WARSAW — Ten years ago this month, Al Qaeda terrorists drove an explosives-laden boat into the USS Cole, a Navy destroyer, as it was refueling in Yemen. The attack killed 17 American sailors, but the man suspected of engineering it still has not been brought to trial.
Polish prosecutors are looking at him as a victim as they investigate a now-shuttered secret CIA prison that operated in Poland where he was subjected to harsh interrogation techniques, according to former US intelligence officials and publicly available documents.
The chief prosecutor in the case, Jerzy Mierzewski, said yesterday that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri has received the status of victim, a move that allows the detainee’s lawyers to participate in the larger investigation by reviewing evidence and calling witnesses.
Just as significantly, legal specialists said the move shows that Polish investigators recognize the validity of Nashiri’s claims, a boost to his cause that comes as US courts have refused to allow cases involving rendition to move forward for national security reasons.
Polish officials in power when the prison was in operation, early in the presidency of George W. Bush, still deny its existence, but Nashiri’s victim status weakens their position — and it raises the prospect that some of them could be charged with abuse of power.
The investigation was launched by the Polish government two years ago in reaction to pressure from the European Union and the Council of Europe, a human rights group. Both organizations have said that evidence points to the complicity of Poland as well as Romania in the clandestine US program, and they have urged both former communist nations to clarify their roles.
According to a motion that Nashiri’s lawyers filed in Poland last month, they are seeking testimony from former CIA directors, including George Tenet, who was in charge of the agency when the Polish site operated, as well as John McLaughlin, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden.
They also want testimony from two former US ambassadors to Poland and from the pilots of the flights that ferried the suspects in and out of Poland.
It is unclear how likely any of those individuals are to testify.
Former US intelligence officials have said the spy agency operated the site, code-named Quartz, in northern Poland from December 2002 to the fall of 2003. Human rights activists and lawyers for Nashiri say their client was tortured in Poland and was denied a fair trial for nine years.