There is not much being reported about CIA torture, as detailed in the major report by the Senate intelligence committee, that has not been reported previously. However, there has been no accountability, and the struggle between CIA and Senate over the report and what parts will be declassified for the public to read offers an opportunity to reckon with some of the horrific acts that were committed.
McClatchy Newspapers spoke with some sources for a story on the contents of the report and was apparently able to confirm that “the CIA’s own internal documents confirm the agency’s culpability in the hypothermia death of one Afghan captive.” The CIA has never had to publicly discuss the incident, even though in 2009 the Justice Department under President Barack Obama opened an investigation into what happened.
As summarized by Larry Siems in The Torture Report: What the Documents Say About America’s Post-9/11 Torture Program, a young agent named “Matt, “a former Naval intelligence officer who joined the CIA and was put in charge of an operation for which he had no experience or training.” At the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan, he ordered a captive named Gul Rahman to be “dragged around his concrete cell, doused with water and left shackled overnight.”
The temperature plummeted. Rahman, who was in the cell all night half-naked, was found dead. This happened despite the fact that Matt knew the prison was in need of heaters, which he had requested from the CIA’s Afghanistan station chief.
A report by CIA inspector general John Helgerson faulted the agency for “fail[ing] to provide adequate staffing, guidance and support to those involved with the detention and interrogation of detainees.” This report called attention to the poor judgment of Matt and the role of Paul, a CIA station chief in Afghanistan. And Helgerson also recommended that Rahman’s death be “referred to the Justice Department for prosecution.”
However, the Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) refused to prosecute insisting that a “declination memorandum” protected Matt from prosecution because he had no “specific intent.” The memo by Jay Bybee explained that, as manager of the Salt Pit site, if Matt “did not intend for Rahman to suffer severe pain from low temperature in his cell, he would lack specific intent under the anti-torture statute.”
John Sifton, an attorney and private human rights investigator, wrote for Slate, “The declination memo ‘regarding Gul Rahman’s death” was essentially an after-the-fact blessing for Rahman’s killer, in the form of a memo stating that DoJ would not prosecute the officers responsible.”
The Justice Department’s Criminal Division “provided declinations in cases of detainee abuse, thus giving individual officers de facto immunity from criminal prosecution.” Even if the Justice Department wanted to prosecute under Obama, this declination could be cited by defense counsel “as a partial shield.” (Sifton suggested these “declinations” may have been issued as “after-the-fact-immunities” similar to pardons.)
The family of Rahman would have never known what happened to him if a declassified document had not mistakenly included the “names of Gul Rahman and the CIA’s Salt Pit manager,” according to Siems. “From the time he was seized from a home in Islamabad on October 29, 2002, until the OPR report was released in February 2010, the man who was tortured to death in Afghanistan three weeks after he disappeared into US custody had no name and the United States had done nothing to notify his wife and four daughters or the International Committee of the Red Cross of his whereabouts or fate.”