WARSAW, Poland (AP) — After years of denials, two former Polish leaders acknowledged Wednesday they had allowed a secret CIA prison to operate on their territory but insisted they never authorized the harsh treatment or torture of its inmates.
Former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, 60, and former Prime Minister Leszek Miller, 68, spoke to journalists in Warsaw after a U.S. Senate report condemning CIA practices at secret prisons was released Tuesday in Washington. The report did not identify the host countries.
"The U.S. side asked the Polish side to find a quiet site where it could conduct activity that would allow to effectively obtain information from persons who had declared a readiness to cooperate with the U.S. side," Kwasniewski said. "We gave our consent to that." He said Poland demanded that people who would be held in the country should be treated humanely as prisoners of war, according to their rights.
Despite the repeated Polish denials, The Associated Press had published stories on the prison in the northeastern town of Stare Kiejkuty, citing former CIA officials who said it operated from December 2002 until the autumn of 2003. Human rights groups believe about eight terror suspects were held in Poland, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Kwasniewski was in power from 1995 to 2005, but like Miller and other left-wing government leaders of the time, he denied the site's existence until now.
In an effort to justify the sudden acknowledgment, Kwasniewski said later in a TV interview that he had been previously bound to keep state secrets.
Kwasniewski also said the prison, which he referred to as a "site," was part of "deepened" intelligence cooperation with the U.S. in the fight against terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks, and he insisted he had no knowledge of what took place inside it. He said he only learned that detainees had been tortured there from leaks to the press starting in 2006.
Kwasniewski said this form of cooperation was halted in late 2003 after he pressured former U.S. President George W. Bush to close the prison amid concerns that Poland had no control of it and that its secrecy could be divulged.
Kwasniewski and Miller both criticized the publication of the U.S. report, saying it hurt the interests of the United States, and of its allies at a dangerous time for international security. They said it also could undermine confidence in America.
"If a key U.S. agency was deceiving its own president ... the allies will be asking: How can we trust our U.S. partners?" Kwasniewski said. "With this publication the Americans lose their potential as an ally."
He said the report exposed America's weakness, especially in the eyes of Russia.
The report, which is heavily redacted, does not mention Poland by name. However, one section clearly refers to Poland, due to references to detainees and the dates they were held in Poland, facts known from earlier investigations by the AP, human rights organizations and the European Court of Human Rights.
According to the report, there were "multiple, ongoing difficulties" between the U.S. and Poland over the program. Four months after the detention site began holding detainees, Poland rejected further transfers. That decision, however, was reversed after the U.S. ambassador intervened with the country's leadership and the CIA provided a large sum of money to Poland.
After the money transfer, officials 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," the report says.
Kwasniewski insisted the report was wrong in linking the CIA site to the money, which, he said, was an unrelated funding for the intelligence services. He said the U.S. report contains misunderstandings and mistakes.
In 2008, Poland's center-right government ordered a probe into the reports. Government officials say the U.S. report could provide new evidence for the probe, which is still ongoing. However, human rights activists believe the government has not shown a real interest in bringing the full story to light and have accused officials of dragging out the investigation.