Speculation about CIA gulags in Poland reaches new heights of absurdity …and I get quoted in the Washington Post!
Imagine my surprise when reading an article in the Post – the newspaper that originally broke the allegations - on reactions to the story in central and Eastern Europe, to see extracts from something I wrote for the radio. Washington Post journalist Jefferson Morley writes:
In Poland, Peter Gentle of Radio Polonia said the Post story came "as a bit of a shock to Poles. Most – maybe all – people I have spoke to just can’t believe a word of it. A Guantanamo Bay type prison in the middle of northern Poland? Don’t be ridiculous. "
Gentle described the evidence to support the claim of a prison in Poland as "dodgy, to say the least," adding that Poles "won’t believe that there are any [secret prisons] in Poland until physical evidence of these camps is uncovered before their very eyes."
The headline on his column evoked incredulity: "CIA Gulags--in Poland?"
Poles’ reaction is indeed one of disbelief, and some feel insulted that, on the back of circumstantial evidence, Poland is being accused of not just hosting secret camps, but of trying to cover up their existence.
But this hasn’t stopped the speculation in the media. Again from the Jefferson Morley article in the Post:
In Turkey, a columnist for the Yeni Safak newspaper said, "human smuggling sponsored by governments is gradually becoming a nightmare for the entire world... Are we going to cover up operations, unlawful acts, and crimes against humanity committed by the CIA or on its behalf in this country?" Ibrahim Karagul predicted the "secret torture centres" in Eastern Europe will be recorded in history as "the United States' Auschwitzs."
The Turkish writer goes on to say that he, ‘has no doubt the largest of these camps is in Poland’.
A ‘United States’ Auschwitz’ in Poland? This is an amazing claim to make, and I really think the guy who wrote that is a fool. Quite apart from the nauseating way that people, these days, over use words associated with the holocaust – and in doing so take away the unique horror of what happened during WWII – does he really think that another Auschwitz in Poland could be kept a secret? Does he know what the original Auschwitz was like?
In search of a smoking gun...
The evidence for a camp in Poland is based on one fact, and lots of ‘unnamed sources’.
A plane, en route from Guantanamo Bay to Afghanistan and back again, touched down in Szymany airstrip, northern Poland. We know this from the flight logs of a 737 Boeing thought to be one of a fleet of planes used by the CIA the purpose of moving around terror suspects.
An eyewitness – the ex-director of the airport - has said that, on September 22, 2003, she saw five men get on the plane, traveling on US passports. She also said, however, that nobody got off the plane, which was on the runway for about an hour.
We also have a TIME magazine article this week claiming that ‘counter intelligence sources’ had conformed the existence of the camps in central and Eastern Europe.
Peter Kornbluh, senior analyst at the National Security Archive, a public-interest documentation center in Washington, told Democracy Now:
I think the bottom line is that the C.I.A. fears that if the names of these countries are published, the people in those countries, Eastern Europeans who have, you know, pushed away from the gulags of the past and are trying to rebuild democracies in the present, will say: ‘Hey, this is not what we want in our countries!’ And this is exactly what happened with the C.I.A. detention center in Thailand. When it was revealed the C.I.A. was running a secret center in the war on terrorism in Thailand, the Thai government said: ‘We want to be able to deny that we have such a detention center here, and you have to shut it down.’ That is what the C.I.A. is truly worried about, is losing its ability to sustain these facilities.
These claims are also backed up by the TIME article I referred to earlier.
Maybe the best bit of evidence comes from the Washington Post itself, which says that it knows which countries are involved, but has agreed with the US government not to reveal them. The media watchdog, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, has complained that this ‘self censorship’ is dangerous for press freedom in the States. "The possibility that illegal, unpopular government actions might be disrupted is not a consequence to be feared, however-it's the whole point of the First Amendment,” it says.
While it is certain that there are secret camps being used around world for keeping al.-Qaeda suspects, the evidence that they are here in Poland is circumstantial, and certainly not good enough to claim that there are modern day equivalents to Auschwitz.
In the meantime, me, the girlfriend and the dog will not be opening the door to dodgy looking Americans who say that they are ‘from Washington’.