WARSAW, Poland — Poland is paying a quarter of a million dollars to two terror suspects allegedly tortured by the CIA in a secret facility in this country — prompting outrage among many here who feel they are being punished for American wrongdoing.
Europe's top human rights court imposed the penalty against Poland, setting a Saturday deadline.
It irks many in Poland that their country is facing legal repercussions for the secret rendition and detention program which the CIA operated under then-President George W. Bush in several countries across the world after the 9/11 attacks.
So far no U.S. officials have been held accountable, but the European Court of Human Rights has shown that it doesn't want to let European powers that helped the program off the hook. The court also ordered Macedonia in 2012 to pay 60,000 euros ($68,000) to a Lebanese-German man who was seized in Macedonia on erroneous suspicion of terrorist ties and subjected to abuse by the CIA.
The Polish Foreign Ministry said Friday that it was processing the payments. However, neither Polish officials nor the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw would give any further details.
Witold Waszczykowski, an opposition lawmaker, says he considers the punishment unfair because the suspects were in the sole custody of American officials during their entire stay in Poland in 2002 and 2003 — and never under Polish authority.
"I think we shouldn't pay, we shouldn't respect this judgment," Waszczykowski said. "This is a case not between us and them — it's between them and the United States government."
The European Court of Human Rights ruled last July that Poland violated the rights of suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri by allowing the CIA to imprison them and by failing to stop the "torture and inhuman or degrading treatment" of the inmates.
It ordered Warsaw to pay 130,000 euros ($147,000) to Zubaydah, a Palestinian, and 100,000 euros ($113,000) to al-Nashiri, a Saudi national charged with orchestrating the attack in 2000 on the USS Cole that killed 17 U.S. sailors.
Poland appealed the ruling but lost in February. Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna said at the time that "we will abide by this ruling because we are a law-abiding country."
Bartlomiej Jankowski, a Polish lawyer representing Abu Zubaydah, said his client wants the money he is awarded to go to an organization that helps women and children displaced or otherwise victimized by war. The exact organization has not been decided on yet because of limits U.S. officials have placed on Zubaydah's communications with his lawyers. In the meantime the money will be kept in a fund, Jankowski said.
A lawyer for al-Nashiri, Amrit Singh, refused to disclose how his money will be used.
Poland apparently received millions of dollars from the United States when it allowed the site to operate in 2002 and 2003, last year's report on the renditions program by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee said in a section that appears to refer to Poland though the country name was redacted.
The ruling by the European Court of Human Rights also required Poland to seek diplomatic guarantees from the United States that the suspects not face the death penalty, a request that Poland sent several weeks ago. That move was largely symbolic given that a foreign government cannot dictate such a matter to the United States. But the court wanted Poland to make a "good faith effort" to pressure its U.S. ally not to impose the death penalty, said Adam Bodnar, a human rights lawyer with the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, who has been a sharp critic of Poland's role in the detention program.
The ruling is also generating anger across the Atlantic. The father of one of the U.S. sailors killed in attack on the USS Cole, Jesse Nieto, says he finds it unjust that a man suspected in the killing of his son Marc and 16 others should receive money.
"This is highly upsetting," Nieto said. "And I think Poland is crazy for paying this."
But Nieto is even more disturbed by the European court pressing the United States not to execute him.
"Why should they dictate what is going to be the ruling of a U.S. court?" Nieto, a 71-year-old retired Marine, said from his home in Newnan, Georgia.
Human rights lawyers for the two suspects take a different view, stressing that neither of the two men has ever been found guilty in a court of law. They say they were subjected to torture, and that their rights continue to be violated as they remain held at Guantanamo without trial.
Al-Nashiri is expected to be tried by a military commission, though it hasn't started yet, and he could face the death penalty.
Abu Zubaydah was subjected repeatedly to waterboarding, death threats, ice baths, sleep deprivation and a vast array of other harsh techniques, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee report. He remains in custody since 2002 with no charges ever being brought against him.
It's a limbo that was predicted in 2002 by CIA terror experts, according to the Senate report. In a 2002 email to CIA headquarters, the CIA's interrogators said they wanted assurances that Zubaydah would never be allowed to publicly describe what they were doing to him, recommending that he should "remain incommunicado for the remainder of his life."
"This secret rendition program was generated by the CIA, but it could not have taken place without the active collaboration of states like Poland," said Singh, a lawyer with the Open Society Justice Initiative who represented al-Nashiri before the European court. "Had states like Poland said no to this, torture would not have happened."