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A conspiracy of silence: the CIA black sites in Poland

Abstract

The aim here was to identify and analyze the political rationale behind the persistent veil of secrecy maintained by the Polish political elite with regard to CIA-run prisons located on Polish territory between 2002 and 2004, in the context of the US-led extraordinary rendition program. To do this, the author offers a brief chronological overview of relevant events, before analyzing the factors contributing to the secrecy surrounding Poland’s participation in the CIA “black sites.” This article argues that raison d’état constituted the supreme, and most uncompromising, political justification for the action taken, endorsed by the Polish political elite. Moreover, the paper examines official statements from the Polish authorities and presents conclusions from recent in-depth interviews given by key political decision-makers who were in office at the time the events took place.

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Notes

  1. In the reporting of Polish journalist Bartosz T. Wieliński of Gazeta Wyborcza, 2003 is given as the date of the Americans’ withdrawal from this cooperation. Nevertheless, the difference in dates could be explained by the circumstance that the CIA kept certain detainees in Poland up to 2003, while cooperation in the matter of the prisons came to an end in 2004.

  2. The interviews were conducted from November 2018 to March 2019 on the basis of a list of open questions. (The list was a support and did not denote a fixed number of questions being asked.) The interview with President (in the years 1995–2005) Aleksander Kwaśniewski took place on May 21, 2019; the one with Zbigniew Siemiątkowski, Head of the Foreign Intelligence Agency (AW) 2015–2016 on October 18, 2018, and an additional one with Col. Grzegorz Małecki (Head of the AW in 2014–2015) on December 10, 2018. Furthermore, the author interviewed Józef Pinior MEP (2004–2009), a Member of the Senate of the Republic of Poland (2011–2015) who played a crucial role in public critique regarding Polish decisions on interrogation facilities, on March 1, 2019. The in-depth interview technique allowed for the acquisition of information on the circumstances and political visions conducive to specific stances on issues of national security. Prime Minister (in the years 2001–2004) Leszek Miller refused the invitation to meet.

  3. A few years later, in October 2018, Sikorski published his book Polska może być lepsza. Kulisy polskiej dyplomacji [Poland Could Be Better: Behind the Scenes of Polish Diplomacy]. These memoirs contained information about a villa (“interrogation center”) in Stare Kiejkuty, where persons (“terrorists”) were detained at the behest of the CIA. Sikorski also stated that activities engaged in were criminal offenses. He thus offered an indirect admission that Poland had been engaged in the entire operation, notwithstanding the lack of official confirmation from (other) Polish authorities.

  4. “The Polish government firmly denies the conjectures in the media about the existence of secret prisons within the territory of the Republic of Poland, in which foreigners suspected of terrorism are supposed to be held. In Poland, there are no such prisons and there are no prisoners being held contrary to law and the international conventions to which Poland is a signatory” (CAT/C/POL/Q/4/Rev. 1 2007a: pp. 23–24).

  5. Additional evidence regarding the transfer of prisoners via the airfield in Szymany to the Stare Kiejkuty base was published by the daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita on April 15, 2009, in the article How Government and Service camouflaged flights [Original title: Jak rząd i służby kamuflowali loty]. In the course of the journalistic investigation, further data relating to air traffic were also identified, it being established that the securing of the procedure via Szymany had been a matter for both the Ministry of Defense (Ministerstwo Obrony) and the Border Guard (Straż Graniczna) of the Republic of Poland.

  6. Józef Pinior was a member of the Temporary Committee from January 19, 2006, till February 14, 2007. He was also a witness during the cases concerning Husayn (Abu Zubaydah) and Al Nashiri at the European Court of Human Rights. His affidavit was submitted to the Court.

  7. The name first appeared in the article of John Pomfret from the Washington Post “Polish Agents Rescued 6 U.S. Spies From Iraq to Scotch Lubricated Escape During Gulf War” on January 17, 1995.

  8. Article 246 of the Republic of Poland’s Penal Code (Kodeks karny) provides a legal framework for the prosecution of acts constituting acts of torture that are not war crimes. The provision establishes the penal liability of a public official, or anyone acting under his or her orders, who for the purpose of obtaining specific testimony, explanations, information, or statements, uses force, unlawful threat, or otherwise torments another person either physically or psychologically. Such an act is punishable by imprisonment for a period of one to ten years.

  9. Date of ratification by Poland—September 7, 1994, date of entry into force with respect to Poland—February 1, 1995. Poland signed Protocol No. 1 to the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted in Strasbourg on November 4, 1994, and Protocol No. 2 to the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted in Strasbourg on November 4, 1994. The ratification took place on February 6, 1995, while the date of entry into force with respect to Poland was March 1, 2002.

  10. In spite of the media reports and the investigations of the Council of Europe and European Parliament, the chief institution guarding observation of the Convention on Torture “accepted” the position of the Polish government that there were no secret places of imprisonment in Poland, and there had been no illegal transfer of prisoners. The Committee accepted the Polish declaration at its 38th Session convened in the Palais Wilson in Geneva on May 11, 2007. However, “The Committee expresses its concern at the persistent allegations of the involvement of Poland in extraordinary renditions in the context of the fight against international terrorism. On the other hand, the Committee takes note of the statement made by the Polish Delegation, that Poland has not participated and is not participating in any form whatsoever, in extraordinary renditions of persons suspected of acts of terrorism” (CAT/C/POL/CO/4 2007b: p. 4).

  11. Meeting held on February 28, 2019.

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Correspondence to Aleksandra Gasztold.

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Gasztold, A. A conspiracy of silence: the CIA black sites in Poland. Int Polit 59, 302–319 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41311-021-00300-9

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Keywords

  • “Black sites”
  • Poland
  • Raison d’état
  • Extraordinary rendition
  • Secrecy