By Christian Lowe
PRAGUE (Reuters) - The European Court of Human Rights has rejected a request from the Polish government to exclude the press and public from a hearing next month into whether Poland hosted a secret CIA jail on its soil, the court said on Thursday.
The hearing in Strasbourg, scheduled for December 3, will be the first time an open court has heard the allegations that Warsaw allowed the United States to detain and interrogate al Qaeda suspects in a forest in northern Poland.
The Polish government has denied any CIA jail existed, and has said its communications with the court should be kept secret to protect its national security. Human rights groups accuse Poland of a cover-up.
The court told Reuters last month that Warsaw had requested that the hearing into allegations from two men who say they were illegally detained by the CIA in Poland should take place behind closed doors.
This has now been rejected. "I can confirm that the hearing on 3 December will be a public hearing," a spokeswoman for the court said on Thursday.
The Polish foreign ministry, which oversees relations with the court in Strasbourg, said in a statement sent to Reuters that it noted the court's decision.
It said also that the court, at its own initiative, had scheduled a separate hearing in the case, for December 2, and that this would be held behind closed doors.
The court itself could not immediately be reached for comment on the extra hearing.
The United States acknowledges it held al Qaeda suspects outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. legal system, but has never disclosed the location of the so-called "black sites."
The two men whose case is being examined by the court are Saudi-born Abu Zubaydah, and Saudi national Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. They are now being held in the U.S. military's Guantanamo Bay jail on Cuba.
Their lawyers allege that around the end of 2002 they were flown into a remote airfield in northern Poland on CIA-chartered planes, and then taken to an intelligence training facility in a forest near the village of Stare Kiejkuty.
The lawyers allege they were held there for several months without due legal process and were subjected to interrogation techniques which human rights campaigners say amounted to torture.
Rights groups say the facility was one of a circuit of sites around the world which U.S. intelligence used for "extraordinary rendition," a program to round up people it suspected of being al Qaeda militants.
Poland in 2008 launched a criminal investigation into the allegations about a CIA jail. The government say this investigation is thorough and should be allowed to run its course before the Strasbourg court gets involved.
(Editing by Hugh Lawson)