20 January 2011

Polish Prosecutor officially recognises Guantánamo prisoner Abu Zubaydah as a victim in Poland’s CIA secret prison investigation


Abu Zubaydah

Guantánamo prisoner Abu Zubaydah has been granted all-important ‘victim’ status in the pending criminal investigation into a CIA black site in Poland, following a complaint brought by Polish lawyer Bartlomiej Jankowski working with INTERIGHTS, Reprieve and Joe Margulies.

The Polish Prosecutor is the first state official to accept Abu Zubaydah’s claims that he was a victim of extraordinary rendition and secret detention in Poland. Until now both the Polish and US governments have repeatedly denied that he was illegally imprisoned and tortured in a secret prison near Szymany; the Prosecutor’s office has now accepted that Abu Zubaydah’s claims are not only credible but also extremely serious.

Poland’s decision is a crucial step towards uncovering the truth about the CIA’s rendition and torture programme in Europe. Victim status allows Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers to participate fully in the criminal investigation, which includes introducing further evidence, calling witnesses and taking part in the questioning of witnesses and suspects.Abu Zubaydah himself will be able to testify against his US torturers and their allies.

The Polish Prosecutor’s leadership stands in contrast with the Lithuanian Prosecutor General’s bizarre decision, announced this week, to close his investigation into the CIA black site in Lithuania in which Abu Zubaydah was also held and tortured. Like many other European states, Lithuania was instrumental in the operation of the CIA’s illegal rendition and torture programme, and has urgent legal obligations to provide robust and transparent investigations in order to uncover the facts.

Today’s decision follows weeks of urgent litigation by Abu Zubaydah’s international legal team. On 16 December 2010, Bartlomiej Jankowski filed applications with the Polish Prosecutor’s office showing his client was transferred from Thailand to Poland by the CIA on 5 December 2002, and held there for nine or ten months. The applications included extensive evidence of the roles played by CIA agents and Polish officials in the CIA programme in Poland, the rendition flights that transported Abu Zubaydah into and out of Poland, the private companies involved in those flights, and the operation of the CIA’s secret prison site at Stare Kiejkuty, near Szymany.

Joseph Margulies, a law professor at Northwestern University in Chicago and US counsel for Abu Zubaydah said: "To recognize Abu Zubaydah as a victim is to accept his humanity, which is the first essential step to recovering from the hysteria of 9/11. It is not surprising, that this step should be taken by the Poles before the Americans."

Bartlomiej Jankowski, Polish cousel for Abu Zubaydah said: "Following the arrangements made with Mr Jerzy Mierzewski, the prosecutor in charge of the investigation, who personally informed me that Abu Zubaydah is recognized as a victim, I will now be able to review at least some of the unclassified documents in the investigation file. We also expect to be given access to the classified documents. Secrecy should not be used to shield gross human rights abuses from disclosure to the Polish public. The Polish criminal investigation should also receive full cooperation from the US government, which should promptly comply with Poland's legal aid request. It is impossible to speak about justice in this case without hearing the victims as witnesses, whether directly in Poland or at least by video conference."

INTERIGHTS Litigation Director Helen Duffy said: "The Prosecutor’s decision is a welcome first step, but the Polish government must do much more to vindicate Abu Zubaydah’s rights. As a recognised victim, he should now be entitled to take part in the investigation and to uncover information concerning his abuse. It remains to be seen whether the cloak of ‘state secrecy’ currently surrounding the investigation will be lifted and the Polish authorities will show their commitment to justice. Justice cannot be secret."

Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith said: “We cannot expect to learn from history, and avoid repeating our mistakes, if we do not know what that history was. So it is vital that European complicity in the CIA renditions programme is brought into the light, and the prosecutor’s decision is an important step towards that goal. This investigation is not about the persecution of individual officials, but rather about establishing a clear picture of exactly what happened in order to ensure that it does not happen again. It is crucial that those who created the programme and gave the orders are not permitted to pretend it never happened.”

For more information please contact Sarah Harrington at INTERIGHTS sharrington@interights.org +44 (0)20 7843 0472, or Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office, Katherine.Oshea@reprieve.org.uk +44(0)20 7427 1099.

Background on Abu Zubaydah

Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, more commonly known as Abu Zubaydah, is a stateless Palestinian born in Saudi Arabia. He was held in secret detention by the CIA of the United States of America from the time of his abduction from a house in Faisalbad, Pakistan on 28 March 2002 until approximately 6 September 2006, when it was announced that he was transferred to the custody of the U.S. Department of Defence ('DOD') at Guantánamo Bay. He remains in indefinite detention in DOD custody at Guantánamo Bay. However he has never been charged with any crime, neither in proceedings before a military commission nor in a civilian court.

Abu Zubaydah was the first so-called 'high value detainee' to be captured, detained and interrogated by the CIA. For the purpose of his interrogation, the CIA devised a set of 'enhanced interrogation techniques' intended to create a state of learned helplessness through the application of severe physical and psychological stress. According to former CIA Director George Tenet, once Abu Zubaydah was in custody, the CIA 'got into holding and interrogating high-value detainees . . . in a serious way.' He is one of three detainees subjected to the waterboard, and US government documents show that he was waterboarded at least 83 times in one month.

Throughout the period of Abu Zubaydah’s secret detention, interrogation and torture by the CIA he was falsely alleged to be a member of al Qaeda and a close associate and senior lieutenant of Osama bin Laden. He was also falsely alleged to have had a role in various al Qaeda terrorist acts – including the attacks on 11 September 2001. After more than six years of incommunicado detention, Abu Zubaydah obtained access to U.S. lawyers, who challenged his detention in U.S. courts and forced the U.S. Department of Justice to withdraw all such allegations. The United States no longer alleges Abu Zubaydah was ever a member of al Qaeda or that he supported al Qaeda's radical ideology. The United States no longer alleges that Abu Zubaydah was an associate of Osama bin Laden or that he was his senior lieutenant. The United States no longer alleges that Abu Zubaydah had any role in any terrorist attack planned or perpetrated by al Qaeda, including the attacks of 11 September 2001.

Background on INTERIGHTS and Reprieve

INTERIGHTS, the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights, promotes and protects human rights through the use of law. We do so by providing legal expertise to lawyers, judges, human rights defenders and other partners concerning international and comparative human rights law.

INTERIGHTS focuses on strategic litigation — bringing or supporting cases in critical areas where human rights standards can be developed and where existing standards are under threat.

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve has represented, and continues to represent, a large number of prisoners who have been rendered and abused around the world, and is conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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