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11.03.2005

Secret CIA Prisons in Poland?

Yesterday's Washington Post ran an enigmatic article about secret, extralegal CIA prisons, including the tantalizing mention of prisons in "eastern european democracies". Washington Post reporter Dana Priest knows the specific countries in question, but the paper is refusing to divulge the names at the request of the American government, which claims that this would compromise security.

Reading this over, I thought that the only reason that could make the Washington Post so jumpy would be if one or more of those countries were in the EU, and today's press confirms my worst suspicions, alleging that the countries in question are Poland and Romania.

The Polish press has some more details. Apparently the organization Human Rights Watch has heen monitoring flights of a Boeing 737 presumed to be owned by the CIA (tail number N313P). The plane is unmarked, but tends to show up in some interesting places. According to the Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's main daily: "The plane had allegedly landed on September 22, 2003 in the small airport at Szymana, near Szczytno, after a flight from Kabul. This private plane belonging to an American transport company has been showing up over the past couple of years in media reports on secret CIA operations all around the world. Two months ago, Czech media reported that on September 21, 2003, a day before the flight to Poland, the Boeing had flown out of Prague to Uzbekistan, where, experts claim, prisoners are being held in American military bases. The US government does not confirm that the CIA uses this Boeing and a second, smaller aircraft to transport prisoners. But the flight records reported in the media indicate that the Boeing was in Macedonia in 2004 on the same day that a suspected al-Qaeda member was arrested there. He later ended up in a jail in Afghanistan, which is where that mysterious plane from Macedonia flew the very same day" The article goes on to quote representatives from Poland's various secret services, who vigorously deny the possibility that CIA prisoners are being held on Polish territory. Intriguingly, it seems the Czechs had recently turned down an American request to house Guantanamo prisoners. The Czech interior minister, František Bublan, is quoted as saying that in an interview for the Czech aktualne.cz, but will not go into details, except to say that the Czechs refused the request, and it was presumably honored elsewhere. If it is confirmed that American secret prisons are operating or have operated in Poland, it will lead to a major confrontation with the European Union. I would hope it would also lead to more pressure from the American side to find out what exactly we are doing holding prisoners in indefinite detention outside the legal system. There's an almost absurdist irony to the situation. The reason Poland and other countries in Eastern Europe are so unabashedly pro-American is that for fifty years, America stood for the antithesis of this kind of behavior. Poles knew full well about secret prisons, torture, incarceration without trial, and secret services that operate outside the law, and they looked to the United States as a society that stood against this kind of arbitrary exercise of state power. Fifteen years later, we have television shots of Polish and American generals standing side by side in in fraternal solidarity in Iraq, and now perhaps hosting a special little Polish branch of an American secret prison system. There's a déjà vu to this that I hope other Poles will find as upsetting as I do. And I get to feel the shame from both directions, since my adopted country is colluding with my native one to break the laws of both.

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