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European Court to hear new CIA jail case against Poland

An aerial view shows a watch tower of an airport in Szymany, close to Szczytno in northeastern Poland, September 9, 2008. REUTERS/Kacper Pem
An aerial view shows a watch tower of an airport in Szymany, close to Szczytno in northeastern Poland, September 9, 2008. REUTERS/Kacper Pem

By Christian Lowe

WARSAW (Reuters) - The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has agreed to consider a second case against Poland over allegations it allowed the CIA to run a secret jail on its soil, intensifying pressure on Warsaw to reveal how closely it was involved in the U.S. "war on terror".

The Strasbourg-based court will consider an application from Saudi-born Abu Zubaydah, who alleges that he was held illegally about a decade ago in a CIA-run facility on the grounds of an intelligence training academy in a Polish forest.

His case will be considered alongside one brought earlier by Saudi national Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who says he was held in the same place as part of a CIA program of "extraordinary rendition" to detain and interrogate suspected al Qaeda operatives.

According to applications submitted to court by lawyers for the two men, they were flown by private jet to a remote Polish airfield and then driven to the facility near a village called Stare Kiejkuty. While there, they say they were subjected to interrogation techniques - including water-boarding - that human rights activists say amount to torture.

Polish officials deny hosting a CIA jail. Poland's foreign ministry said it had received details of the case from the ECHR.

"Poland is obliged to reply to the complaint by the deadline of September 16 this year. The case is currently being analyzed by the legal services of the ministry," it said in a statement.

The twin court cases are awkward for Poland's government: it is caught between a desire to be seen as a model of human rights and respect for the law on the one hand, and its close security relationship with the United States on the other.

GUANTANAMO INMATES

The United States has acknowledged that, as part of its "war on terror" it had facilities around the world where it held al Qaeda suspects. Putting them on foreign soil meant the detainees were not entitled to the protections afforded under U.S. law.

Washington has never disclosed the location of any of the prisons, and President Barack Obama signed an order ending their use after taking office in 2009. Both Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri are now being held in the U.S. military jail at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Warsaw has so far declined to answer questions from the court about the allegations made by al-Nashiri, citing national security concerns and worries about interfering with a separate criminal investigation inside Poland.

"As a member of the Council of Europe, Poland is obliged to cooperate with the Court," said Helen Duffy, senior counsel for Abu Zubaydah on behalf of Interights, a human rights group.

"It needs to begin to engage with the detailed allegations against it and to account for its central role in the rendition program," she said.

Abu Zubaydah's application against Poland was on Monday listed by the ECHR as having been "communicated", which means that on a preliminary examination the court believed there was a case to answer.

The court usually takes several years between receiving an application and communicating it, but it acted more swiftly in the two cases against Poland: 14 months for al-Nashiri and six months for Abu Zubaydah's application.

Some people with expertise in the court's workings say this could mean a ruling will be made as early as this year.

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.

Prosecutors in Poland have been conducting a criminal investigation into allegations that Polish officials knew there was a CIA jail. It has been running now for five years, with no sign any prosecutions are imminent.

(Additional reporting by Dagmara Leszkowicz; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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