When CIA Tortured Detainees to Death — And Agents Escaped Accountability and Were Promoted
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.”
Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, who were working for the Associated Press, produced a couple major investigative pieces on what happened to Rahman. The AP submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for an autopsy report on Rahman’s killing but the CIA refused the request. When asked to comment, the agency spokesperson would provide no details on “the return of Rahman’s remains.”
AP identified “Matt, Paul and other current and former undercover CIA officers though only by partial names” because they were central to the question of who is being held accountable and because it enhanced “the credibility of AP’s reporting in this case.” The CIA strongly objected, claiming this would “benefit terrorists and hostile nations.” Spokesman George Little “called the AP’s decision ‘nothing short of reckless’ but did not provide any specific information about threats.” (Three years later, nothing reportedly has happened.)
What Apuzzo and Goldman uncovered were significant details on how those involved in Rahman’s death had escaped accountability.
A review board of senior CIA officers initially recommended Matt be the only officer disciplined then, when realizing all supervisors would be getting a pass, Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, who was serving as the CIA’s No. 3 employee, “decided nobody would be punished.” (Foggo was “later imprisoned in an unrelated corruption case.”)
Paul became the chief of the Near East Division, which is the section that “oversees spy operations in Iraq, Iran and other Middle East countries.” This is a position of prestige in the agency, and Matt went on to work assignments in Bahrain, Afghanistan and Pakistan as “deputy chief of tribal operations,” according to the AP report published in 2011.
As Apuzzo and Goldman put it, “The CIA wants its officers to take chances. Spying is a risky business and, as former CIA Director Michael Hayden told Congress, the agency wants its officers operating so close to the legal boundaries that they get ‘chalk on their cleats.’”
“When officers cross those lines, discipline is usually handled internally, which usually means secretly. In complicated cases, the director can convene a group of senior officers to review the matter, a panel known as an accountability board. But the board can only make recommendations. It’s up to the director whether to accept them,” they added.
“Four other detainees” died in CIA custody, according to McClatchy. One of these other detainees is Manadal al-Jamadi.
Jane Mayer, a reporter for The New Yorker and author of The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals, detailed in her book how Jamadi was captured by SEALs in Iraq with the help of the CIA.
Mayer described the torture Jamadi experienced when he was brought to the “Romper Room” in Baghdad International Airport, where a noose was hanging.
The CIA was prohibited from participating in interrogations, but that did not stop former CIA polygrapher Mark Swanner, who had worked for the CIA since the 1980s, from playing a key role.
…According to one eyewitness, Jamadi seemed to go limp, as if passing out, on his way into the room. There, several witnesses said, he was stripped, seated and drenched in cold water. One of the SEALs said that after Jamadi was handcuffed, a CIA interrogator rammed “his arm up against the detainee’s chest, pressing on him with all his weight.” A witness said the CIA interrogator leaned into Jamadi’s face and yelled, “I’m going to barbecue you if you don’t tell me the information.”
One witness recalled Jamadi moaning, “I’m dying. I’m dying.” Others didn’t recall those words. The same witness said that the CIA interrogator replied, “I don’t care. You’ll be wishing you were dying”…
Jamadi was then brought to Abu Ghraib, and was only wearing a “purple T-shirt and a purple jacket.” He also had a “green plastic sandbag” over his head when he arrived and was “shivering from the cold.” His ribs were broken. He was having trouble breathing (but no officer considered providing him medical attention).
This “ghost prisoner,” who was not formally processed into the facility, was brought to a shower room where Swanner, according to Mayer, instructed military officers to not let Jamadi sit but instead shackle him to a wall.
“There was a barred window on one wall.” His arms were “placed behind his back” and attached “to the bars on the window” with a “pair of leg shackles.” He died after suffering a form of torture known as a “Palestinian hanging,” which means he was “suspended by his arms.” He may have been able to stand without pain initially.
He was left alone, and, less than an hour, later Jamadi’s legs had buckled. He had collapsed. The handcuffs were moved higher on the window and then he collapsed again.
Swanner said he was “playing dead” and “faking.” A hood Jamadi was wearing was removed. “His face was badly bruised,” and, when he was put on the ground, a sergeant who had been present recalled “blood came gushing out of his nose and mouth, as if a faucet had been turned on.”
Jamadi was “packed in ice and bound with tape, apparently in an attempt to slow its decomposition.” The CIA may have been trying to “alter the perceived time of death.” And, as Mayer mentioned, “The ice was already melting when Specialist Sabrina Harman posed for pictures while stooping over Jamadi’s body, smiling and giving the thumbs-up sign.”
A Navy medical examiner ruled the death a “homicide,” and a grand jury investigated possible war crimes or torture. The CIA agent involved in shackling Jamadi in the fatal position ultimately received only a letter of reprimand for “failing to have a doctor examine Jamadi,” according to Siems.
A superior, “the CIA’s deputy Baghdad station chief, was temporarily barred from field duty and ordered to undergo retraining,” but was later promoted to run “the CIA Counterterrorism Center’s Pakistan-Afghanistan office.”
While Attorney General Eric Holder initially “identified at least ten instances in which interrogators” went “far beyond what had been sanctioned” by President George W. Bush’s administration, ultimately, he decided not to prosecute any CIA officer.
The Obama administration instead adopted a posture that was conciliatory and protective of the CIA. The president reassured the CIA that they did not need to be anxious or worried about facing prosecutions for their role in torture.
“I understand that it’s hard when you are asked to protect the American people against people who have no scruples and would willingly and gladly kill innocents,” he declared.
He also professed, “The CIA is unique in the capabilities of collection, analysis and operation that you bring to bear. So you are an indispensable tool, the tip of the spear in America’s intelligence mission and our national security.”
Image: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: just.LucC, Hayley Austin / Creative Commons-licensed