Back in October 2002, an Afghan man named Gul Rahman was living in a refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan, when he mysteriously disappeared. Less than a month later, he was discovered dead in his cell after suffering brutal torture at the hand of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials.
After almost 15 years, Rahman’s family received direct acknowledgment that he was killed in a secret CIA interrogation facility in Kabul, Afghanistan.
The distraught family cannot bring Rahman back, but in order to get some closure, they are pressing the United States to disclose what happened to his remains.
On behalf of the family, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act request that says the family seeks “information on what agents of the United States did with the body of Mr. Gul Rahman, an Afghan citizen, following his death in CIA custody in November 2002.”
The kind of torture the Afghan man went through is bound to give one shudders.
After he was kidnapped from the refugee camp, he was delivered to a clandestine CIA prison near Kabul known as “the Salt Pit,” where he was subjected to more than three weeks of interrogation that included being doused with frigid water (also known as waterboarding) and shackled naked or in a diaper for days in stress positions.
Rahman apparently didn’t survive the mindless torment for long, as according to the reports, he was discovered dead on Nov. 20, 2002. He was reportedly restrained overnight on the concrete floor when the outside temperature had dropped below freezing.
It is not like Rahman’s family sat hand idly all these years waiting for a word of his whereabouts. In 2015, his family filed a lawsuit, headed by his nephew Obaid Ullah alongside two surviving former Salt Pit prisoners, against James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen — the contract psychologists who designed the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program.”
A settlement reached in that lawsuit last year included a statement confirming that “Gul Rahman was subjected to abuses in the CIA program that resulted in his death and pain and suffering to his family.”
However, the settlement gave little insight on what really happened to Gul Rahman’s remains.
The CIA’s investigations were released in wake of the lawsuit. It said the CIA ordered a freezer to preserve the body for an autopsy, the report of which listed the likely cause of death as hypothermia. But again, what was done with his remains remained unanswered.
The Geneva Conventions, which seek to protect people who are not or are no longer taking part in hostilities, along with other international treaties, require that prisoners who die in custody in wartime be buried in marked graves. In addition, after the burial, families need to be notified and allowed to visit gravesites once hostilities are over.
In a deposition for the lawsuit against Mitchell and Jessen, Obaid Ullah made emotional plea for returns of his uncle’s remains.
“Where his gravesite is and what happened to him?” he said. “If they killed him I wish they would let us know: Here is your dead body. At least present the dead body to us.”
ACLU attorney Steven Watt, who filed the FOIA request on behalf of the family, was exasperated by the CIA’s continued refusal to account for Rahman’s remains. He called their disregard for the whole matter “a failure of basic human decency.”
“Honoring this small but significant request will help bring his family, including his mother, his wife and three daughters, long-needed closure,” Watt said. “It will also shed further light on one of the most controversial and tragic aspects of the CIA’s now-defunct torture program.”
The request filed addressed the CIA, the Department of Defense and the state department.
Such reports reinforce the fact a criminal investigation of U.S. torture in Afghanistan is long overdue. It is high time international entities took action as the Trump administration has repeatedly displayed disdain for human rights and zeal for ramping up the use of force when it comes to suspected terrorists.
President Donald Trump’s nomination for head of CIA, Gina Haspel, also reportedly oversaw a black site prison in Thailand where suspects were tortured.
Banner/Thumbnail: Reuters, Jason Reed