JULY 31, 2014
Lessons From Poland's Past
WARSAW -- On July 24, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, unanimously found Poland in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights for consenting to the presence of C.I.A. prisons on its territory in 2002 and 2003. Included among the prisoners held there was Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, considered the main architect of the attack on the World Trade Center; during his time in Poland, he was subjected to waterboarding about 180 times.
The case was brought by Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian, and Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, a Saudi, who claim that in 2002-3, with the consent of the Polish authorities, they were held and tortured in one of the prisons (both men are now being held at Guantanamo Bay). The court awarded them each $135,000 in damages, as well as an additional $40,000 to Abu Zubaydah for legal costs.
The decision underscores the words of Foreign Minster Radoslaw Sikorski, who was illegally recorded in a Warsaw restaurant denouncing the Polish-American alliance. Poland acted like "suckers, complete suckers," he said.
Indeed, it is significant that C.I.A. prisons existed in Poland, and not on the soil of one of America's closer and more valued allies, like Britain. The Americans preferred to outsource these shameful crimes to their servile allies, who would agree in the hope of reaping the potential benefits of good relations with the United States. Tellingly, the pertinent agreement between Polish and American intelligence services bears only one signature -- a Polish one. The Americans would probably never sign anything that contravenes their Constitution or international law. They do not have to, because the agreement will be maintained regardless.
Naturally, the Polish authorities, both from that period (former President Aleksander Kwasniewski and former Prime Minister Leszek Miller) and today (Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Mr. Sikorski) have distanced themselves from the decision, and are planning an appeal.
By and large, the Polish political class is behind them. In fact, aligned against them is a single senator, Jozef Pinior, a former member of the European Parliament, who sat on the parliamentary committee investigating C.I.A. prisons. There are few heroes in this sordid story of geopolitical bullying and moral surrender, but Mr. Pinior is one of them.
Born in 1955, Mr. Pinior is a legendary figure from the democratic opposition of the 1970s and '80s. Together with Wladyslaw Frasyniuk, he was one of the main organizers of the opposition Solidarity movement in the city of Wroclaw. The two made a striking pair: Mr. Pinior -- small, hunched over, bespectacled, screechy-voiced -- was the exact opposite of Mr. Frasyniuk, who is burly, always ready with a fighting face and a sharp word, and still intimidates political authorities. Mr. Pinior, the soft intellectual; Mr. Frasyniuk, the bearded worker.
At the end of 1981, members of the Solidarity movement began to sense that the authorities were preparing to crack down on dissent. Ten days before the introduction of martial law on Dec. 13, Mr. Pinior, at Mr. Frasyniuk's command, withdrew 80 million zloty (worth about $1 million at the time) from Solidarity's bank accounts before the Communist authorities could seize the funds, carrying the cash out in several suitcases. The bank director, a Solidarity sympathizer, looked the other way, even though he was obligated to inform the secret police, and subsequently lost his job.
Mr. Pinior hid the money with Archbishop Henryk Gulbinowicz, who concealed the cash in his private apartments in the Bishop's Palace and, despite being interrogated, did not give it to the secret police. This successful mission enabled the financing of Solidarity's underground activities during martial law and became the stuff of legend -- and even a recent thriller, "80 Million," by the writer and director Waldemar Krzystek.
Through the irony of history, it was Mr. Pinior, the intellectual, who tried to found a true workers' party, the Polish Socialist Party, known as the P.P.S., in 1987, and it was Mr. Frasyniuk who became the leader of the intelligentsia party, the Freedom Union, in 2001.
Unfortunately, it fell to both of them to turn the lights out in their respective organizations. P.P.S. was disbanded by the Communist secret police, and the Freedom Union by the electorate. The two men drifted apart, too: Mr. Pinior remained a man of the left, but Mr. Frasyniuk became one of Poland's most diehard neoliberals -- a perfectly concise personalization of Eastern Europe's transition from communism to capitalism.
Both of these men, like so many from the dissident era, barely register in the Polish public's consciousness anymore: Mr. Frasyniuk has long since left political life, while Mr. Pinior is a minor politician, a senator from the ruling Civic Platform party. To many in Poland, particularly the younger generations, they are an admirable anachronism.
Still, it fell to Mr. Pinior to spend the last decade tracking the issue of secret prisons, standing up against almost the entire Polish political class. In doing so, he demonstrated why men like him -- strident and critical, regardless of who is in power -- are so necessary.
But it also demonstrates why our leaders can admire his biography and still ignore its lessons. Maybe that is why they are major political figures in the first place: because they see a different balance between moral ideas and political efficiency.
Slawomir Sierakowski is a sociologist, a founder of the Krytyka Polityczna movement and the director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw. This article was translated by Maria Blackwood from the Polish.