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First Criminal Charges Brought in Polish Probe of CIA Black Site

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The Warsaw-based newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza and TVP Polish Public Television are reporting that criminal charges have been brought in the long-pending investigation into torture and kidnapping associated with a CIA black site on Polish soil during 2002 and 2003. The English-language Warsaw Business Journal summarizes the story as follows:

Zbigniew Siemi?tkowski, head of Poland’s intelligence services from 2002–2004, has been charged with breaking international law in connection with an investigation into CIA “black sites” which were reportedly based in Poland and in which terrorist suspects were allegedly subjected to torture. Specifically, Mr Siemi?tkowski is being charged with allowing the “illegal deprivation of liberty,” and the use of “physical punishment” on prisoners.

In an interview with television station TVP on Monday, Mr Siemi?tkowski confirmed that the charges had been brought against him. “While in the prosecutor’s office I refused to answer questions and I shall continue to do so at every stage of the proceedings, including in court,” he said, pointing to issues of national security as his reason.

Polish criminal investigators believe that the CIA operated a covert prison at Stare Kiejkuty, just over 100 miles north of Warsaw, between December 2002 and September 2003. Abu Zubaydah, an American prisoner, has suggested that he was held at the facility and tortured with techniques that may have included waterboarding. Polish authorities have granted Zubaydah victim status for the purposes of their ongoing investigation, which seeks to identify and charge those who operated the facility, incarcerated people there beyond the boundaries of Polish law, and subjected them to torture and abuse. The probe has concentrated on the role played by Polish authorities who collaborated with the CIA. These officials have consistently told investigators that they had no access to the facility and did not know what the CIA was doing there. The U.S. Justice Department has refused to cooperate with the investigation.

Lawyers who have been monitoring the case note that after the criminal charges were filed, on January 10, 2012, the case was mysteriously transferred to a prosecutor in Krakow, who has not yet signaled whether he intends to proceed with the charges. Questions were raised concerning the propriety of this transfer at a hearing on the CIA’s renditions program before the European Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday.

CIA officials have consistently opposed the release of documents detailing their black-site operations, including a comprehensive but heavily redacted report produced by the CIA’s inspector general. They argue that such disclosures would be harmful to U.S. national-security interests. The investigation in Poland makes clear exactly the sort of harm that the CIA has in mind. Polish prosecutors are building a detailed chronology of the black sites, and are systematically identifying the people who worked there or otherwise supported its operation. American personnel aren’t likely to be charged, but Poles and non-American internationals will be fair game.

The Polish prosecutors are also likely sharing the fruits of their inquiries with other criminal investigators probing into CIA extraordinary renditions, including ones in Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. These investigations are menacing to the CIA, and they make the deployment to Europe of CIA personnel who were involved in the renditions program risky and problematic. And as the Associated Press has reported, those personnel appear generally to have advanced ahead of their peers, and now occupy some of the most senior positions at the Agency.

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