Poland’s former President Aleksander Kwasniewski acknowledged for the first time on Wednesday that he allowed the CIA to operate a secret interrogation center in Poland, although he denied that he knew prisoners were being tortured there.
A U.S. Senate report that revealed torture by the CIA at sites around the world is an embarrassment for allies that assisted the U.S. spy agency and potentially could have legal consequences for governments and officials involved.
Kwasniewski, a loyal U.S. ally as president from 1995-2005, broke on Wednesday with years of blanket denials by Polish officials to acknowledge that he had agreed to allow U.S. spies to use a secret site to question “people who had expressed willingness to cooperate with the Americans”.
Asked at a news conference in the Polish parliament if he knew what was happening inside, he said: “About what the CIA was doing? No. Inside the site, no.”
The redacted U.S. Senate report released on Tuesday did not name the countries where CIA agents carried out torture, which included sleep deprivation, water boarding, mock executions and other abuse.
But it contained information that, when cross-checked with publicly available sources like flight data, makes clear Poland was one of the sites. The European Court of Human Rights has already ruled that abuses took place in Poland and has ordered the Polish government to compensate a detainee.
Standing alongside Leszek Miller, who was Polish prime minister at the time the secret site was operating, Kwasniewski said Poland had asked the U.S. government to sign a document asserting the people at the facility would be treated in accordance with Polish law and humanitarian norms.
“The memorandum was not signed by the American side,” said Kwasniewski.
Kwasniewski said the decision by the U.S. authorities to allow publication of the Senate report was a breach of trust because Poland had believed details of its partnership with the CIA would remain a secret.
“The report shows that one needs to work with this most important, biggest ally on the basis of limited trust, but trust nonetheless,” he said.
He nevertheless defended the decision to cooperate with the CIA in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, saying his administration had calculated that Washington would return the favor if Poland’s national security was ever threatened.
That was an even more important consideration now, when Russia’s intervention in neighboring Ukraine has left Poland itself feeling vulnerable to attack, he added.
“There is no such thing as a free lunch,” Kwasniewski said, explaining why he agreed to work closely with the CIA.
(Reporting by Wiktor Szary; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Peter Graff)