By Christian Lowe
WARSAW (Reuters) - Lawyers for a man who says the CIA held him in a secret prison in a Polish forest asked the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Monday to rule on his case because they say a criminal investigation run by Poland is going nowhere.
The decision by lawyers for Saudi-born Abu Zubaydah to go to the court in Strasbourg raises fresh questions about how serious Poland is about investigating allegations that the CIA, as part of a global operation to detain suspected al Qaeda militants a decade ago, used facilities on Polish territory.
Poland is the only country in the world known to have opened a criminal investigation into the alleged CIA jails, but it is now in its fifth year and there is no sign that anyone is close to being put on trial.
"Polish authorities ... have failed to conduct a thorough, effective and timely criminal investigation," said a letter that lawyers for Abu Zubaydah, now held in the U.S. military jail at Guantanamo Bay, said they had faxed to the ECHR on Monday.
"In 2008, a criminal investigation was opened, but it was limited in scope, shrouded in secrecy, and it has made little or no progress in practice," said the letter. "It has become apparent to the applicant that there is no meaningful prospect of a remedy being available to him in Poland."
The letter notified the ECHR that Abu Zubaydah's lawyers would be filing a formal application for a hearing. They want the court to rule on whether Polish officials violated his human rights by helping U.S. intelligence agents to detain him.
The ECHR has already taken up the case of another Saudi man who says he was held in a CIA-run jail in Poland - Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
If the Polish criminal investigation founders, human rights campaigners say it will greatly reduce the chances that the full picture about the methods used by the CIA in the U.S. "war on terror" will ever emerge.
Polish officials deny that the CIA operated jails on Polish soil. They say they want a full and fair investigation, and that there is no political pressure on the prosecutors.
The prosecutors say they are doing their best to investigate the allegations, but that it is a slow process, not helped by the fact that U.S. authorities have not responded to requests for information.
However, lawyers for Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri say they suspect the investigation is being deliberately stalled because a trial would be politically embarrassing for the Polish state, and its allies in the United States.
According to documents filed by their lawyers, Abu Zubaydah, al-Nashiri and several other people believed by the CIA to be militants were flown in secret to a remote Polish airport.
They were then allegedly held, without a hearing before a judge or access to a lawyer, at a Polish intelligence academy at Stare Kiejkuty, a thickly forested area about 180 km (110 miles) north of the Polish capital. Their lawyers and rights activists say they were subjected to treatment that amounted to torture.
If Polish officials knew about the CIA operation, or provided support to it, that could be deemed a crime under Polish law and international human rights conventions.
U.S. officials have acknowledged that the CIA held al Qaeda suspects outside the United States, but have never publicly disclosed where or in what circumstances.
The U.S. government says Abu Zubaydah ran a camp in Afghanistan that trained some of those who carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities. It accuses al-Nashiri of directing an attack on the U.S. warship Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden in 2000 that killed 17 sailors.
(Editing by Kevin Liffey)