McClatchy ran a story yesterday on attempts in Poland to bring former government officials to trial. These attempts relate to allowing interrogation of terror suspects to take place on Polish soil.
The CIA used a location 100 miles to the north of Warsaw (now shut down) to interrogate al-Qaeda suspects. In doing so, Polish prosecutors are attempting to prove that their government allowed violations of international and Polish law. It is the only prosecution related to the CIA’s ‘black sites’.
Those interrogated in Poland include Abu Zubaydah, Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri and possibly Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. All are current residents of Guantanamo Bay – KSM and al-Nashiri integral to 9/11 and USS Cole 2000 attacks respectively. Abu Zubaydah’s role is shrouded in mystery, some arguing that he was a senior member of al-Qaeda, others that he a ‘travel agent’ who directed and arranged the travel of aspiring jihadis from safehouses to Afghan training camps.
Those given victim status in the case are Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri (KSM cannot be attributed victim status as he is representing himself at Guantanamo, and it has not been proven he was in Poland). It is claimed that the US kidnapped Zubaydah and al-Nashiri and brought them to Poland illegally. Once there, Nashiri was threatened with a mock execution by power drill and handgun. Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded. The prosecution then claims that the detainees were moved on to other detention centres without going through proper extradition procedures.
Successful prosecutions of officials relating to these ‘black sites’ would be a significant moment. The treatment of Abu Zubaydah, KSM and al-Nashiri is not pleasant to read about. Perhaps, in hindsight, they went too far. However, it is worth spending some time thinking of the strategic situation in 2002. Al-Qaeda had just slaughtered thousands. Their top operatives were on the run. Another attack was expected at virtually any moment. Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri were extremely high value intelligence targets that it was believed could not only stop another attack, but also help bring down the entire network. Indeed, the intelligence gained from them – as well as KSM – was extremely valuable and almost certainly did stop future attacks (although whether gaining the key information was via traditional or ‘enhanced’ interrogation remains disputed).
In Europe, this is not a popular argument. In French, German, Belgian and London suburbs, Europe’s soft touch approach to radical Islam had helped foster the threat, especially prior to 9/11. Now that we – although primarily the US – has done much to curb al-Qaeda’s threat, Europeans look down on America’s interrogation techniques, comfortable in its moral superiority. How easy it is to pass judgement once America had done the dirty work that no-one else had the stomach for.