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Polish prosecutors to drop charges in CIA jail inquiry: report

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland will drop charges against a former intelligence chief prompted by allegations that the CIA was allowed to run a secret prison in Poland for al Qaeda suspects, a major Warsaw newspaper said on Tuesday.

An aerial view shows a watch tower of an airport in Szymany, close to Szczytno in northeastern Poland, September 9, 2008. The European Union, human watchdogs, domestic and foreign media identified the airport as a potential site which the CIA used to transfer al Qaeda suspects to a nearby prison. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

Human rights activists and lawyers for men who allege they were detained by the CIA in Poland say the Polish authorities are trying to stifle the investigation because it would become politically embarrassing if it led to trials.

The daily Gazeta Wyborcza first reported early last year that prosecutors looking into allegations of a secret CIA jail, and how much Polish officials knew about it, had raised criminal charges against ex-intelligence chief Zbigniew Siemiatkowski.

Government and legal officials have declined comment on whether Siemiatkowski has ever been formally charged. But several sources close to the inquiry contacted by Reuters last year confirmed prosecutors had drawn up charges against him.

On Tuesday, the same newspaper cited an unnamed source as saying the charges against Siemiatkowski would soon be withdrawn. “The decision ... has been taken by Krakow-based prosecutors,” the newspaper said.

A spokesman for prosecutors in Krakow, the southern Polish city where the case is being handled, declined to comment.

Reuters last year sent Siemiatkowski written questions about whether he knew about or was involved in a CIA jail in Poland, but he did not reply.

Gazeta Wyborcza gave no sources for its report on Tuesday, but it is one of Poland’s most respected newspapers and has a track record of getting access to information about the investigation into the alleged CIA jail in Poland.

Siemiatkowski ran Poland’s domestic civilian intelligence agency at the time the secret CIA jails were alleged to be in operation, and left public office in 2005.

Adam Bodnar, vice-president of the Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, said there was a pattern of hard-to-explain twists in the investigation, including the transfer of the case from the capital, Warsaw, to Krakow.

“All these decisions are so irrational from the point of view of the effectiveness of the investigation (that) it is realistic to assume there is some political interference,” said Bodnar, who has campaigned for the case to come to trial.

The European Parliament and the Council of Europe have published reports saying the evidence points to Poland, along with several other countries, having hosted a CIA jail about a decade ago.

The foreign detention centers allowed U.S. intelligence to detain and interrogate suspected al Qaeda militants without the restrictions and safeguards set out in U.S. law.

Polish officials have repeatedly denied there was ever any CIA jail on their soil. The government, though, says it is committed to a thorough and fair investigation.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush acknowledged intelligence agencies were running a program of jails for al Qaeda suspects outside U.S. jurisdiction, but Washington has never said where or how they operated.

Reporting by Marcin Goettig; Additional reporting by Wojciech Zurawski in Krakow, Poland and Christian Lowe in Warsaw; Editing by Mark Heinrich