained and tortured terrorist suspects at secret prisons in this country.

The inquiry comes in the wake of new media reports suggesting that Al-Qaeda suspects captured by the CIA in Afghanistan and Iraq were brought to Poland for interrogation and may even have been tortured here. Polish politicians of all stripes have faced accusations of covering up the existence of secret American prisons in this country. These include both leftist and rightist politicians who governed the country in 2001-2005 and 2005-2007 respectively. A military airfield in Szymany in the north of the country and a nearby intelligence training center in Kiejkuty have been pointed out as possible sites.

In 2005 The Washington Post, quoting unnamed CIA sources, reported that CIA prisons existed in Europe. A U.S. human rights group, Human Rights Watch, later said Poland and Romania hosted the prisons.

"After recent publications in the American press one can say that secret CIA prisons did exist in Poland," said Józef Pinior, a Polish Eurodeputy who was a member of a European Parliament committee that investigated the issue some time ago. "The prison issue has been investigated by the European Parliament and the Council of Europe and we managed to obtain a list of civilian flights from the European agency controlling air traffic."

The list shows that there were flights by civilian planes from Kabul, Afghanistan, to the military airfield in Szymany, northern Poland, and then to the U.S. military base in Guantanamo, Cuba, Pinior says.

A year ago the European Parliament committee concluded in a report that the CIA had operated a secret base at Szymany where prisoners taken in Iraq and Afghanistan might have been tortured. According to the report, Boeing 737 and Gulfstream aircraft landed at Szymany on four occasions in 2002 and 2003. The landings took place during the night and the aircraft stopped far from the control tower.

Existing airfield records refer to only one such landing, on Sept. 22, 2003. The flight description suggests that five passengers arrived in Szymany and 12 then left the airfield aboard the plane. All were U.S. nationals.

The Polish media has quoted anonymous sources in Polish secret services as saying that from 2002 the CIA had a base in Poland to which it brought terror suspects. The base was allegedly located in an off-limits zone within the compound of a Polish intelligence training center in Kiejkuty, 20 kilometers from the Szymany airfield. Reportedly, only Americans had access to the zone.

Col. Mieczysław Tarnowski, who was deputy head of Poland's State Protection Office (UOP) and the Internal Security Agency (ABW) in 1998-2004, denied these allegations. He said Kiejkuty was an unlikely location for a secret CIA prison because the place is well known as an intelligence training center and is under constant surveillance by foreign services, with photos from spy satellites taken several times a day. Additionally, Tarnowski says, if CIA suspects were to be brought from the Szymany airfield to Kiejkuty, the vehicles transporting them would have had to use a public road and travel in a convoy. As a result, the number of people aware of a secret operation would have increased.

Ex-president Aleksander Kwaśniewski and former prime minister Leszek Miller have both denied any knowledge of CIA prisons in Poland, as has Janusz Zemke, who was defense minister in Poland's leftist government in 2001-2005.

According to the media, Kwaśniewski, Miller and Zemke will all be questioned by prosecutors in the coming weeks. Investigators are also expected to turn the searchlight on another former prime minister, Marek Belka, as well as Gen. Marek Dukaczewski, former head of the military intelligence service, and officials who prepared reports for the Polish parliament on the alleged existence of CIA prisons in Poland.

Reportedly the list of politicians to be questioned also includes ex-prime ministers Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz and Jarosław Kaczyński, who were in office in 2005-2007.

Politicians from the now-ruling Civic Platform (PO) party have been quoted as saying that the previous government of the Law and Justice (PiS) party tried to sweep the issue under the carpet so as not to strain Polish-American relations. Jarosław Kaczyński and his twin brother Lech, who has been Poland's president since 2005, have on several occasions denied that the Americans kept and tortured Al-Qaeda people in Poland when the country was governed by the left wingers with Kwaśniewski as president. Michał Kamiński of President Lech Kaczyński's Office has said there were no CIA prisons in Poland and that the issue is being brought up by politicians seeking to capitalize on it. Controversy over the supposed CIA prisons does not serve Poland and its interests, Kamiński added.

Meanwhile, 63 percent of those polled in a Polish survey said that if secret CIA prisons had really existed in Poland those responsible for running them should be punished. Around 51 percent said that if it would be a scandal if it turned out that the prisons really existed in Poland and that Polish authorities should have never allowed this to happen. Twelve percent said Polish politicians had the right to make such a decision if they did.
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