After two human rights groups revealed evidence that showed U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) rendition planes landing in Poland in 2003, the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency has admitted for the first time that Poland played a role in the controversial program.
On 22 February, the New York-based Open Society Justice Initiative and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights released flight records showing that airplanes involved in the U.S. government’s CIA extraordinary rendition program had landed on Polish soil at least six times between February and September 2003. Five of the flights had originated in Kabul, Afghanistan, and one in Morocco. The groups had obtained the flight records through a freedom of information act request to the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency. According to the groups’ information, the planes had landed at the Szczytno-Szymany airport, a disused military air base that is located in the northern part of the country.
Until this week, the Polish government had steadfastly denied its involvement in the extraordinary rendition program, though Polish prosecutors have been investigating these allegations since 2008. The Polish constitution prohibits torture, which means that those involved in the so-called “black sites” could face prosecution.
CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano told the New York Times on Monday, “The agency does not discuss publicly where facilities related to its past detention program may, or may not, have been located”. Aleksander Kwaśniewski, who served as president at the time, admitted that Poland cooperated with the CIA but continues to deny any knowledge of a secret prison on Polish soil.
The extraordinary rendition program, begun under President George W. Bush, has been criticised from the start due to accusations of torture. Under the program, those suspected of terrorism or of having links to terrorists were kidnapped and taken to secret locations not on U.S. soil, where the CIA could imprison and interrogate them using any means necessary. Allegedly, the facility in Poland was the largest used, though Romania and Lithuania are also thought to have housed suspects captured by the CIA. The program was shut down by President Obama in January 2009.
See also: Poland: The 51st State?