The commander of Poland's secret police, Gen. Wladyslaw Ciaston, was mentioned in court today as having supported an attack on the slain Warsaw priest Jerzy Popieluszko, but the allegation then was withdrawn by one of the junior officers charged with murdering the cleric.
Ex-lieutenant Waldemar Chmielewski had cited Ciaston in pretrial testimony, which was read in the Torun courtroom where four secret policemen are standing trial for the cleric's murder. But questioned about the statement during his fourth and final day in the dock, Chmielewski retracted it.
He acknowledged mentioning Ciaston to investigators but said he must have only imagined the senior official's involvement in the crime from something Chmielewski's immediate superior, former captain Grzegorz Piotrowski, another of the accused, had told him.
Ciaston is a two-star general who serves as one of six deputy ministers in the Interior Ministry, which controls Poland's police. He oversees the "Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa," or secret police, to which the four indicted men belong.
It was the second time in the proceedings that a deputy minister had been tied to the sensational killing in testimony later retracted by a defendant. In earlier testimony, ex-lieutenant Leszek Pekala, after implicating but not naming a deputy minister, backed away on the stand, saying that he must have misunderstood his boss, Piotrowski, who had mentioned the official in a different context.
Popieluszko, a staunch defender of the outlawed Solidarity trade union, was kidnaped on a highway just north of Torun the night of Oct. 19. His beaten, bound and gagged body was pulled from a reservoir about 30 miles southeast of the city 11 days later.
Under close questioning by a host of examiners, the two junior officers have been challenged to reconcile often-guarded courtroom testimony with bolder statements implicating superiors made to investigators.
Instead of opening new leads, however, the defendants' answers have frustrated speculation about links to top officials.
Much now rides on what Piotrowski, the central figure in the indictment, will have to say. The 33-year-old former section chief took the stand briefly at the close of today's session, sounding confident and seeming almost to taunt the court with a manner described as cool, controlled and arrogant by several observers in the restricted courtroom.
"I don't want to admit to any of the charges as they are formulated," he stated. "I was taught in logic that if one element of a series is illogical, the entire series is invalidated. Which is not to say I don't admit to specific acts of guilt."
He confessed to beating and gagging Popieluszko in "concert with others" and to tossing the priest's body into the water. But he did not mention murdering the cleric. He begins his defense tomorrow.
It was Piotrowski, Chmielewski initially told investigators, who had told him and Pekala in October before a first failed attempt to kidnap Popieluszko that the operation had been cleared by Ciaston in a talk with Col. Adam Pietruszka. Pietruszka, the fourth defendant, supervised the three others as deputy director of the Interior Ministry department responsible for monitoring church activities. But retelling the incident in court last week, Chmielewski said only that Pietruszka had received approval from "the top."
Asked about the discrepancy, Chmielewski, stammering badly from a nervous ailment he has attributed to the killing and to fears of imprisonment, said Ciaston's name was not mentioned by Piotrowski. He said that he had inferred that Pietruszka had checked with Ciaston because the general is the colonel's supervisor.