Published December 16, 2010
WARSAW, Poland – Lawyers for a terrorism suspect at Guantanamo asked Polish authorities Thursday to open an investigation into allegations that American agents abused him at a now-shuttered secret CIA prison in Poland.
Abu Zubaydah's lawyers said they want to shed light on secret renditions and abuse by the CIA, a defunct system which remains clouded in secrecy. Options for bringing such cases to U.S. courts have been closed off in recent years, and Zubaydah's lawyers see Poland as perhaps the only country worldwide that might be willing to investigate the matter.
"Since 9/11, the United States has become a dark and angry place and if the rule of law is going to be vindicated, it has to start here," Joseph Margulies, an American lawyer for Zubaydah, said in Warsaw.
He said that secret sites operated across the world, but only Poland has a full-fledged investigation under way that appears intent on seeking the truth.
"If the opportunity is going to be seized anywhere in the world, it's going to be seized here," Margulies said.
Zubaydah's legal team filed two separate motions with prosecutors in Warsaw.
One asks for prosecutors to broaden an investigation into whether the Polish leaders in power at the time abused their power by allowing the secret CIA prison to operate in their country. They ask investigators to consider Zubaydah a victim in the probe, Polish lawyer Bartlomiej Jankowski said.
Another terror suspect, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, received such victim status recently in the Polish investigation, a move that allows his lawyers to participate in the larger investigation by reviewing evidence and calling witnesses. It was not clear when prosecutors would decide on the motions in Zubaydah's case.
The CIA operated the prison from December 2002 until the fall of 2003, where prisoners were subjected to harsh questioning and waterboarding, former CIA officials have told The Associated Press.
Human rights groups say they believe that probably eight terror suspects were held there based upon flight logs from CIA planes in and out of an airport near the site in Stare Kiejkuty. Admitted Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is also believed to have once been there, but not all the other names are known.
A second request asks for a separate investigation into allegations Zubaydah suffered torture and other human rights violations in Poland, Jankowski said.
The current investigation into possible abuse of power is classified as secret by the Polish state and none of the conclusions so far have been revealed. Jankowski said that the legal team hopes the separate investigation would allow the public to receive more information about what is discovered.
"If the Bush administration basically introduced a decade of torture, then the Obama administration is threatening to introduce a decade of impunity — and that's what this action is about countering," said Steve Kostas, a lawyer for Interights, a human rights group supporting the case for Zubaydah.
Zubaydah's lawyers say they believe he was brought to a secret site in Poland in December 2002 and kept there up to 10 months. The AP has reported that Zubaydah was first taken to Thailand, where he was waterboarded. After the time in Poland, he was flown to Guantanamo in September 2003. He was then transported in March 2004 to Morocco and then sent to another black site before President George W. Bush announced in September 2006 he was being held at Guantanamo.
Margulies said that Zubaydah was subjected to all the harsh interrogation techniques approved by the Bush administration for terror suspects in the secret rendition system.
"Abu Zubaydah is the first — in fact, he has been described as the guinea pig — for the enhanced interrogation program," Margulies said. "All of the techniques were applied to him. In fact, no one else endured all the techniques."
Lawyers says that Zubaydah is a stateless Palestinian born in Saudi Arabia. The Bush administration first believed he was a lieutenant to Osama bin Laden and the No. 3 leader in al-Qaida, Margulies said.
However, the U.S. government has since stopped describing him in those terms and now says he acted more as a "travel agent" or "a low-level records clerk" for the terrorist group. No charges have been brought against Zubaydah to date.
Bush writes in his new book "Decision Points" that he ordered the CIA to subject Zubaydah and about 100 other terror detainees to the harsh interrogation techniques. He argues that the methods did not constitute unlawful torture and that they produced intelligence that prevented further attacks.
Associated Press writer Adam Goldman in Washington contributed to this report.