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What's Inside The CIA's Polish Prison


Out in the Polish countryside by a lake there's a house surrounded by razor wire. Once, according to Polish prosecutors, used as a secret interrogation site by the CIA. It is now the subject of an official probe, the aim of which is to find out how much the Polish government knew about this covert operation on its own soil, and about the methods used to get confessions and intelligence from suspected al-Qaida members who were kept there. Roy Gutman is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author. He is currently the Istanbul bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers. He went to Poland to find out what this probe could uncover. And he joins me now from Turkey. Hello, And that and thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

ROY GUTMAN: Glad to be here.

WERTHEIMER: So, first of all, could you tell us who is leading the investigation and why now?

GUTMAN: It's the Polish prosecutor's office, the equivalent, I guess, of the attorney general in the U.S. The reason they're doing the probe is they had complaints from lawyers representing two detainees at Guantanamo. And the complaints were that Poland had allowed its territory to be used for interrogations that would be illegal in Poland, and are illegal in Poland - illegal under international law and illegal also under American law that included waterboarding, threats to the life and limb of the detainees and so on. They were held here for months and months on end. They were spirited into the country and then they were removed from the country illegally without extradition. And the question the prosecutor's trying to find out is exactly who authorized it, what was the procedure used for the authorization, why did they suspend Polish law, did they consult anybody?

WERTHEIMER: Did you try to make it out to this villa where the al-Qaida suspects were interrogated?

GUTMAN: I went as close as they would allow me. You can't even drive through the compound where the villa is located, so I went with my interpreter on foot. And she came out full of guards and told me not to take pictures and also demanded my identity card. The compound in which it was located belongs to the Polish Intelligence Service. It's used as their training school. And the villa is just somewhat apart from the school buildings itself. So, I was able to see the buildings of the school. I couldn't actually see the villa.

WERTHEIMER: Now, who do Polish prosecutors say was interrogated there?

GUTMAN: Well, we know as many as six, maybe even as many as 10 so-called high-value detainees were interrogated there. The ones we know about for certain are Abdul Nashiri, the man who was accused of masterminding the plot to blow up the USS Cole, and Abu Zubaydah, who at one point was thought to be a top aide to Osama bin Laden. But after a long period of investigation, I think they determined that he may have played no key role at all. And the third person who was there was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and he really is apparently the mastermind of 9/11. It appears if you put a lot of material together from a lot of different sources that this villa and this tiny town in northern Poland may be the place where he was waterboarded 183 times.

WERTHEIMER: So, you've been writing about this in the American press in the McClatchy papers. Has there been a sort of reaction in this country to the Polish prosecutors trying to put people who helped the CIA on trial?

GUTMAN: The prosecutor has put forth some requests to the U.S. government to provide information about the secret flights into Poland, the operation in the villa. You know, exactly what they did to whom and for how long. And so far as we know, the U.S. government has refused to cooperate and provide any information.

WERTHEIMER: What is different in Poland that this was something that the Polish government thought that it could do at one period and now sees as a big mistake? I mean, what changed?

GUTMAN: Well, Poland, it's really a miracle come true as a country. As one who's covered it in the battle days of the Cold War and then at the time of transition to democracy, I can tell you it's really a changed place. And it just seems like a place that's really come into its own. And rule of law and human rights are right at the heart of the new Polish government and certainly all the assertions of the Polish government and civil society there. So, I think that lawyers felt this was a country that could take a case like this and the judiciary is independent enough in Poland to take it on.

WERTHEIMER: Roy Gutman is the Istanbul bureau chief in the McClatchy newspapers and we reached him in Turkey. Mr. Gutman, thank you very much.

GUTMAN: It's a pleasure. Good to talk to you.


WERTHEIMER: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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