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Abu Zubaydah v. Poland: Historic ECtHR judgement condemns Poland for its role in the extraordinary rendition, torture and secret detention of Guantanamo detainee


In a unanimous and unequivocal judgment, the European Court of Human Rights has condemned Poland for its illegal complicity in the 'black site' torture of Abu Zubaydah.

The ECtHR found it established 'beyond reasonable doubt' that Poland hosted a CIA secret prison from late 2002 to late 2003, where Abu Zubaydah was detained and tortured for months. The Court found that Poland gave the CIA freedom to operate its illegal prison and enabled the torture of prisoners on its territory, even though it was fully aware of the risk that the CIA would torture the prisoners and detain them beyond the law.

In December 2013, the Court took the unsual step of holding evidence-gathering hearings, during which it heard extensive expert testimony on the secret prison and Poland's active role in its creation and operation. The Court's judgment assesses carefully what it describes as the 'abundant and coherent' evidence - available from official U.S. documents, independent reports and other sources, supplemented by the evidence given to the Court itself - on secret detention and Polish complicity. The Court found that the evidence conclusively established Polish responsibility for the torture and illegal detention of Abu Zubaydah on its soil.

There was no doubt in the Court's view that after his officially documented torture in Thailand, Abu Zubaydah was transferred, along with Mr al Nashiri, to Poland in 2002. It found it 'inconceivable' that while in Poland Abu Zubaydah was not subject to the standard CIA treatment meted out to high value detainees. It was also considered 'inconceivable' in light of the evidence, that rendition aircraft landed in Poland and that the CIA occupied the secret detention site without the prior agreement of the Polish authorities.

The Court also strongly rebuked Poland for its continuing failure to conduct a meaningful investigation and its persistent, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to cover-up the truth. This violated the right of victims, and of the general public, to know the truth. It is clear from the judgment that Poland must now comply with its obligations to carry out a genuine investigation that leads to true accountability. In this respect the judgment is relevant to the many other states that were involved in varying ways in the web of criminality that has been so robustly condemned by the European Court today.

The Court also criticized Poland for its failure to cooperate with the Court.

For the applicant, the judgment is the first time that his rendition and torture have been acknowledged by a court of law. Abu Zubaydah has been held in arbitrary detention since 2002. There have been no charges, no meaningful opportunity to challenge in US courts, and until today no recognition that he is the victim of egregious rights violations.

Human Rights In Practice is part of the international team of human rights lawyers representing Mr. Zubaydah. Helen Duffy, who is Abu Zubaydah's co-counsel in proceedings before the European Court, said 'This judgment is a powerful condemnation of Polish complicity, cover-up and collusion. It makes clear that the secret detention and torture of Abu Zubaydah was an affront to the rule of law. The affront continues so long as he remains in arbitrary detention without charge, and no-one has been held to account. It falls to Poland, and the many other states involved, to give this judgment real effect by ensuring this can never happen again.'

Joseph Margulies, an American lawyer who has represented Zubaydah since 2008, welcomed the decision. "It's always gratifying when a court speaks truth to power. The question now is whether Poland will listen. The rule of law demands more than words on a page. It demands justice."

Bartek Jankowski, Zubaydah's Polish counsel, said, 'with today's judgment, Poland must end the charades and commit to a real investigation. Unless Poland is simply insincere about its commitment to the rule of law, it must complete its investigation and bring charges against anyone who was complicit in these violations.

The judgment is Husayn (Abu Zubaydah v. Poland), and can be accessed at: __ backgrounder on the case is attached to this press release. Zubaydah's lawyers can be reached at the numbers and emails listed below:

Helen Duffy (Europe; interviews in English or Spanish);

+31 (0) 624283283

Joseph Margulies (United States)

Visiting Professor of Law and Government, Cornell University



Bartek Jankowski (Poland; interviews in English or Polish)

Bartek Jankowski,,

+48 602 302808