(CN) - Poland violated the EU's human rights laws when it allowed the CIA to torture two men at secret black sites within its borders, a unanimous European Court of Human Rights held Thursday.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is currently being held at Guantanamo on capital charges for the 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors. Abu Zubaydah - who the George W. Bush administration had once accused of helping plan the Sept. 11 attacks - has never been charged with anything, but also remains detained at Guantanamo.
Both men say they were taken to Poland on the same plane in 2002 after being captured by U.S. forces, Nashiri in Dubai and Zubaydah in Pakistan. CIA documents from 2004 show that both men were subjected to waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques" while at the black site near Szymany, Poland.
The Polish government made tepid and secret inquiries into the secret detention sites in 2005, only telling the press that nothing "untoward" had been uncovered. But the extent of Poland's knowledge of CIA activities became clear when Nashiri filed a complaint in Warsaw over his treatment while at the black site.
And in a scathing pair of opinions Thursday, the Strasbourg-based court rattled off numerous human rights groups - and the European Parliament and Council - that have publicly documented the treatment of terror detainees going as far back as 2003. The court also noted that former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski admitted in an interview with Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza that "everything took place with my knowledge," and that EU lawmakers had publicly censured Poland for helping the CIA.
"During 2002 and 2003 credible information emerged that the United States had committed and was continuing to commit gross human rights violations, including enforced disappearances by means of arbitrary, incommunicado and secret detention outside U.S. territory as well as secret detainee transfers, in respect of individuals whom the U.S. authorities suspected of involvement in or having knowledge of international terrorism," the court wrote. "Thus, by June 2003 any state would have known that the United States was engaging in the use of the death penalty; the secret detention of individuals it suspected of involvement in or having information about international terrorism; the holding of individuals incommunicado or virtually incommunicado in indefinite military detention without charge or trial; and preparations to subject individuals to an unfair trial by military commission, at Guantanamo, or elsewhere, without access to civilian courts, including in respect of individuals facing capital charges."
In addition to Poland's "responsibility for securing to everyone within its jurisdiction the rights and freedoms defined in the Convention for Human Rights," its government also bears responsibility for dragging its feet in Nashiri's and Zubaydah's bids for justice, the court said.
"The instant case, apart from raising an issue as to an effective investigation of alleged ill treatment contrary to the convention, also points out in this context to a more general problem of democratic oversight of intelligence services," the court wrote. "The protection of human rights guaranteed by the convention requires not only an effective investigation of alleged human rights abuses but also appropriate safeguards - both in law and in practice - against intelligence services violating convention rights, notably in the pursuit of their covert operations. The circumstances of the instant case may raise concerns as to whether the Polish legal order fulfils this requirement."
For Nashiri, the court ordered Poland to pay $135,000 for damages, and urged the government to demand diplomatic assurances from the United States that it won't seek the death penalty in the man's upcoming military-commissions trial.
The human rights court also awarded
Zubaydah $135,000 in damages, plus another $40,000 for costs and expenses related to litigating his case.
Romania and Lithuania may be next in the Strasbourg court's sights, with similar cases pending against them for allegedly allowing CIA black sites within their borders. Other EU states - including Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Macedonia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom - have been implicated in so-called CIA renditions programs as well.
Benjamin Ward, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, called the court's decision a victory against counterterrorism abuses perpetrated by the United States and its allies since the Sept. 11 attacks.
"The European court has said loud and clear that Poland shares responsibility for CIA counterterrorism abuses on its territory," Ward said. "It's a reminder that Poland and other European governments haven't properly investigated their involvement in CIA torture, rendition, and secret detention."
Ward also criticized the agonizingly slow process of bringing Gitmo detainees, including Nashiri and Zubaydah, to justice.
"The vast majority of the victims of U.S. and European counterterrorism abuse are still waiting for justice," Ward said. "It's high time for accountability on both sides of the Atlantic."