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Polish trial highlights battle between Army and secret police

Below the surface of the Polish trial lies a battle, not so much between the Roman Catholic Church and the communist state as between the Army and the security machine. Pitted against each other are the generals, who are fiercely loyal to the policies of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, and the security officers, such as former Capt. Grzegorz Piotrowski.

A secret police officer whose fanaticism and passionate hatred for the Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko led him into the most politically explosive murder case in the Soviet bloc, Piotrowski now waits for the trial to end, knowing that the judge will almost certainly approve the prosecutor's demand for his execution.

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He sits in the dock alongside co-defendants Col. Adam Pietruszka and Lts. Waldemar Chmielewski and Leszek Pekala, for whom the prosecution has recommended 25-year jail terms. (On their arrest all four men were reduced to the rank of private.)

[The possibility that the Soviet Union was involved in the plot to murder the priest was hinted in court yesterday by the Popieluszko family's lawyer, Reuters said.] There are still many unanswered questions, indeed many unasked questions. They cast their shadow over the case, over the future of church-state relations (which are in permanent tension, with each pulling and pushing for advantage) and over the credibility of the government of General Jaruzelski.

Who was behind the plot to kill Fr. Popieluszko? The questioning of a crucial witness, Gen. Zenon Platek, the chief of the church-monitoring department of the secret police, was not exploited by the state prosecutor. And the judge predictably muzzled questioning by the Popieluszko family's lawyers.

According to his deputy, Pietruszka, the general took part in the cover-up after the murder on Oct. 19 of last year. The prosecution says the colonel is lying to save himself, trying to pass the buck ever upward.

But the testimony of many witnesses shows that the general knew at an early stage that a secret police car was involved in the murder case.

Poles think: If the general is involved, then it is also conceivable that the head of the secret police knew, and if he knew then. . . .

The state prosecutor did not press the issue.

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There is also the possibility that there was a ``horizontal'' rather than ``vertical'' conspiracy against the Warsaw leadership. That is, the kidnappers may well have had sympathizers and accomplices in other sections of the secret police apart from the church-monitoring unit.

On the day of the murder of Popieluszko, Piotrowski told his secretary to ring another number in the ministry several times to ask for ``instructions.'' The secretary, who was not pressed by the state prosecutor, said the number was of another secret police department but, unfortunately, she could no longer remember it.

The theater of the trial has tended to obscure the power struggle between the Army and the security force. But when state prosecutor Leszek Pietrasinski stood up to make his final speech, it was clear that the Jaruzelski faction was offering a kind of armistice to its opponents in the security machine. Yes, Piotrowski would have to be hanged, or at least be severely punished. But the essence of the prosecutor's speech was threefold:

The trial has not revealed a conspiracy against Jaruzelski.

If such a conspiracy exists, it does not have its nest in the secret police or the Interior Ministry.

And (with a flourish for Moscow), Popieluszko must shoulder some blame for his own murder.

Both the priest and his murderers were extremists, said the prosecutor. Both acted outside the law, he said: the priest, who was a supporter of the outlawed trade union Solidarity, by preaching politics from his pulpit; the murderers by assuming that a man's life was in some way negotiable, a pawn in a game.

In the view of many Poles, Popieluszko was not only a martyr for Solidarity. He was also a mild-mannered, devout man whose memory should not be the subject of an attack. Indeed, for these Poles, the slandering of the dead priest has undermined any virtue of the trial. (Piotrowski was allowed, uninterrupted by the judge, to suggest that the priest had a mistress and was a Solidarity underground coordinator.)

The price of the unprecedented official candor about the trial was that radical priests, such as Popieluszko, were pilloried. For many -- intellectuals and workers, shopkeepers and playwrights -- that price is too high.

Jaruzelski took a calculated risk when he put his own secret policemen on trial. In political terms, he has won. And yet the general certainly cannot claim that he has become any more popular through the trial. The only real result is a thoroughly discredited secret police, and it will take a long time to undo that damage.

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