By Christian Lowe
WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's government has, for a second time in 12 months, declined a request from the European Court of Human Rights to provide information about the alleged existence of secret CIA jails on its soil.
The Strasbourg-based court is trying to find out how closely Poland cooperated with the clandestine part of U.S. operations against Islamist militancy.
Poland is the only country with a domestic criminal investigation running into allegations it hosted a CIA "black site". If it is proven that Polish officials agreed to the jail, that would be a crime under Polish and international law.
Human rights activists accuse the Polish authorities of using the domestic investigation as a smokescreen to disguise their inaction. The Polish case has been running for five years, with no sign any prosecutions are imminent.
The European court had asked Poland to answer questions about Saudi-born Abu Zubaydah, who alleged that, about a decade ago, he was held in a CIA-run facility in a forest in northern Poland and subjected to brutal interrogation.
In its reply to the court, which was seen by Reuters, the government said it could not answer the questions because that might compromise the Polish criminal investigation.
"The government takes the position that at the present stage of domestic proceedings, were they to address in detail all the questions submitted by the court, they could be seen as interfering with the competencies of the prosecution authority and the courts," it said.
It said however that the domestic investigation is being actively pursued, that Zubaydah's lawyer had access to many of the case files and that it would provide the European court with extracts of the files that were not confidential.
The United States has acknowledged that it had facilities around the world where it held al Qaeda suspects. Keeping them on foreign soil meant the detainees were not entitled to the protection afforded under U.S. law.
Polish officials deny hosting any "black sites", though they do say that in 2002 and 2003, aircraft used by the CIA landed, without border or customs controls, at a remote airfield in northern Poland, near the site of the alleged jail.
In September last year, the Polish government declined to answer the court's questions about another alleged CIA detainee, also citing the domestic investigation.
Saudi national Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri has said that he, like Zubaydah, was held at the jail, in the grounds of an intelligence training facility near the village of Stare Kiejkuty.
Both men are now being held at the U.S. military jail at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
(Editing by Louise Ireland)