By Nadia Prupis
The CIA on Tuesday released dozens of documents detailing its torture and rendition program under the Bush administration, from the horrific treatment of detainees to the agency’s 2002 plan to ask the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) not to prosecute interrogators.
The heavily redacted trove of more than 50 documents was published in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by the ACLU last year, which sought records referenced in the U.S. Senate’s damning report on the CIA’s program—commonly referred to as the torture report—released in December 2014.
“These newly declassified records add new detail to the public record of the CIA’s torture program and underscore the cruelty of the methods the agency used in its secret, overseas black sites,” Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director, said Tuesday. “It bears emphasis that these records document grave crimes for which no senior official has been held accountable.”
Among the cases outlined in the documents is that of 34-year-old Gul Rahman, who was detained by the CIA in 2002 on suspicion of being an al Qaeda operative and who froze to death in one of the agency’s secret prisons in Afghanistan. During his captivity in November 2002, Rahman was beaten, doused with cold water, and left shackled in a cold cell, naked from the waist down.
The documents detail Rahman’s apparent resistance to the torture, including “[remaining] steadfast in outright denials” and “[complaining] about the violation of his human rights.”
Dror Ladin, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, said the details show that “Rahman was brutalized in part because his torturers decided that complaining about his torture was a form of resistance and he needed to be ‘broken.'”
The torture program’s architects, CIA-contracted psychologists James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, are currently facing a lawsuit from Rahman’s family.
Elsewhere in the files is a draft letter (pdf) prepared by a CIA official for then-Attorney General John Ashcroft that requested the DOJ agree in advance to shield officials involved in the torture program from legal action by federal prosecutors. The request concerned interrogators involved in the torture of “ghost prisoner” Abu Zubaydah, who was abducted in Pakistan and transferred to U.S. authorities in 2002 and has remained at the Guantánamo Bay military prison since 2006 without trial.
The letter reads:
Nonetheless, the interrogation team has now concluded…that the use of more aggressive methods is required to persuade Abu Zubaydah to provide critical information we need to safeguard the lives of innumerable innocent men, women, and children in the United States and abroad. These methods include certain activities that normally would appear to be prohibited [….] I respectfully request that you grant a formal declination of prosecution, in advance, for any employees of the United States, as well as any personnel acting on behalf of the United States, who may employ methods in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah that otherwise might subject those individuals to prosecution.
Rights groups condemned the details found in the documents, which also included the CIA’s concerns that tortured detainees should be prevented from seeing representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for the rest of their lives.
“We’re seeing just how much Mitchell, Jessen, and their CIA co-conspirators knew that what they were doing was wrong and illegal. They talked about seeking a get-out-of-jail-free card for torturing people, and then discussed how to make sure their victims were silenced forever, even if they survived their torture,” Ladin said.
The documents also redacted nearly all mention of the CIA’s Office of Medical Services, which was ostensibly in charge of detainees’ care.
Physicians for Human Rights medical director Dr. Vincent Iacopino added,
We continue to be stunned by the CIA’s audacity in suppressing all details related to the role medical officials played in the agency’s brutal torture program….This wholesale redaction is part of the CIA’s pattern of concealing evidence of its crimes, and it suggests U.S. government officials are still trying to avoid any and all liability for torturing detainees.
Top image caption: “These records document grave crimes for which no senior official has been held accountable.” (Photo: Justin Norman/flickr/cc)