Polish Outrage to Paying Victims of CIA Black Sites—and What the Eur Court Said

Poland will be paying a quarter of a million dollars to two Guantánamo detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. The payment arises in the context of the torture of the terror suspects at a CIA “black site” operating on Polish territory.

Last July, the European Court of Human Rights handed down its much-awaited judgments in the cases of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri v. Poland and Husayn (Abu Zubaydah) v. Poland in relation to Poland’s involvement in the CIA rendition, detention and interrogation program. The Court ruled that Poland violated the substantive and procedural aspects of the detainees’ right to be free from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 3, European Convention on Human Rights). The Court also found violations of, among other rights, Articles 5 (liberty and security), 8 (private and family life), and 13 (effective remedy) of the ECHR.

The Court ordered the Polish government to pay €130,000 to Zubaydah and €100,000 to al-Nashiri, within three months from when the judgments become final. Poland appealed the ruling, but the request was rejected by a Grand Chamber panel on February 16, making last weekend the deadline for the payments. The Polish Foreign Ministry said on Friday that it was processing the payments, AP’s Vanessa Gera reported.

The ruling, which predated the publication of the redacted version of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA program, brought important judicial scrutiny to the agency’s post-9/11 practices, including the controversial role played by U.S. allies. The Senate report has since provided some further details about Poland’s involvement, although the country is not identified by name.

The AP report notes the frustration of those in Poland who view the ruling as unjustifiably punishing the country for CIA actions. An opposition Polish lawmaker has recorded his discontent, stating that the terror suspects remained in the sole custody of U.S. officials throughout their detention. Former Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski has similarly been quoted by the LA Times’ Carol Williams as saying: 

“We might have to pay compensation even though our personnel did nothing wrong. You can imagine how Polish people feel about it … We just wish that intelligence matters were kept confidential.”

But the Court took a different, more robust view and found significant responsibility on part of the Polish government. The Court held (my emphasis added):

“517. … Notwithstanding the [Article 3] Convention obligation, Poland, for all practical purposes, facilitated the whole process, created the conditions for it to happen and made no attempt to prevent it from occurring. As the Court has already held above, on the basis of their own knowledge of the CIA activities deriving from Poland’s complicity in the [High-Value Detainees Program] Programme and from publicly accessible information on treatment applied in the context of the “war on terror” to terrorist suspects in US custody the authorities – even if they did not witness or participate in the specific acts of ill-treatment and abuse endured by the applicant – must have been aware of the serious risk of treatment contrary to Article 3 occurring on Polish territory.”

While some in Poland are expressing their exasperation with the Court’s ruling, the issue of compensation has sparked equal outrage among some in the United States who do not believe that suspects of terrorist attacks should receive payments, as noted by the AP.

The controversy over compensation comes just as the U.S. faces renewed calls from some European and other countries to compensate victims of CIA torture. At the UN Human Rights Council last week, the Universal Periodic Review report on the United States documented other UN member states’ objections to U.S. practices. Denmark, for instance, calls on the U.S. to:

“Further ensure that all victims of torture and ill-treatment — whether still in US custody or not — obtain redress and have an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation and as full rehabilitation as possible, including medical and psychological assistance.”

Similarly, Germany recommends that the U.S. should:

“Engage further in the common fight for the prohibition of torture, ensuring accountability and victims’ compensation and enable the Special Rapporteur on torture to visit every part of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and to conduct unmonitored interviews.”

Meanwhile, in Europe, more judgments are pending on this subject, including two involving the same detainees (see: Abu Zubaydah v. Lithuania and Al Nashiri v. Romania). While accountability within the U.S. still seems like a pipe dream, the European Court of Human Right’s more robust approach perhaps offers the only means of securing reparation for human rights abuses committed as part of the “war on terror.” The Court’s approach may also help to educate European citizens on the nature of complicity in grave human rights abuses. By calling for compensation, the Court has also served to weaken the forms of international cooperation that foster such violations in the first place. 

About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).