By Elizabeth A. Conger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
WARSAW, Poland – Polish flight authorities have admitted their involvement in the CIA’s secret program for the rendition of high-level terrorist suspects from Iraq and Afghanistan. After six years of denying denying their involvement, Warsaw’s air control service confirmed that at least six CIA rendition flights landed in Szymany airfield in northern Poland.
Two human rights groups, the Open Society Justice Initiative, based in New York, and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, based in Warsaw, received the flight logs from the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency in September, and released reports regarding Polish involvement in the rendition program on Monday after analyzing the data for the past several months.
Darian Pavli, a lawyer with the Open Society Justice Initiative, said: “The thing that is quite shocking is that the European investigations requested these specific flight records some four years ago…The Poles all these years said that they could not locate them, the flights didn’t exist.”
For years human rights investigators have asserted that Poland was the location of one of the “black sites,” part of of the network of the CIA’s overseas prisons where suspected Al-Qaeda operatives were detained and subjected to brutal interrogation techniques. Polish authorities repeatedly denied the allegations, and refused to cooperate with international investigations.
An extensive Council of Europe investigation in 2007 found that a prison facility located near the Szymany airfield was rented by the CIA from the Poles and used to detain “especially sensitive high-value detainees.” The Council’s report accused fourteen European governments of permitting the CIA to run detention centers or carry out rendition flights between 2002 and 2005. According to former American intelligence officials, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, chief plotter of the 9/11 attack, was interrogated at the secret base near the Syzmany airport after his capture in 2003.
CIA spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, said: “The agency does not discuss publicly where facilities related to its past detention program may, or may not, have been located.”
The Polish Air Navigation Services released flight data showing that at least two of the planes linked to CIA rendition flights, a Boeing 737 and a Gulfstream V, flew from Kabul and Rabat, in Morocco, to Syzmany at least six times between February and September 2003. Kabul and Rabat are the locations of the detention of at least two of the rendition detainees. Flight logs also revealed an attempted cover up by the CIA and Polish authorities, with aviation authorities being told that several of the flights were destined for Warsaw, rather then Syzmany, and names of pilots having been changed.
The Polish government declined to comment on the contents of the reports issued by the two rights groups, but Foreign Ministry spokesman, Piotr Paszkowski, said that the prosecutor’s office was currently investigating the allegations.
Adam Bodnar, head of the legal division at Warsaw’s Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, said: “These flight records reinforce the troubling findings of official European inquiries and global human rights groups, showing complicity with CIA abuse across Europe.”
He added: “Of course Polish authorities may help the CIA in the fight against terrorism, but they are bound by the Polish Constitution, which prohibits torture.”
For more information, please see:
The Guardian – Poland admits role in CIA rendition programme – 22 February 2010
The New York Times – Data Shows Rendition Planes Landed in Poland – 22 February 2010
The Wall Street Journal – Poland Delivers Official Confirmation of CIA Flights – 22 February 2010
Washington Post – Details posted on alleged CIA-flights to Poland – 22 February 2010