In November 2002, Gul Rahman, an Afghan citizen refugee in Pakistan, died in a “black site,” one of the secret prisons run by the CIA in Afghanistan.
In August 2017, two psychologists hired by CIA were forced to compensate their family. The psychologists had been hired by the CIA to devise, shape and refine the interrogation and torture system after Sept. 11. This compensation is an absolute novelty, Kate Clark noted on the website Afghanistan Analysts Network.
And it opens the door to possible new legal cases. They may also involve, after many years of impunity, the government officials responsible for abuse and torture that sometimes led to death. As happened to Gul Rahman.
His story takes a sudden and dramatic turnaround on Oct. 29, 2002. He fled to Pakistan with his wife and four daughters, after the American invasion, to escape the war. On that day, Gul Rahman arrived to Islamabad to undergo some medical check-ups.
There he met Ghairat Bahir, son-in-law of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of Hezb-e-Islami, the armed group that, until a few months ago, led a guerrilla war against the Kabul government. Both were seized by American and Pakistani agents and then were taken to Afghanistan.
They ended up in one of the many “black sites” of the war on terror. Secret places, run by secret services, where interrogations have become abuse and torture. They were incarcerated in a prison near the Kabul capital, later known as “Cobalt.”
They endured many tortures. Hekmatyar’s son-in-law survived. Gul Rahman died on the floor of a cell, after two weeks of abuse at the hands of a team, including psychologist John Bruce Jessen.
The autopsy and the CIA’s internal report said he probably died of hypothermia, “partly caused for being forced to stand on the naked concrete floor without pants,” as well as for “dehydration, lack of food, and immobility” due to the fact he was tied to short chains.
Nobody thought of notifying the family. They looked for him everywhere in vain for a long time. Until 2010, when an Associated Press inquiry came in: He was killed in Afghanistan after ending up in the CIA’s hands.
Gul Rahman was the victim of interrogation techniques developed by two psychologists, James Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen. Hired by the CIA, the two put their medical and professional skills at the service of the “war on terror.” A political-military paradigm in which we are still immersed.
With a global wide radius: in October 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attempted to initiate a complaint against the psychologists, on behalf of Gul Rahman’s family and two survivors of torture. They had lived very different lives, in places very far apart, before ending in the same Afghan black hole. They are Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud.
The former is a fisherman, born in Zanzibar, Tanzania. He was kidnapped by the Kenyan security forces and the CIA in March 2003 in Mogadishu, Somalia, where he worked and got married. He was subjected to fierce interrogations in Kenya, and later was transferred to the same prison where Gul Rahman died, Cobalt, near Kabul.
Like him, he was brutally tortured. In May 2003, he was transferred to another CIA black hole in Afghanistan, the Salt Pit, where he stayed for 14 months in isolation.
In July 2004, he was taken to the Bagram air base, 40 km north of Kabul, managed by U.S. forces. He was released on Aug. 17, 2008, when it was determined that “he poses no danger to the American armed forces or their interests in Afghanistan.”
According to the CIA, Mohammed Ahmed Ben Soud was also dangerous. He is a Libyan dissident who had moved to Pakistan, where he was kidnapped by the CIA in April 2003, at the suggestion of Gaddafi. He ended up in the same black hole outside Kabul, Cobalt, where he was tortured for a year: naked, chained to the wall, in isolation, in an underground cell, standing in a box less than half a meter wide, hung on a bar, immersed in freezing water, sleep deprived. In April 2004, he was taken to another secret Afghan prison managed by the CIA.
He was never indicted formally. In August 2005, he was sent back to Libya where he was imprisoned for another five years, until Gaddafi’s regime was overthrown. Today, Mohammed Ahmed Ben Soud lives with his family in Misurata. Suleiman Abdullah Salim lives in Zanzibar. Gul Rahman is dead.
These are only three of the 119 names included in a report on the CIA torture and rendition program, drafted by the Senate Intelligence Committee of the US Senate, issued in December 2014. Of these, at least 59 were subjected to torture.
Some, like Mohammed Ahmed Ben Soud and Suleiman Abdullah Salim, have decided to make a claim for the physical and psychological damages suffered. Together with Gul Rahman’s family and with the help of ACLU, the two entered a complaint against the psychologists responsible for the interrogation techniques.
So far, as Kate Clark explains in detail, similar attempts had been fruitless, due to the need to protect “national security” and “state secrets.” But the publication of the report by the U.S. Senate, which lists some of the CIA’s torture in black and white, has annulled that pretext.
According to the ACLU, this time the U.S. Department of Justice changed tracks and did not obstruct the case.
And the psychologists, after posing objection after objection, chose to make a deal before the beginning of the trial, scheduled for September 5th. The amount agreed for compensation is secret. But that is not the important thing. What matters is the significant change, celebrated by the ACLU.
The outcome of the case, according to Laden Dror, attorney at American Civil Liberties Union, “is an admonition for anyone who thinks it is possible to torture with impunity.” Even in the CIA black holes in Afghanistan.
Their “techniques” approved by Bush’s Justice Department
The ACLU writes, on the basis of the decisive report on CIA torture prepared by the Intelligence Committee of the US Senate, that James Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen, “based on their experience as psychologists and dog experiments carried out in the 1960s …”, “suggested that CIA prisoners should be psychologically destroyed by inflicting them acute physical and mental pain and suffering.” For the two psychologists, inducing a state of “gained uselessness” would eliminate the detainees’ resistance.
Their program, the ACLU notes, “did not only involve torture on prisoners, but also experiments on them.”
Mitchell and Jessen did not merely theorize the usefulness of torture but also practiced it: in addition to the many subsequent interrogations, they personally conducted the first CIA interrogation that followed their “advanced techniques of interrogation,” against Abu Zubaydah.
None of them “had any experience in interrogation or specialized knowledge of al-Qaeda, terrorism, or any relevant regional, cultural or linguistic knowledge.” Yet their interrogation techniques had been approved by the Department of Justice during the Bush administration.
In order to redefine the interrogation program and put it into practice, the CIA “paid tens of millions of dollars during eight years to the two psychologists and the company they founded.”
Their responsibility is enormous: Mitchell and Jessen described the violent procedures, the conditions and cruel treatment imposed on prisoners during their transfer and subsequent detention. They orchestrated the torture instruments and protocols, they personally tortured prisoners and trained CIA staff in managing torture techniques.”
In an evident conflict of interests, they also had the task of “assessing the effectiveness of the program from which they perceived huge profits.”