Former Polish Leaders Defend Million-Dollar Pay-Off Over CIA Torture Facility

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski
U.S. President George W. Bush (R) welcomes Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski to the Oval Office in the White House October 12, 2005. Larry Downing/REUTERS

Aleksander Kwasniewski, Polish president between 1995-2005, has come under fire today after admitting for the first time that he allowed the CIA to run a secret interrogation site in Poland. However, he continues to deny knowledge of what went on in the facility.

He made the announcements following the publication of the Senate report about the CIA's torture programmes on Tuesday, in which it detailed how a country, widely believed to be Poland, had become "flexible with regard to the number of CIA detainees" at a facility after the CIA had paid millions of dollars.

Kwasniewski and Leszek Miller, who had been prime minister alongside him, said in a press conference on Wednesday that: "The U.S. side asked the Polish side to find a quiet site where it could conduct activity that would allow it to effectively obtain information from persons who had declared readiness to cooperate with the U.S. side. We gave our consent to that," Kwasniewski said.

The 'black site' was in the restricted military area Stare Kiejkuty in Poland's Mazury lakes. It's thought that eight detainees were held at the facility at some point between 2002 to 2003, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was thought to be one of the chief architects behind the 9/11 attacks and who is now imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay.

Kwasniewski has long denied his knowledge of the existence of the site or what went on there. He has maintained this denial despite mounting evidence to the contrary, including evidence given in December 2013 to the European Court of Human Rights about 'secret CIA prisons' in Poland. Indeed in July 2014 the court found that Poland had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by allowing the CIA to imprison and torture two suspected terrorists in the country, ordering the government to pay each man €100,000 in damages.

Annabelle Chapman, Newsweek's correspondent in Poland doesn't believe that Kwasniewski will face prosecution - there's been an ongoing investigation into Poland's involvement with the CIA since 2008 - but says that "the report has brought up a lot of unpleasant things for Poland".

"For ordinary Poles and the media here, the idea that Poland received these 'millions' from the CIA to make them more 'flexible' is really hard," she explains. "Poland thinks of itself as being very democratic and they feel as if Kwasniewski sold the country almost.

The current president, Bronisław Komorowski has spoken out about the events of 11 years ago, pointing out that for Kwasniewski and Miller to say they didn't know anything is simply not credible. He went on to say that even if they didn't know what was happening, it shows a huge level of incompetence for these leaders to not have been aware of what was happening in thier own country.

At the press conference Kwasniewski defended his decision, arguing that if Poland was ever in need of help he thought that the American government would return the favour. "There is no such thing as a free lunch," he declared.

He also highlighted the fact that he'd asked the U.S. government to sign a document which asserted that the CIA would treat the people in the facility in accordance with Polish law and humanitarian norms, but concluded that: "The memorandum was not signed by the American side."

U.S. President Barack Obama and the current Polish prime minister Ewa Kopacz are reported to have spoken on the phone the night before the report was released. A statement released by the Polish prime minister's office said that the leaders had "expressed hope that the publication of this report will not have a negative effect on Polish-U.S. relations". However, defense minister Tomasz Siemoniak said that publication of the report will undermine the trust that its allies have in the U.S.