New evidence of a secret torture prison
It has long been clear that the CIA used the
Szymany military airbase in
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
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
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
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
commercial jets. He personally selected the pilots and
supervised preparations for the attacks. Eighteen
months later, on March 1, 2003, Sheikh Mohammed was
and brought to
was flying him to a remote area in
region. The prisoner slept during the flight from
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
According to documents from the European aviation
safety agency Eurocontrol, Jerry M. had taken off from
A large number of Polish and American intelligence
operatives have since gone on record that the CIA
maintained a prison in northeastern
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
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
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
GuantÃ¡namo, 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
"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
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
For more than a year now,
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 GuantÃ¡namo. "No European country
is so sincerely and vigorously investigating former
members of the government as is currently the case in
for Constitutional and Human Rights in
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
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
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
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
torture him, but rather had the task of gently coaxing
information out of him -- was in
That is the proof that's still missing.
Similar conclusions were reached by the second
investigative report on CIA kidnappings in
which was submitted two years ago by the special
investigator of the Council of
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
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
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
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
intelligence agency, MI6, reportedly delivered
information directly to CIA agents who were conducting
of a secret prison in
launched into these allegations in nearly all of these countries.
Jerry M., the pilot who flew Sheikh Mohammed from
to Szymany in March, 2003, now lives in
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
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