The circumstances surrounding the demise of an Afghan prisoner while he was in the custody of CIA interrogators have not been fully disclosed, except that he froze to death. But an account last week by the Associated Press’s Adam Goldman and Kathy Gannon went a long way toward explaining what happened.
The victim’s name, they revealed for the first time, was Gul Rahman, a suspected insurgent who was taken into custody in Islamabad with four others on Oct. 29, 2002, and shipped to the Salt Pit interrogation facility in Afghanistan. Until now it was only known that an unidentified Afghan had died of exposure to cold at the Salt Pit facility. He was secretly buried and his death kept off the books, the Washington Post’s Dana Priest reported in 2005.
But as the AP reports, Rahman had been through weeks of interrogation until, shackled and half-naked, he died of hypothermia in the early hours of Nov. 20, 2002.
Rahman's family “repeatedly pressed International Red Cross officials about his fate,” the AP reports. His body was never recovered.
The other important part of the story is how CIA management reacted to Rahman’s death.
According to an anonymous US official interviewed by the AP, CIA headquarters sent a team “to gather the facts.”
The agency’s inspector general, John Helgerson, would eventually issue a report that
In the current issue of Washingtonian magazine, I provide additional reporting on the handling of Salt Pit by Stephen R. Kappes, then the agency’s assistant deputy director for operations, or ADDO. Since 2006, Kappes has been the CIA’s second highest ranking official.
As Priest reported back in 2005, the agency’s inspector general was troubled enough to refer the Salt Pit death to Justice Department prosecutors.
In the AP’s account,
One former U.S. official told the AP that
John Sifton, a private investigator and attorney in New York who has carried out extensive research on the CIA’s secret programs for law firms and human-rights groups, further examined the Justice Department's decision in Monday's edition of Slate, our sister publication.
“What's a declination?” Sifton continues. “The answer—in the context of the CIA, torture, and homicides—is troubling. The word declination in law is similar to the word indulgence in Catholicism; it's about avoiding eternal damnation by obtaining forgiveness for your sins.”
“Declinations are typically used in garden-variety criminal cases,” and sometimes are “part of plea agreements,” Sifton adds.
“It is clear from Page 95 of the OPR report that in several cases (perhaps this one included) the criminal division of DoJ provided declinations in cases of detainee abuse, thus giving individual officers de facto immunity from criminal prosecution. Even if the DoJ later decides to prosecute—and the Obama DoJ in fact announced in 2009 that it was reopening investigations into several CIA cases—an earlier declination can be used by defense counsel as a partial shield.”
But like the body under the floorboards in "The Tell-Tale Heart," the undiscovered remains of Gul Rahman may yet have some life.
Update: The New Yorker's Jane Mayer reports that