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Poland Facilitated CIA Torture but Wants to Forget About It

In a damning decision for Poland, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Wednesday that the country broke the European Convention on Human Rights by allowing the CIA to detain and torture two terror suspects on its territory. The two men -- Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri of Saudi Arabia and Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian -- were reportedly held at a CIA black site at a Polish military base at different times in 2002 and 2003. The European convention prohibits the use of torture.

"The Court found that Poland had cooperated in the preparation and execution of the CIA rendition, secret detention, and interrogation operations on its territory and it ought to have known that by enabling the CIA to detain the applicants on its territory, it was exposing them to a serious risk of treatment contrary to the Convention," the court said in a statement.

Lawyers for the two men brought their cases before the European court after an investigation in Poland by domestic prosecutors languished in the country's courts, which have been investigating the case for six years. The men, alleged members of al Qaeda currently held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, were granted "victim" status by Polish courts. The European court ruled Thursday that the Polish state should pay the men $135,000 each in damages and awarded Abu Zubaydah $40,000 to pay for unspecified costs.

The case of the Polish black sites was first revealed to the public in a 2005 Washington Post article. Since then the American and, to a lesser extent, Polish media have intensely scrutinized evidence in the case. A recent investigation by the Post showed that CIA agents paid $15 million to the Polish secret service to facilitate the operation.

Despite overwhelming proof that the site was on Polish territory and that the CIA had operated there with the consent of Polish authorities, Warsaw has repeatedly and vehemently denied any knowledge of or involvement in the operation. The reactions Thursday were no different.

"The ruling of the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg seems to be premature," said Marcin Wojciechowski, a spokesman for the Polish Foreign Ministry. The domestic investigation is still underway, he said.

Leszek Miller, who served as prime minister while the black site was up and running, said that the ruling is "unfair and immoral." "I hope that the Polish authorities never pay out the amount because this money would fuel the accounts of terrorists and would be used to prepare other attacks," he said.

Observers in Poland have long called for ramping up the investigation and criticized politicians for having an apathetic attitude toward the case. "Poland had the right to show that human rights in our country take precedence over the interest of those in power, that we can admit to a mistake, and fix it," the journalist and commentator Ewa Siedlecka wrote in the prominent daily Gazeta Wyborcza. "The country didn't take the opportunity, and suffered a devastating failure: It was declared guilty of facilitating serious human rights violations, and branded for hiding them."

FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images

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The Islamic State Isn't Circumcising Women and Didn't Steal $400 Million Either

Since the Islamic State captured Mosul last month, it has burned shops selling alcohol, ordered veils placed over the faces of mannequins in store windows, and implemented discriminatory policies that forced the majority of the city's Christians to flee. You'd think that was dramatic enough -- but a number of apparently false stories about the jihadist group's behavior in Iraq's second-largest city are spreading like wildfire through the Western media.

The latest culprit appears to be U.N. official Jacqueline Badcock, who told reporters on Thursday that the Islamic State had issued a fatwa ordering women to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM). The procedure is quite rare in Iraq -- it is far more common in sub-Saharan Africa -- and is not typically something that jihadists demand. As Agence France-Presse reported, instituting FGM in areas under the control of the Islamic State, which was previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, could place 4 million women and girls at risk of undergoing the procedure.

Thankfully, Badcock's claim has been widely debunked by reporters and analysts. NPR's Cairo bureau chief, Leila Fadel, reported that residents of Mosul, including a doctor and a tribal leader, had not heard of the fatwa. Meanwhile, an alleged Islamic State decree announcing the implementation of FGM was revealed to be a hoax. (The U.N. office in Iraq did not respond to requests for comment on the source of Badcock's claim.)

But the furor over FGM is far from the only questionable claim that has been made about the Islamic State's reign in Mosul. Last week -- as the jihadist group's very real campaign to force Christians to pay a tax levied on non-Muslims, convert to Islam, or face death reached fever pitch -- multiple news outlets reported that the Islamic State had burned down the St. Ephrem's Cathedral.

There was just one problem: The pictures published by news outlets and shared on social media of the supposed burning of the Syriac Catholic cathedral were from church burnings in Egypt or Syria. To this day, there has been no confirmation from anyone in Mosul that a cathedral was burned.

But the most spectacular story about the Islamic State relates to what would have been one of history's most spectacular bank heists. Shortly after the group stormed Mosul, the provincial governor in the region told reporters that it had raided the city's central bank, making off with more than $400 million, in addition to a "large quantity of gold bullion." The alleged raid -- which was widely reported in papers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post -- would likely have made the Islamic State the world's richest jihadist organization, as well as giving it more resources than many small states.

There's only one problem: The heist doesn't appear to have happened. The regional governor who initially described the raid changed his tune in an interview with the Financial Times last week, saying that "nobody until now has confirmed that story." Meanwhile, the chief executive of the association of Iraq's private banks said that no raid occurred, and that "nothing has been removed from the premises of any banks [in Mosul], not even a piece of paper."

Given the extreme difficulty of reporting in areas under the control of the Islamic State, it is perhaps not surprising that the news coming out of Mosul is so frequently incorrect. And the jihadist group's well-deserved reputation for implementing its brand of medieval justice does admittedly make it hard to separate fact from fiction. But the next time you read a story and think that it's too spectacular to be true -- you just may be right.

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