Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Salt Pit: exposing a CIA torture chamber

The Washington Post's Dana Priest has a excellent investigative story today exposing a secret torture factory the CIA has been running in Afghanistan, and the CIA officer who got off scot free after murdering a detainee:

In November 2002, a newly minted CIA case officer in charge of a secret prison ...ordered guards to strip naked an uncooperative young Afghan detainee, chain him to the concrete floor and leave him there overnight without blankets, according to four U.S. government officials aware of the case.

The Afghan guards -- paid by the CIA and working under CIA supervision in an abandoned warehouse code-named the Salt Pit -- dragged their captive around on the concrete floor, bruising and scraping his skin, before putting him in his cell, two of the officials said.

As night fell, so, predictably, did the temperature.

By morning, the Afghan man had frozen to death.

and very shortly thereafter, the former detainee was turned into an unperson, and the officer in charge was promoted:

the guards buried the Afghan, who was in his twenties, in an unmarked, unacknowledged cemetery used by Afghan forces, officials said. The captive's family has never been notified; his remains have never been returned for burial. He is on no one's registry of captives, not even as a "ghost detainee," the term for CIA captives held in military prisons but not registered on the books, they said.

"He just disappeared from the face of the earth," said one U.S. government official with knowledge of the case.

Things have gone a little better for his murderer:
The CIA case officer, meanwhile, has been promoted, two of the officials said, who like others interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk about the matter. The case is under investigation by the CIA inspector general.{{ Ed- for more than two years}

But the truly extraordinary thing about the story is the facilty itself. A completely secret torture center run by the CIA with deliberate contempt for US law and oversight:

The Salt Pit was the top-secret name for an abandoned brick factory, a warehouse just north of the Kabul business district that the CIA began using shortly after the United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001. The 10-acre facility included ..several smaller buildings, which were off-limits to all but the CIA and a handful of Afghan guards and cooks who ran the prison,

and lest there be any doubt of the CIA's intentions with the facility they too great pains to create legal fictions to shield their officers from the reach of US law for their actions inside:

The CIA wanted the Salt Pit to be a "host-nation facility," an Afghan prison with Afghan guards. Its designation as an Afghan facility was intended to give U.S. personnel some insulation from actions taken by Afghan guards inside{Ed- who were operating under the direct orders of the CIA officers}, a tactic used in secret CIA prisons in other countries....

In spring 2004, when the CIA first referred the Salt Pit case to the Justice Department for possible prosecution, the department cited the prison's status as a foreign facility, outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. government, as one reason for declining to prosecute.

But make no mistake. This was a CIA facility top to bottom:

The CIA, however, paid the entire cost of maintaining the facility, including the electricity, food and salaries for the guards, who were all vetted by agency personnel. The CIA also decided who would be kept inside, including some "high-value targets," senior al Qaeda leaders in transit to other, more secure secret CIA prisons.

There you have it. A complete plan for a fully operational CIA torture chamber, completely shielded from the reach of US law, the oversight of the US congress, and of course, any accountability by the peon US voters who supposedly run the country. The fact that we know about the place at all is simply due to a HR oversight.

Unfortunately for the CIA, after all that careful planning to make their very own chamber of horrors, they had a serious HR problem. Since the Nazi's they smuggled out of Germany after WWII have all passed on, they have had a real lack of personnel with the "running a torture chamber" skills set. So they basically were stuck using the first warm body without a conscience they could find:

"A first-tour officer was put in charge because there were not enough senior-level volunteers," said one intelligence officer familiar with the case. "It's not a job just anyone would want.

Besides, the intelligence officer said, "the CIA did not have a deep cadre of people who knew how to run prisons. It was a new discipline. There's a lot of room to get in trouble."

Of course since the incident was exposed the CIA's IG and irate lawmakers have sprung into action, demanding an end to this outrage....or not so much:

The pace of the CIA investigations has tested the patience of some in Congress, as was evident two weeks ago when Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), a member of the Senate intelligence panel, asked CIA Director Porter J. Goss when the inspector general's inquiry would be complete and available to the oversight committees.

"I haven't asked him what day he's going to finish all these cases," Goss replied.

"Or a month?" shot back Levin.

"As soon as they are through," Goss answered. ". . . I know there is still a bunch of other cases."

The CIA inspector general, meanwhile, recently completed a review of detention procedures in Afghanistan and Iraq and gave Goss 10 recommendations for improving administrative procedures for holding, moving and interrogating prisoners. The recommendations included more detailed reporting requirements from the field, increased safeguards against abuse and including more CIA officials in decisions affecting interrogation tactics.

Two, have been fully adopted officials said.

And George Bush's torture room? (hey if he can pin the blame on a foreign leader for the actions of his intelligence services, it seems only fair)

its out of business. But only at that location:

The brick factory has since been torn down, and the CIA has built a facility somewhere else.


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