Wednesday, April 29, 2009

New evidence of a secret torture prison

New evidence of a secret torture prison


      It has long been clear that the CIA used the

      Szymany military airbase in Poland for

      extraordinary renditions. Now there is new

      evidence of a secret torture prison nearby.


By John Goetz and Britta Sandberg


Salon,com - April 28, 2009


This article originally appeared in Der Spiegel, April 27, 2009,1518,621450,00.html.


Only a smattering of clouds dotted the sky over Szymany

on March 7, 2003, and visibility was good. A light

breeze blew from the southeast as a plane approached

the small military airfield in northeastern Poland, and

the temperature outside was 2 degrees Celsius (36

degrees Fahrenheit). At around 4 p.m., the Gulfstream

N379P -- known among investigators as the "torture

taxi" -- touched down on the landing strip.


On board was the most important prisoner the U.S. had

been able to produce in the war on terror: Khalid

Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks on

New York and Washington, also known as "the brains"

behind al-Qaida. This was the man who had presented

Osama bin Laden with plans to attack the U.S. with

commercial jets. He personally selected the pilots and

supervised preparations for the attacks. Eighteen

months later, on March 1, 2003, Sheikh Mohammed was

captured in Rawalpindi, Pakistan by U.S. Special Forces

and brought to Afghanistan two days later. Now the CIA

was flying him to a remote area in Poland's Masuria

region. The prisoner slept during the flight from Kabul

to Szymany, for the first time in days, as he later recounted:


"My eyes were covered with a cloth tied around my head.

A cloth bag was then pulled over my head ... I fell

asleep ... I therefore don't know how long the journey lasted."


Jerry M., age 56 at the time, probably sat at the

controls of the plane chartered by the CIA. The trained

airplane and helicopter pilot had been hired by Aero

Contractors, a company that transferred prisoners

around the world for U.S. intelligence agencies.

According to documents from the European aviation

safety agency Eurocontrol, Jerry M. had taken off from

Kabul at 8:51 a.m. that morning. Only hours after

landing in Poland, at 7:16 p.m., he took off again,

headed for Washington.


A large number of Polish and American intelligence

operatives have since gone on record that the CIA

maintained a prison in northeastern Poland. Independent

of these sources, Polish government officials from the

Justice and Defense Ministry have also reported that

the Americans had a secret base near Szymany airport.

And so began on March 7, 2003, one of the darkest

chapters of recent American -- and European -- history.


Obama under pressure


It was apparently here, just under an hour's drive from

Szymany airport, that Sheikh Mohammed was tortured

exactly 183 times with waterboarding -- an

interrogation technique that simulates the sensation of

drowning -- in March 2003 alone. That averages out to

eight times a day. And all of this happened right here

in Europe.


Over six years later, these acts of torture are putting

President Obama under intense pressure. On the one

hand, he released four memos in which his predecessor

George W. Bush had legalized such interrogation

methods. On the other hand, he decided not to prosecute

the torturers. And he initially neglected to launch

investigations into these "special interrogation methods."


It is the decision that has earned Obama the harshest

criticism during the first 100 days of his presidency.

Democrats from the Senate and the House of

Representatives announced last week that they would

form a truth commission, essentially putting them at

odds with their own president. Obama quickly realized

that he had apparently underestimated the volatile

nature of the issue. So he had Attorney General Eric

Holder announce that no one stood above the law. Holder

promised that an investigation would be conducted to

find out who in the White House and the Justice

Department had declared these methods legal.


What the CIA did back then to prisoners in the Polish

military airbase of Stare Kiejkuty, north of Szymany,

had been authorized by the president. According to

witnesses, Stare Kiejkuty housed a secret CIA prison

for "high value detainees" -- for the most prominent

prisoners of the war on terror.


There is now no doubt that the Gulfstream N379P landed

at least five times at Szymany between February and

July 2003. Flight routes were manipulated and falsified

for this purpose and, with the knowledge of the Polish

government, the European aviation safety agency

Eurocontrol was deliberately deceived.


The public prosecutor's office in Warsaw has the

statement of a witness who described how people wearing

handcuffs and blindfolds were led from the aircraft at

Szymany. He said that this happened far away from the

control tower. According to the witness, it was always

the same individuals and the same civilian vehicles

that stood waiting on the landing field.


If we are to believe the statements of Sheikh Mohammed,

a large number of those present at the small airfield

wore ski masks. This is what he told a delegation from

the International Committee of the Red Cross that

questioned him in the U.S. military prison at

Guantánamo, Cuba, in late 2006:


"On arrival the transfer from the airport to the next

place of detention took about one hour. I was

transported sitting on the floor of a vehicle. I could

see at one point that there was snow on the ground.

Everybody was wearing black, with masks and army boots,

like Planet-X people."


Just under an hour's drive corresponds roughly to the

distance from Szymany to the Stare Kiejkuty military

base, known as a training camp for Polish intelligence

agents. The route there passes for two kilometers

through a fenced-off military zone, past dense pine

forests, then heads northeast for 20 minutes, and

finally leads over an unpaved road alongside a lake.

The entrance to the base is at the end of this road.


"I was never threatened with death"


Sheikh Mohammed said that they cut the clothes from his

body, photographed him naked and threw him in a 10-

by-13-foot cell with wooden walls. That was when the

hardest phase of the interrogating began, he claims.

According to Sheikh Mohammed, one of his interrogators

told him that they had received the green light from

Washington to give him a "hard time":


"They never used the word 'torture' and never referred

to 'physical pressure,' only to 'a hard time.' I was

never threatened with death; in fact I was told that

they would not allow me to die, but that I would be

brought to the 'verge of death and back again.'"


He says he was questioned roughly eight hours a day. He

spent the first month naked and standing, with his

hands chained to the ceiling of the cell, even at

night. They led them into another room for questioning,

he says. That's where the bed stood that he says he was

strapped to for waterboarding. The mastermind behind

the 9/11 attacks told members of the Red Cross that he

eventually realized where he was being held:


"I think the country was Poland. I think this because

on one occasion a water bottle was brought to me

without the label removed. It had an e-mail address

ending in '.pl'. The central-heating system was an old-

style one that I would expect only to see in countries

of the former communist system."


Thereafter, the al-Qaida operative described how he was

strapped to a special bed and submitted to waterboarding:


"Cold water from a bottle that had been kept in the

fridge was then poured onto the cloth by one of the

guards so that I could not breathe. This obviously

could only be done for one or two minutes at a time.

The cloth was then removed and the bed put into a

vertical position. The whole process was then repeated

during about an hour. Injuries to my ankles and wrists

also occurred during the waterboarding as I struggled

in the panic of not being able to breathe."


Part 2: Investigations across Europe


For more than a year now, Warsaw public prosecutor

Robert Majewski has been investigating former Polish

Prime Minister Leszek Miller's government on

allegations of abuse of office. At issue is whether

sovereignty over Polish territory was relinquished, and

whether former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski

and his left-leaning Social Democratic government gave

the CIA free reign over sections of the Stare Kiejkuty

military base for the agency's extraterritorial torture interrogations.


Majewski has questioned a large number of witnesses who

worked in the former government, and this year his team

even plans to fly to Guantánamo. "No European country

is so sincerely and vigorously investigating former

members of the government as is currently the case in

Poland," says Wolfgang Kaleck from the European Center

for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin, which

supports the investigations.


The public prosecutor's office has also launched a

probe to determine whether the Polish intelligence

agency made 20 of its agents available to the CIA, as

was recently reported by the conservative Polish daily

newspaper Rzeczpospolita. A former CIA official

confirmed this information. There was reportedly a

document issued by the intelligence agency that

mentioned both the 20 Polish agents and the transfer of

the military base to the Americans. Two members of a

parliamentary investigative committee in Warsaw had an

opportunity to view this document in late 2005, but it

has since disappeared.


The missing piece of evidence


Journalist Mariusz Kowalewski at Rzeczpospolita and two

colleagues have been searching for months now for proof

of the existence of a secret CIA base in Poland. The

journalists have discovered flight record books from

Szymany that had been declared lost, and based on

refueling receipts and currency exchange rates, they

have reconstructed flights and routes, and spoken with

informants. Over the past few weeks, their newspaper

and the television network TVP Info have revealed new

details on an almost daily basis.


Kowalewski has collected a wide range of documents on

his white Apple laptop. He is convinced, though, that

he only knows "a fraction of what actually happened."

He is certain that there was a CIA base in the Masuria

region, where high-ranking al-Qaida prisoners were

brought. All that is missing is the final piece of

evidence. There are rumors circulating that one of the

most important interrogators of Sheikh Mohammed, an

American named Deuce Martinez -- the man who didn't

torture him, but rather had the task of gently coaxing

information out of him -- was in Poland at the time.

That is the proof that's still missing.


Similar conclusions were reached by the second

investigative report on CIA kidnappings in Europe,

which was submitted two years ago by the special

investigator of the Council of Europe, Dick Marty.

According to Marty's report, members of the former

Polish military intelligence and counterintelligence

agency, WSI, were given positions with the border

police, customs and airport administration to safeguard

the activities of the CIA. "The latest revelations in

Poland fully corroborate my evidence, which is based on

testimony by insiders and documents that have been

leaked to me," says the investigator today. Now, under

the "dynamic force of the truth" that Obama has

unleashed, Marty says that Europeans must finally

reveal "which governments tolerated and supported the

illegal practices of the CIA."


All that remains is the question of who in Poland at

the time approved the collaboration with the CIA and

gave the Americans unencumbered use of sections of Stare Kiejkuty.


"The order to give the CIA everything they needed came

from the very top, from the president," a member of the

Polish military intelligence agency told the Marty team

in 2007. Kwasniewski denies this. He says that there

was close intelligence corporation with the U.S., but

no prisons on Polish soil. When asked to comment on the

reports, former Prime Minister Miller said: "All of

this is just another opportunity for me to say that I

have nothing to say."


It's very possible that the debate on torture and

responsibility which is currently being conducted in

the U.S. will soon also reach Europe. After all,

Germany granted the U.S. flyover rights and dropped its

bid to extradite 13 CIA operatives in the case of

Khalid el-Masri, a German citizen who claims he was

abducted by the Americans. The Italian intelligence

agency allegedly assisted the CIA with the kidnapping

in Milan of the Islamic cleric Abu Omar. Britain's

intelligence agency, MI6, reportedly delivered

information directly to CIA agents who were conducting

interrogations in Morocco. And there are also reports

of a secret prison in Romania. Investigations have been

launched into these allegations in nearly all of these countries.


Jerry M., the pilot who flew Sheikh Mohammed from Kabul

to Szymany in March, 2003, now lives in Birmingham,

Ala., in a brick house with white shutters and box

trees planted in front of the door. Two stone lions

guard the path that leads to the entrance. For two

years, Jerry M. only had a post box address, like

everyone else who flew CIA prisoners around the world:

P.O. Box 22 99 43, code name Jerry Allen Bostick.


It appears the 62-year-old would rather deny all

knowledge of this period in his life. When asked by a

reporter over the phone if he had ever been to Poland,

he said, "I have no idea what you're talking about.

Really no idea." When he was asked if he had ever

worked for a company named Aero Contractors, the line

suddenly went dead. Jerry M. had hung up.


Translated from the German by Paul Cohen




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