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Secret CIA prison scandal will affect Polish relations with Europe and America

Agnieszka Bienczyk-Missala [Lecturer, Institute of International Relations, University of Warsaw]: "In August 2008 the Public Prosecutor's Office in Poland started an investigation on the existence of secret CIA detention facilities in Poland. It happened three years after the revealing information published by the Washington Post and Human Rights Watch. So far, all consecutive Polish governments have neglected the issue, denying the CIA operated a secret prison in Poland.

Yet it is highly probable that the state investigation will confirm Poland hosted illegal CIA prisons. The crucial step will gathering evidence of practicing torture. According to the Polish Penal Code, legal proceedings should be launched against decision makers and perpetrators. Any person who commits this kind of act shall be subject to imprisonment of from one to ten years. In cases of crimes against prisoners of war the term of imprisonment could be as much as twenty five years. As alleged offenders will likely be CIA officers and other American citizens, it will be extremely difficult to bring the legal proceedings to an end, as the American government will probably not be willing to cooperate. In addition, it is worth mentioning, that all victims of unlawful detention, torture and ill-treatment in Poland can claim compensation before Polish courts and have a right to submit a complaint against Poland to the European Court on Human Rights in Strasbourg.

At the beginning of scandal three years ago, representatives of the European Union and the Council of Europe turned attention to serious consequences, which may happen in cases of evidence of torture and detention of terrorism suspects in secret locations in Poland and Romania. According to Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, the member state, which seriously violates principles of democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law can be suspended from certain rights, including voting rights. Similar procedures are envisaged by the statutes of the Council of Europe. Any member of the Coun­cil of Europe which has seriously vio­lated the princi­ples of the rule of law and of the enjoyment by all persons within its jurisdic­tion of human rights may be suspended from its rights of repre­sentation and even re­quested to withdraw.

Launching the above procedures seems rather unlikely. It would be necessary to interpret whether administering secret prisons and practicing torture by foreign secret service personnel constitutes a serious breach of the afore mentioned principles. The Council of Europe has never taken the decision of suspending a state that systematically practices torture, like Russia or Turkey. Moreover, the international reports suggested that 14 European countries had cooperated with the CIA program and some European leaders, like Javier Solana, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, were aware of CIA rendition flights. Political reasons will play a decisive role, and Poland and Romania are unlikely to suffer serious consequences on the international level. At the same time the present Polish government will be able to use the issue of secret detention facilities in political fights with opposition parties who can be held responsible for cooperation in the rendition program.

The whole issue has a very negative impact on the image of Poland in Europe. It will also influence, to some extent, Polish-American relations. Most Poles are very critical about the existence of CIA prisons in Poland and they become more and more critical of US policy. For years Polish society has been the most pro-American group in the European Union, but this attitude is changing. Now Poles pay greater attention to the behavior of their government toward Washington and the government cannot disregard the state of public opinion."

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.
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