PARIS – Lawyers for the suspected al-Qaida mastermind of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole said Tuesday they have filed a case against Poland at Europe's court of human rights over alleged abuse against him at a CIA-run site in that country about eight years ago.
The Open Society Justice Initiative, a New York-based human rights group, and lawyers for Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri are challenging Poland for "active complicity" in the extraordinary rendition program carried out under then-President George W. Bush.
The case filed with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, seeks in part to press Poland to help block an "imminent risk" that al-Nashiri could face the death penalty.
The 46-year-old Saudi national was held at a secret CIA site in Poland between December 2002 and June 2003, and is now being held at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
U.S. military prosecutors re-filed terrorism and murder charges last month and requested the death penalty against al-Nashiri over the alleged planning and preparation for the attack that killed 17 sailors and injured 41.
The filing alleges that Poland's government violated the European Convention of Human Rights by enabling al-Nashiri's to face torture and helping his transfer, despite risks he faced in U.S. custody: further abuse, "a flagrantly unfair trial" and the death penalty, the group said.
The human rights group said that since 2008 the Polish prosecutor has been investigating the CIA-run "black sites" like a military intelligence base in northeastern Stare Kiejkuty, where al-Nashiri was allegedly held, without any sign about when that investigation will end.
In Warsaw, Polish state prosecutor Robert Majewski told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he was not aware of the suit but that it will have no effect on the investigation that he is leading into whether Poland hosted a CIA secret prison.
The group says U.S. documents have shown that while in Poland U.S. interrogators subjected al-Nashiri to abuse, including mock executions with a power drill while he stood naked and hooded, and threats "to bring in his mother and sexually abuse her in front of him."
Polish prosecutors in March said they wanted the United States to question al-Nashiri and another prisoner at Guantanamo Bay — alleged al-Qaida facilitator Abu Zubaydah — in part to confirm whether the two were actually held in Poland.
In October, the U.S. Justice Department refused to assist Poland in its investigation, citing state interests.
The rights group's lawyers say that Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald, who is responsible for convening the U.S. military commissions, has told al-Nashiri's military lawyers he has until June 30 to make written submissions against the death penalty.,
The filing comes in the wake of the highly publicized death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden during a U.S. military raid in Pakistan on May 1, and a subsequent debate about how much information gleaned from interrogation of al-Qaida suspects in custody may have helped U.S. officials to locate him.
Al-Nashiri once bragged that he outranked suspected Sept. 11, 2001, mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the No. 3 man in al-Qaida. The U.S. case against him is the first to move forward since President Barack Obama ordered military trials to resume at Guantanamo Bay.
The "extraordinary rendition" program involved the beyond-the-law transfer of U.S. terror suspects from country to country by the CIA — a policy that human rights advocates say renditions were the agency's way to outsource torture of prisoners to countries where it is permitted practice.
In a 2007 probe conducted on behalf of the Council of Europe, Swiss politician Dick Marty accused 14 European governments of permitting the CIA to run detention centers or carry out rendition flights between 2002 and 2005.
The case would also be only the second pending over the policy of extraordinary rendition at the European court. Court officials say the only other case involves Khaled el-Masri, a German who was snatched by security forces off a bus in Macedonia in 2003, then carried to a secret prison in Afghanistan. The case against him later revealed he was the wrong person.
Monika Scislowska contributed from Warsaw.