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Case of Husayn (Abu Zubaydah) v. Poland

Court European Court of Human Rights, France
Case number 7511/13
Decision title Judgment
Decision date 24 July 2014
  • The Republic of Poland
  • Abu Zubaydah
  • Al Nashiri
Other names
  • Abu Zubaydah v. Poland
  • Husayn v. Poland
Categories Torture
Keywords torture, arbitrary detention, extraordinary rendition
Other countries involved
  • Poland
  • United States
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In its self-declared “War on Terrorism,” the United States began the “High Value Detainee” program, where suspected terrorists would be subjected to special interrogation and detention. The program was managed by the CIA, which detained suspects in secret detention facilities (“black sites”) in cooperation with other foreign governments.

Poland cooperated with the program by allowing the transfer of suspected terrorists through its territory, as well as their detention in a secret facility in Stare Kiejkuty, Poland. An alleged member of al-Qaeda, Mr. Zayn Al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn (known as Abu Zubaydah), was held in the Stare Kiejkuty for nine months, where he was subjected to treatment amounting to torture.

The European Court of Human Rights found that as Polish authorities knew what their territory was being used for, Poland shares responsibility for any abuses committed by the CIA on its territory.

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Procedural history

In January 2013, Abu Zubaydah filed an application against the Republic of Poland under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms to the European Court of Human Rights.

The application alleged Poland enabled the torture of Abu Zubaydah by the CIA through allowing the United States’ usage of Polish territory and neglecting to conduct an effective investigation.

On 2 December 2013, the Court held a fact-finding hearing, followed by a private hearing regarding parties’ submissions on the evidence.

On 3 December 2013, a public hearing took place.

The judgement was delivered on 24  July 2014 and was linked with the case of Al Nashiri v. Poland.

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Legally relevant facts

In response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, United States President George Bush issued the Military Order on Detention, Treatment, and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in the War on Terrorism (para. 73).

United States military agents seized Abu Zubaydah from a house in Pakistan on 27 March 2002, where he was injured and placed in CIA custody (para. 82).

He was transferred to a secret detention facility in Thailand, where enhanced interrogation techniques were tested on him (para. 86).

On 4 December 2002, as part of the High Value Detainee program, he was transferred to Poland and detained in a “black site” in Stare Kiejkuty. There he was subjected to further enhanced interrogation techniques and other forms of physical and mental abuse (para. 100).

Abu Zubaydah was transferred from Poland in September 2003.

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Core legal questions

Did Polish authorities reasonably know the CIA was using the territory of Poland for secret detention and torture?

Did Polish authorities enable the CIA’s usage of the territory of Poland in acts amounting to torture?

Can Poland be held responsible for enabling such usage of its territory?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

Articles 3, 5, 8, 13, and 38 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Articles 3, 12, and 15 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Articles 7, 14, 15, 16 of the International Law Commission, 2001 Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts.

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Court's holding and analysis

Poland’s investigation into the allegations lodged by the applicant failed to meet the requirements of a “prompt”, “thorough”, and “effective” investigation, thus violating procedural elements of Article 3. (para. 493).

While the torture inflicted on-site on the applicant was the exclusive responsibility of the CIA, Article 1 and 3 require Poland to ensure individuals within its jurisdiction are protected against torture and other inhumane treatment. For all intents and purposes, Poland enabled the inhumane treatment of the applicant by creating an environment in which it could happen. (para. 512). By permitting the applicant’s later transfer from its territory, Poland once again enabled the CIA’s actions. (para. 513).

The applicant was awarded 100,000 euros in respect of non-pecuniary damages. (para. 567).

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Further analysis

D. Marty, Abuse of state secrecy and national security: obstacles to parliamentary and judicial scrutiny of human rights violations, Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe, 7 September 2011.

Al- Nashiri v. Poland, Open Society Justice Initiative.

H. Duffy, Dignity Denied: A Case Study in C. Paulussen and M. Scheinin (Eds.), Human Dignity and Human Security in Times of Terrorism, 2020.

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Instruments cited

European Convention on Human Rights, Council of Europe - European Court of Human Rights, 4 November 1950.

Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, United Nations, 26 June 1987.

2001 Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, International Law Commission, United Nations, 12 December 2001.

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Related cases

Abu Zubaydah v. Lithuania

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Additional materials

Poland: Landmark Rulings on CIA Torture Complicity, Human Rights Watch, 24 July 2014.

Judgments Al Nashiri and Husayn (Abu Zubaydah) v. Poland – secret rendition of terrorist suspects  (Press Release), European Court of Human Rights, 24 July, 2014.

K. Cheasty Kornman, Policy and Legal Implications of European Court’s Ruling on CIA “Black Sites”, Just Security, 1 June 2018.

Poland ‘helped in CIA rendition’, European court rules, BBC, 24 July 2014.

Two terror suspects sue Poland over ‘CIA torture,BBC, 3 December 2013.

Application for Victim Status for Abu Zubaydah, The Rendition Project, 16 December 2010.

Poland: Unlock the Truth: Poland’s Involvement in CIA Secret Detention, Amnesty International, 12 June 2013.

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Social media links

C. Church, What Politics and the Media Still Get Wrong About Abu Zubaydah, Lawfare Blog, 1 August 2018.

[Book Launch] Human dignity and human security in times of terrorism, T.M.C. Asser Instituut, 17 June 2020