Lawyers for two men subject to extraordinary rendition by the CIA told the European court of human rights (ECHR) on Tuesday that Poland, which permitted a secret “black” site to operate on its territory, should be held responsible for their torture.
The two-day hearing at Strasbourg was the first time a European country has been taken to court for allowing US agencies to carry out “enhanced” interrogation and “waterboarding” programmes. In a highly unusual legal move, the media and public were barred from the opening day’s session.
The military base at Stare Kiejkuty, north of Warsaw, it was revealed, had previously been used by German intelligence and later the Soviet army during the second world war. One of the men, it was alleged, was subjected to mock executions while hooded and otherwise naked.
Abd al-Rahim Hussayn Muhammad al-Nashiri, a Saudi Arabian national of Yemeni descent, and Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, also known as Abu Zubaydah, a stateless Palestinian, maintain they were waterboarded and abused during interrogation in Poland. Both men arebeing held by the US in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
They claim that after being captured by the CIA they were transferred on the same “rendition” plane in December 2002 to a secret detention site in Poland, with the knowledge of the Polish authorities, for the purpose of interrogation and were tortured.
Nashiri maintains he was seized in Dubai in October that year and subsequently moved around secret CIA detention facilities in Afghanistan and Thailand before being taken to Poland. He remained in a secret detention centre until early June 2003, when he was secretly transferred, with the assistance of the Polish authorities, to Morocco and then, in September 2003, to Guantánamo Bay.
He claims he was subjected to the so-called “waterboard technique”, where a detainee is tied to a bench with his feet elevated above his head, a cloth placed over his mouth and nose and water poured on to the cloth producing the sensation of drowning and suffocation.
Nashiri alleges he was also forced into prolonged stress positions – kneeling on the floor and leaning back – and was threatened that his family would be abused if he did not provide information.
Amrit Singh, of the Open Society Justice Initiative who represented Nashiri, said that her client had been repeatedly tortured. “The court heard expert testimony [on Monday] confirming how Polish officials filed false flight plans and assisted in the cover-up of CIA operations,” Singh said. “In a secluded villa, hidden from sight, CIA interrogators subjected him to torture: to mock executions while he stood naked and hooded before them; to painful stress positions that nearly dislocated his arms from his shoulders; and to threats of bringing in his mother to sexually abuse her in front of him.” He now faces the death penalty before a US military commission, she added.
Husayn alleges that, having been captured in Pakistan in March 2002 and subsequently transferred to a secret CIA detention facility in Thailand, he was brought to Poland in early December 2002 where he was held in a secret CIA detention facility until September 2003.
According to his submissions, Husayn was waterboarded, placed in a box and exposed to extreme noise.
Communication with his lawyers is restricted, making it impossible to pass on information or evidence directly from him to the ECHR. The presentation of his case is principally based on publicly available sources.
Romania and Lithuania also have cases pending at the ECHR for hosting secret CIA prisons.