ECHR Rules Against Poland in CIA Black Sites Case

by Jens David Ohlin

In two decisions (here and here) handed down this morning, the European Court of Human Rights has found that Poland violated its obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights for its complicity in the United States’ running of a CIA black site and high-value detainees program on Polish territory.

One of the cases involved al-Nashiri, who was prosecuted before a U.S. military commission and the subject of protracted habeas litigation in the DC Circuit. He was accused of orchestrating the attack against the USS Cole in 2000. In federal court his lawyers raised the very interesting issue of whether there existed an armed conflict with al-Qaeda at that time (i.e. before 9/11), and whether a military commission could properly assert jurisdiction over a crime that was allegedly committed before (in their view) the commencement of the armed conflict.

Nashiri was captured in Dubai in 2002, transferred to a CIA prison in Afghanistan (called the “Salt Pit”), then to a CIA facility in Bangkok (called “Cat’s Eye”) where detainee Abu Zubaydah (the subject of the other case) also was held. Both were then transferred to the CIA black site in Poland. After his time in Poland, he was transferred briefly to Morocco on his way to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The decision goes into extensive detail of the CIA interrogation program, including a review of internal CIA documents explaining the interrogation methods that officers were authorized to use against detainees, as well as the unauthorized techniques that were sometimes used. The court concluded that (para. 417):

Assessing all the above facts and evidence as a whole, the Court finds it established beyond reasonable doubt that:

(1)  on 5 December 2002 the applicant, together with Mr Abu Zubaydah, arrived in Szymany on board the CIA rendition aircraft N63MU;

(2)  from 5 December 2002 to 6 June 2003 the applicant was detained in the CIA detention facility in Poland identified as having the codename “Quartz” and located in Stare Kiejkuty;

(3)  during his detention in Poland under the HVD Programme he was interrogated by the CIA and subjected to EITs and also to unauthorised interrogation techniques as described in the 2004 CIA Report, 2009 DOJ Report and the 2007 ICRC Report;

4)  on 6 June 2003 the applicant was transferred by the CIA from Poland on the CIA rendition aircraft N379P.

The ECHR then concludes that Poland was aware of (and complicit) in the CIA activities:

442.  Taking into consideration all the material in its possession (see paragraphs 418-439 above), the Court finds that there is abundant and coherent circumstantial evidence, which leads inevitably to the following conclusions:

(a)  that Poland knew of the nature and purposes of the CIA’s activities on its territory at the material time and that, by enabling the CIA to use its airspace and the airport, by its complicity in disguising the movements of rendition aircraft and by its provision of logistics and services, including the special security arrangements, the special procedure for landings, the transportation of the CIA teams with detainees on land, and the securing of the Stare Kiejkuty base for the CIA’s secret detention, Poland cooperated in the preparation and execution of the CIA rendition, secret detention and interrogation operations on its territory;

(b)  that, given that knowledge and the emerging widespread public information about ill-treatment and abuse of detained terrorist suspects in the custody of the US authorities, Poland ought to have known that, by enabling the CIA to detain such persons on its territory, it was exposing them to a serious risk of treatment contrary to the Convention (see also ElMasri, cited above, §§ 217-221).

443.  Consequently, Poland was in a position where its responsibility for securing “to everyone within [its] jurisdiction the rights and freedoms defined …. in [the] Convention” set forth in Article 1 was engaged in respect of the applicant at the material time.

The Court holds that Poland violated Article 3 of the Convention for its failure to adequately investigate the mistreatment, and for failing to ensure that “individuals within its jurisdiction were not subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including ill-treatment administered by private individuals .”  Again, here is the Court’s holding (para. 517):

Notwithstanding the above 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 aboveon the basis of their own knowledge of the CIA activities deriving from Poland’s complicity in the HVD 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.

Accordingly, the Polish State, on account of its “acquiescence and connivance” in the HVD Programme must be regarded as responsible for the violation of the applicant’s rights under Article 3 of the Convention committed on its territory (see paragraph 452 above and El-Masri, cited above, §§ 206 and 211).

The Court also found a violation of the article 5 prohibition against arbitrary detention (para. 532), the article 8 prohibition against interference with family life for holding him incommunicado (para. 540), the article 13 requirement of an effective domestic remedy (para. 551), and the article 6 prohibition against an unfair trial (para. 569).

The last holding on article 6 required the Court to conclude that the petitioner’s trial before a U.S. military commission would be unfair — which is a substantial legal determination. Unfortunately, the Court’s analysis on this point is incredibly thin, and relies mostly on the U.S. Supreme Court’s determination in Hamdan that the creation of the tribunals was procedurally defective and violated Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, without much independent analysis. There is no discussion of post-Hamdan military commission reforms.

Finally, the Court concludes that Poland violated its Protocol 6 (abolition of the death penalty) obligations because of the risk that the petitioner would be subject to capital punishment before a U.S. military commission (para. 579).

http://opiniojuris.org/2014/07/24/echr-rules-poland-cia-black-sites-case/

3 Responses

  1. more important background for future criminal prosecutions of those who were complicit in the admitted Bush “program” of secret detention (i.e., forced disappearance) and harsh interrogation tactics (i.e., torture, cruel treatment, inhuman treatment, etc.).

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. […] Al-Nashiri case and here for the Husayn case, here for a commentary by Amnesty International, and here for a discussion by Ohlin on Opinio […]

  2. […] that the applicant’s trial before U.S. military commission would be unfair, is viewed by some as a substantial legal determination, despite the Court’s thin reasoning.  Others have […]