US CIA paid Poland to ease qualms over secret prison: Senate report

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland threatened to halt the transfer of Al-Qaeda suspects to a secret Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) jail on its soil 11 years ago, but became more "flexible" after the CIA gave it a large sum of money, according to a United States Senate report.

US President Barack Obama discussed the report's forthcoming publication during a telephone call on Monday with Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz, administration officials and the Polish government said.

The heavily redacted report does not mention Poland. But it is clear it refers to the country because details such as the names of three detainees and the dates they were transferred match other documents, including a European Court of Human Rights ruling relating to a CIA-run "black site" in Poland. The details also match interviews with people with knowledge of a Polish investigation into the alleged facility.

The CIA declined to comment on the Senate report, and Polish officials have always denied the CIA ran a jail in Poland.

A Polish government spokesman did not answer calls to her mobile phone seeking comment on the Senate report, or reply to e-mailed questions. A Foreign Ministry spokesman asked for questions in writing, but did not immediately respond when they were sent. A spokesman for Mr Leszek Miller, who was Polish Prime Minister at the time the alleged CIA jail was running, declined to comment.

According to a ruling by the Strasbourg-based European Court, between 2002 and 2003 the CIA operated a facility near the northeast Polish village of Stare Kiejkuty, one of a network of sites around the world where al Qaeda suspects were held and subjected to interrogation techniques human rights groups say amounted to torture.

The report published on Tuesday by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence described how seriously the CIA's rendition programme strained relations with Poland, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member and one of Washington's staunchest European allies.

People close to the Polish authorities at the time say Poland felt an obligation to protect its relationship with Washington, even as it knew hosting the facility was open to legal challenge. "The agreement to host a CIA detention facility in Country created multiple, ongoing difficulties between Country and the CIA," the report said. All mentions of the name of the country were blacked out.

It said the country proposed drawing up a written memorandum of understanding defining the CIA's roles and responsibilities at the facility, but the agency refused.

The host country's government then refused to accept the planned transfer of new detainees, who the report said included Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on US cities. "The decision was reversed only after the US ambassador intervened with the political leadership of Country on the CIA's behalf. The following month, the CIA provided $ million" to the country, the report said, blacking out the amount of money handed over.

The report did not name the ambassador. The US ambassador to Poland at the time was Mr Christopher Hill. A woman who answered the telephone in his office at the University of Denver, where he now works, said he was not reachable until Wednesday afternoon.

After the money changed hands, officials speaking for the country's political leadership indicated the country "was now flexible with regard to the number of CIA detainees at the facility and when the facility would eventually be closed", according to the report.

Years later, officials in the country were "extremely upset" when details of the detention programme began to emerge from US government sources, and were disappointed not to have had more warning before then President George W. Bush publicly acknowledged the programme existed in 2006, it said.

Mr Adam Bodnar, vice-president of the Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, said of the Polish authorities at the time: "They betrayed the Polish Constitution for money, to a great extent, and all the values that are associated with the Polish constitution."

The Polish Constitution states that no one can be subjected to torture, or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.

Mr Bodnar said the diplomatic tensions outlined in the report explain why Mr Obama telephoned the Polish Prime Minister on the eve of the report's publication.

The two leaders "expressed hope that the publication of this report will not have a negative effect on Polish-US relations", according to a statement from the Polish prime minister's office.

Senior US administration officials confirmed the subject of the Senate report came up during Mr Obama's call with Mr Kopacz.

Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Marcin Wojciechowski said on Tuesday he hoped the Senate report would shed new light on allegations there was a CIA jail in Poland, and that it would give new impetus to an investigation into the allegations by Polish prosecutors that has been running since 2008. "The Polish state's intention is to investigate and establish the truth in this case," he said.

The Washington Post newspaper reported in January this year, citing unnamed former CIA officials, that the agency paid US$15 million (S$19.7 million) to Poland for use of the facility, handing over the cash in two cardboard boxes.

At the time of the newspaper's report, Polish officials did not respond directly to questions about whether they had received the cash. The United States has never disclosed which countries hosted the CIA detention centres overseas.

Representatives of the European Court of Human Rights did not respond to calls on Tuesday evening seeking comment about the Senate report.