A new report by The Washington Post digs deep into one of the CIA's most important "black sites," a two-story villa in a Polish forest where alleged terrorists were detained and tortured in the years after September 11. The Post interviewed former officials who described how the secret prison facility was found and the types of things that went on there, including a mock execution, water-boarding and other extreme interrogation techniques that ultimately led to the firing of two top CIA officials.
The CIA purchased the prison, code-named "Quartz," from the Polish intelligence service for $15 million in early 2003, after using the facility to question alleged al-Qaeda operatives for weeks. It was selected after prisons in Thailand and Cambodia proved to be unusable. The Cambodian site was full of snakes, and the Thai location was "just a chicken coop we remodeled," according to one former official.
By 2002, the CIA had captured and detained Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, also known as Abu Zubaida, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, both suspected of close ties with al-Qaeda leadership. Not wanting to bring them back to the U.S. (and its pesky civil rights laws) the CIA reached out to foreign ministries, hoping that one would come through with a site that could accommodate more detainees, and was pleased to hear back from Poland.
The CIA sent senior intelligence officer Mike Sealy to oversee operations at Quartz, where harsh interrogation techniques soon became problematic. According to the Post's sources, officials did not agree on whether Nashiri played a key role in the September 11th attack, and ended up severely bungling the interrogation. Per the Washington Post:
A decision was made to dispatch a CIA linguist who had once worked for the FBI in New York. Albert El Gamil was of Egyptian descent and spoke Arabic fluently, but he was not a trained interrogator. Gamil flew to Poland, where he subjected Nashiri to a mock execution and put a drill to the head of the blindfolded man, according to several former CIA officials. The CIA inspector general also reported on those events. Top CIA officials learned about the incidents in January 2003 after a security guard at the facility sounded the alarm. Sealy and Gamil were pulled out of Poland and dismissed from the program, according to several former agency officials. They left the CIA a little later.
Quartz was also the site of interrogation for Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who is often identified as the "mastermind" of the 9/11 attack and is currently being held in the Guantanamo Bay prison. According to officials, Mohammed was subjected to waterboarding frequently — which he initially resisted — and eventually provided useful information to the CIA:
An agency official said that one time, Mohammed fell asleep on the waterboard between sessions. But agency officials have said that he finally crumbled after extended sleep deprivation. CIA officials assert that while in Poland, Mohammed, who has a sizable ego, began talking. He liked to lecture the CIA officers, who would then steer the conversations in ways that benefited them. He also liked to joust with his inquisitors. Once a female officer, who was later killed in Afghanistan, questioned Mohammed in Poland. She told him that she knew everything about him and that he shouldn’t lie to her, two CIA former officials said.
The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee has taken issue with claims that torture techniques work, and intends to make public portions of a 6,000-page report on the government interrogation program. (Spoiler alert: they don't like it).
Polish lawyers are already investigating the prison, and said it will look into the Post's article. Poland did not acknowledge the black site's existence until March of 2012, and has been dragging its feet on the investigation. According to Reuters, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski called the article's contents "speculation." The intelligence officials who sold the site to the U.S. could be charged if they are found to have been complicit in torture or illegal detention.
The CIA cleared out of the site in 2003, and later paid $20 million for a prison in Morocco that they never used. Detainees were shipped from black sites to Guantanamo by 2006 and President Obama officially ended the interrogation program in 2009 but, as evidenced by continuing emerging reports, ramifications of the torture are far from over.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.