By VANESSA GERA and MONIKA SCISLOWSKA
2011-01-20 10:23 PM
The case is being closely watched by human rights groups because Poland is the only country known to be investigating the secret CIA operation that spirited terrorism suspects across the globe and subjected them to harsh interrogation methods after Sept. 11, 2001.
Polish prosecutor Robert Majewski said Thursday that suspect Abu Zubaydah, an alleged facilitator for al-Qaida, has received so-called "victim status" in the criminal investigation into the CIA prison in Poland. That gives his lawyers access to proceedings, allowing them to review evidence and call witnesses.
Majewski said victim status does not necessarily mean that the investigation will conclude that the suspect was abused in Poland.
"Until there is a court verdict, these are only allegations," he said. "It may come out in the course of the investigation that he is not a victim. The investigation will show whether these facts took place indeed."
But Zubaydah's lawyers argue that he would not be granted victim status without credible evidence that he was held and abused in Poland.
Bartlomiej Jankowski, Zubaydah's Polish lawyer, urged the United States to cooperate with Polish investigators by allowing Zubaydah to testify in the case, either in person in Poland or from the Guantanamo Bay U.S. military prison in Cuba.
"It is impossible to speak about justice in this case without hearing the victims as witnesses, whether directly in Poland or at least by video conference," Jankowski said.
Last week, Lithuanian prosecutors closed a criminal investigation into a secret CIA detention center in that small northern European country, citing a lack of evidence, a move strongly criticized by human rights groups Amnesty International and Reprieve.
The Polish criminal investigation is looking at whether Polish political leaders in power at the time illegally allowed the CIA prison to operate. The probe was launched more than two years ago and it is not clear when it will end.
The Polish president and prime minister in office when the site operated have vehemently denied its existence. But former CIA officials have told The Associated Press that the prison operated from December 2002 until the fall of 2003, and that prisoners were subjected to harsh questioning and waterboarding there. Zubaydah is believed to have been one of about eight suspects held in Poland.
Former U.S. President George W. Bush writes in his memoir "Decision Points" that he ordered the CIA to subject Zubaydah and about 100 other terror detainees to the harsh interrogation techniques, arguing that the methods did not constitute unlawful torture and that they produced intelligence that prevented further attacks.
Zubaydah now becomes the second terrorism suspect to be given "victim status" in the Polish investigation. It was granted last year to Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national accused in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole warship.
Gera reported from Berlin.