The Salt Pit and the Bybee Memos

The AP has a long article out providing details behind the Salt Pit death of a detainee named Gul Rahman–a former militant associated with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who was captured on October 29, 2002 at the home of Hekmatyar’s son-in-law, Dr. Ghairat Baheer, along with the Baheer and three others. A week later, Rahman was separated from the others. He was subjected to stress positions and water dousing and–on November 20–left in 36 degree cold, only to die a few hours later.

Aside from finally providing details on a story that has long been known, the story is interesting for the way it shows the how the CIA’s torture system fit with DOJ’s approvals in the Bybee Memos. The Rahman death shows that CIA’s managers (probably in the Counterterrorism Center) were involved in direct guidance on a technique that got someone killed. That technique was specifically not approved in the Bybee Two memo. But when CTC worked to exonerate the guy in the field–the manager of the Salt Pit–they pointed to the intent language of the Bybee One memo, and claimed that anything short of intending severe pain could not qualify as torture. Ultimately, CIA’s managers used the Get Out of Jail Free Card that John Yoo had written them to prevent accountability for themselves when they gave approval for a technique that got someone killed.

Gul Rahman died from water dousing

The AP describes how, in response to Rahman’s resistance to US guards (he threw a latrine bucket), he was subjected to stress positions and dousing.

At one point, the detainee threw a latrine bucket at his guards. He also threatened to kill them. His stubborn responses provoked harsher treatment. His hands were shackled over his head, he was roughed up and doused with water, according to several former CIA officials.

The exact circumstances of Rahman’s death are not clear, but the Afghan was left in the cold cell on the morning of Nov. 20, when the temperature dipped just below 36 degrees. He was naked from the waist down, said two former U.S. officials familiar with the case. Within hours, he was dead.

Though the AP doesn’t say it, the language used here makes it clear CIA thought of this as water dousing–a technique that would not be approved by DOJ for use until August 26, 2004. After Rahman died, the CIA tried to invent the Legal Principles document as a way to authorize murder and other crimes, but Jack Goldsmith would go on to not only refuse to consider that document OLC authorization, but to refuse to approve water dousing specifically in March 2004.

In other words, three years and our third review of this case later, and DOJ still hasn’t decided whether wetting someone down in close to freezing temperatures is a crime, even though this was a torture technique that DOJ had not approved at the time.

The Salt Pit manager relied on the advice of his superiors

Now, the guy who wet down Rahman apparently wasn’t working off a list of approved techniques. Rather, he was asking for guidance from his superiors.

The [Inspector General’s] report found that the Salt Pit officer displayed poor judgment in leaving the detainee in the cold. But it also indicated the officer made repeated requests to superiors for guidance that were largely ignored, according to two former U.S. intelligence officials.

That raised concerns about both the responsibility of the station chief and the CIA’s management in Langley. Similar concerns about CIA management were later aired in the inspector general’s review of the CIA’s secret interrogation program.

In fact, John Yoo, appears to blame the people interpreting the Bybee Memos for any untoward results from torture. For example, he refers to a written document (probably cables to the field) that appear to be derivative of the Bybee Memo, suggesting those didn’t properly account for pain that might amount to death.

The Memo says that the pain must rise to the level that “would ordinarily be associated with a sufficiently serious physical condition or injury such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of bodily functions.” Bybee Memo at 6. There is no way to interpret this sentence other than that if the pain is equivalent to the pain that accompanies those conditions, the infliction qualifies as torture, whether or not it actually does result in those conditions. It certainly would not be so misinterpreted by the sophisticated legal audience at which the Bybee Memo was directed–especially given the analysis in the Classified Bybee Memo, which carefully examined the level of physical pain caused by the individual interrogation techniques even though none of those techniques cause death, organ failure, or serious impairment of bodily functions. See Classified Bybee Memo at 9-10 (“With respect to physical pain, we previously concluded that ’severe pain’ within the meaning of Section 2340 is pain that is difficult for the individual to endure and is of an intensity akin to the pain accompanying serious physical injury.”)40

40 [long redaction] But, of course neither Professor Yoo nor Judge Bybee have anything to do with writing or reviewing [redacted] and they could reasonably assume their own work product would be read in good faith and consistently with its terms by a sophisticated audience even if a particular reader did not read it carefully or willfully disregarded its terms. [emphasis original]

That is, Yoo seems to blame whoever both read the Bybee Memo and–having interpreted the memo in a “sophisticated” manner–passed on authorization for techniques that did result into death.

Now, the AP article and its former CIA officer sources appear to blame the Kabul station chief–who has since become a top CIA officer–for the death.

It remains uncertain whether any intelligence officers have been punished as a result of the Afghan’s death, raising questions about the CIA’s accountability in the case. The CIA’s then-station chief in Afghanistan was promoted after Rahman’s death, and the officer who ran the prison went on to other assignments, including one overseas, several former intelligence officials said.


But several former senior CIA officials questioned the Kabul station chief’s career advancement inside the agency after Rahman died. Now a senior officer, the man was promoted at least three times since leaving Afghanistan in 2003, former officials said.

But the record we’ve seen with other torture authorizations show heavy cable traffic going back and forth from the field and Langley, suggesting the “sophisticated” reader who translated the Bybee Memo into torture may well have been in the Counterterrorism Center. And it’s notable that the CIA’s own accountability review board who reviewed this incident was led by Dusty Foggo, a guy who would later go on to have his own abuse of power–and his inappropriate girlfriend–protected by John Rizzo at Office of General Counsel, another person who was in the loop of torture approvals.

Bybee One and Bybee Two work to pre-authorize some torture and retroactively approve murder

Ultimately, though, this case points to how the Bybee One and Two memos worked in tandem, with Bybee Two authorizing things like waterboarding, and Bybee One including that giant loophole of intent. The AP says that Paul McNulty and Chuck Rosenberg’s reviews of the murder could not prove that the manager of the Salt Pit intended to murder Rahman.

The former U.S. official familiar with the case said federal prosecutors could not prove the CIA officer running the Salt Pit had intended to harm the detainee — a point made in a recently released government document that also disclosed Rahman’s name.

But the unnamed document referred to above does not say DOJ’s prosecutors made this determination (I’m working on being able to say more about this document). Rather, it says that the Counterterrorism Center wrote a declination memo for this case specifically, and appealed to the intent language of the Bybee One memo. And that declination memo said that since the manager of the Salt Pit did not intend for Rahman to suffer severe pain from being watered down and left in a near-freezing cell, he did not violate the torture statute.

But understand what’s happening here: the manager of the Salt Pit had no fucking clue what he should do with Rahman–he didn’t have the Bybee Two memo, for example. He asked for guidance from his superiors repeatedly, almost certainly CTC. Those superiors approved a SERE technique that had not been approved by OLC, and that technique led to Rahman’s death. And it was CTC that got to write CIA’s summary of what happened in a declination memo that presumably went to DOJ’s own prosecutors.

That is, the guys who probably approved an unauthorized technique, the guys who probably had read both Bybee Memos, relied on the intent language of the Bybee One memo to excuse that unauthorized technique, and declare the deliberate exposure of someone to near-freezing temperatures not to be murder or torture.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

65 replies
  1. Ishmael says:

    “At one point, the detainee threw a latrine bucket at his guards. He also threatened to kill them. His stubborn responses provoked harsher treatment. His hands were shackled over his head, he was roughed up and doused with water, according to several former CIA officials.”

    Rahman’s death in custody seems to have been equally consistent with retaliation by his captors for defiance, and inflicting pain as punishment, not interrogation purposes. How do the Bybee memos excuse this conduct, or is this a distinction without a difference for Bybee/Yoo?

  2. bobschacht says:

    OK, we’ve got a murder case here, or at least negligent homicide. No SOL, right? The story as we have it seems to indicate that the station chief is guilty, and the CTC guys are accessories, right?

    But IANAL, so will the lawyer folk answer my questions, please?

    Bob in AZ

    • bmaz says:

      Well, there are three individuals to look at from the story – the guard, his supervising officer at the facility, and the station chief. But, as Marcy points out, there was cable traffic with Langley that could implicate others. For actual criminal culpability for homicide, it may get more difficult to stick as you get away from having the direct knowledge that would come from being on the scene and witnessing the conditions and circumstances of the environment and Rahman.

      • MadDog says:

        CIA Salt Prison Mgr (while playing a tiny violin): “I didn’t intend to kill any detainee.”

        Yoo (while wishing upon a star): “If you don’t intend to commit a crime, then you aren’t committing any crime.”

        Margolis (while whistling Dixie): “Boys will be boys.”

  3. tjbs says:

    Torture/ Murder/ Treason and the murder part is sticky with the SOL never running out.

    The arms over the head part-can that lead to a heart attack after 2 hours, 4 hours, 6 hours, 16 hours or how ever long it takes to retaliate for using the only weapon the suspect had available?

    He was naked from the waste down, was that before or after he was strung up?

    I see a civilian trial would clear up a few of my questions.

    The murder of innocents in custody and the cover up is their undoing and I would like to see the fearless leaders bush and cheney asked, in the dock, if they ever viewed the snuff film or films then what did they do to prevent the re-occurrence.

  4. orionATL says:

    “…he was asking for guidance from his superiors…”

    what kind of idiots does the cia hire?

    could any adult ever exposed to freezing rain doubt that wetting a man down in
    near freezing cold would result in hypothermia?

    would the duty officer have asked if it was o.k. to hit raman in the head with a baseball

    would he have asked if it was o.k. to drip a little acid in one eye?

    on another matter regarding terrorism/ torture (which i regard as subclasses of the same phenomenon):

    the cia officer/contracter who allowed dousing was acting out of revenge;

    he was not trying to get information from raman.

    i would assume, revenge being a universal human phenomenon, that any guidelines published on torture would specifically forbid torture for revenge or personal animosity – its purpose is to get critical information.

    • Mason says:

      i would assume, revenge being a universal human phenomenon, that any guidelines published on torture would specifically forbid torture for revenge or personal animosity – its purpose is to get critical information.

      The purpose of torture was and remains an effort to terrify and intimidate enemies and potential enemies, including civilian populations, into believing that US soldiers and secret police (CIA) are more barbaric and deadly than any other force in the world. An occasional death is an acceptable and probably desired outcome.

      The second purpose was and remains to extract false information to use for propaganda and to justify additional regime change operations.

      No one was seeking truthful information.

      Yoo and Bybee were afterthoughts based on concerns expressed by some people with knowledge of what was going on and feared prosecutions for war crimes. They produced nonsensical CYA letters to wave in people’s faces, if they asked questions and I don’t think the memos were widely circulated.

  5. PJEvans says:

    the “sophisticated” reader

    It makes me think of an older use of ‘sophisticated’, which also meant ‘adulterated’, or even ‘fake’.

  6. orionATL says:

    as for “intent”

    the only person in the world who will ever know what i intend is me.

    it is impossible for any other person to know my intent – though that will doubtless change as measurements in neuroscience get ever more sophisticated.

    i assume that in law, jurors and judges are allowed to use facts surrounding an induvidual’s actions as evidence allowing those jurors or judges to infer intent.

    could anyone doubt that a officer’s/guard’s behavior toward a recalcitrant inmate like raman was to punish him for his behavior and that that punishment was well-known to cause hypothermia and hypothermia was well/known to cause death.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Was “murder” the only charge considered against this CIA Salt Pit manager? That would always have been the hardest to prove, while other felonies might readily describe his conduct.

    Submission of a highly stressed individual – even if healthy and fit – to extreme cold was always a no-brainer. Ask any soldier or lifeguard. The effects of cold would have been well know to men with military and survival training. They would have known it was likely to induce shock, which could readily lead to death, owing to its suppression of the body’s thermoregulatory system. Hypothermia would also have been an obvious risk; below a certain temperature, resuscitation becomes very difficult, even for trained medics.

    The callous disregard for the life or death consequences of these decisions suggest intent. Certainly, it demonstrates reckless disregard. Any felony involving unlawful killing short of murder should have been considered. If it wasn’t, it amounts to a de facto cover-up. The reckless disregard also suggests that gathering intelligence wasn’t the number one priority. The dead can’t talk.

    • Jeff Kaye says:

      Let me amplify your pertinent comments, and EW’s excellent article.

      It’s clear that Rahman was killed by the totality of interrogation/torture regimen, with hypothermia and the dousing the efficient cause. He may have died anyway from hypothermia, but the effects of the physiological fatigue, stress, and sleep loss were well known — and in the special forces milieu around which the CIA was highly aware — and these kinds of environmental and physiological stressors were likely directly related to Rahman’s death.

      Consider these remarks, from a military study on Army Rangers and hypothermia during special forces training, as published in 1998 in the Journal of Applied Physiology:

      The anecdotal association between exertional fatigue and susceptibility to hypothermia is well reported (21, 22), and a recently reported experimental study (26) suggests that prolonged fatiguing exercise can impair thermoregulatory responses to cold. Underfeeding and chronic negative energy balance may impair thermoregulatory responses to cold directly, by limiting substrate availability for thermogenesis and reducing body lean and fat mass (decreased insulation and thermogenic capacity), or indirectly, via central nervous or sympathoadrenal system effects (2, 9). Therefore, Ranger School students might indeed experience an increased susceptibility to hypothermia as they progress through the course….

      The primary finding from these experiments was that chronic exertional fatigue, sleep loss, and negative energy balance reduce cold tolerance and impair an individual’s ability to maintain normal Tb during cold exposure…..

      …after longer periods of sleep deprivation (>33 h), resting core temperatures were found to be lower, and core temperature set points for thermoregulatory effector responses to heat stress were delayed, or shifted upward, even in the absence of negative energy balance and exertional fatigue (10). Such set point shifts during sleep deprivation may, in fact, represent phase shifting (advances or delays) of the circadian timekeeping for the rhythm of core temperature….

      In summary, prolonged periods of sustained high levels of exertion and energy expenditure, coupled with negative energy balance and sleep deprivation, increase susceptibility to hypothermia. Thermogenic responses to cold are suppressed, probably because of fatigue that results from sleep deprivation and physical exertion. Negative energy balance causes loss of insulative body fat and thereby facilitates conductive heat loss during cold exposure. Recovery from the former can occur with a short period (48 h) of rest and sleep, but the latter requires a longer period of several weeks for refeeding to restore body fat and insulation to normal levels.

      Note that recovery to normal levels can take “several weeks”. This speaks to the physiological ability to restore the body’s ability to withstand hypothermic pressures, not recover in general from being tortured.

      I have been saying for some time now that the failure of Yoo et al. to consider the existing military research on SERE torture and other special forces extreme pressures was not simply “poor judgment”, but amounted to a suppression of well-known and available evidence. This suppression may have begun with CIA and Special Forces top personnel, but we know that Yoo and others went searching for evidence to back up their supposed opinions. The fact that they eschewed military and intelligence community research for Medicare definitions (and even these, wrongly read), is something a jury should be laughing out loud at as they mark their ballots GUILTY!

      • Jeff Kaye says:

        Of course, there is also the possibility that the experimental nature of these procedures (amply reported elsewhere, by drational, PHR, myself, and others) meant that they were going to push Rahman to the edge in any case.

        These are not reasonable men and women we are dealing with, but moral monsters. They may toss around legalisms, but they belong to a group of individuals and set of institutions that have for decades had no consideration for the suffering of their victims, or the rights of those they oppose.

        • wavpeac says:

          “These are not reasonable men and women we are dealing with, but moral monsters”.

          Oh how comforting that would be…but if this is true…we are surrounded.

          I prefer to change the paradigm somewhat and suggest that this type of “murder” begins the minute we invalidate another human being. When we blame the “type” of human who does this, we lose touch with the part of the process that humanity is accountable for. My thesis is that violence against another human being cannot occur without the mechanism of “invalidation”. I do think it’s true that some human beings are more vulnerable to this mechanism than others. But it’s like not seeing the forest for the trees.

          When we call them monsters…it makes it so much harder to hold them accountable. Why? Because they rarely look like monsters. I think they should be held accountable, but I also think that we human beings need to face the most dangerous identification error being made in the cases of war, torture, and most forms of violence. Once we begin down the slippery slope that another human being is “not really human” or “not valid”…”not deserving of protection under laws” we are basically beginning the path toward violence. Whether we are hitting a child who has done “wrong”, a spouse that “pushed my buttons”, or a “terrorist” or just someone “guilty”. I wish that we could see the structure of this mechanism and how it runs through all forms of violence.

          The “invalidation” of “other” is rampant right now. It’s even being applied to the president, to liberals, and to Muslims. The scope of this mechanism is broadening.

          So…back when “all humans were created equal” (valid) we made a law that said the crime of murder has no statute of limitations…does that apply here?

          While I want to call them “monsters” I fear the act of invalidation in my language and thought. To me, this is the best explanation for genocide, for torture, for child abuse, and for sexual abuse. It creates the delusion, by thought, that a human is not a human. It seems like we all need to be very aware of this mechanism…so we will not be surprised by the violence that follows this thought, or that we may have some chance of changing this. It is literally a delusional thought. The map is not the territory. I can wholly support the notion that these folks were irrational, but it started quite simply at the top, the minute the Bush administration began to act as if these people were not people.

  8. orionATL says:

    earlofhuntingdon @9

    the last sentence of your comment incited a gruesome thought:

    perhaps the officer and the guard could be charged with dereliction of duty by virture of losing valuable intellugence “property” by allowing that property to die.

    which brings to mind a view of torture similar to slavery.

    a slave was valuable property – valuable for his/her ability to work.

    any overseer who harmed a slave’s ability to work (inthis case to provide intell info) would have been considered incompetent and derelict in his duty to the slave’s owner.

  9. phred says:

    EW, just a quick nit picky geek comment here, but your use of the term “near-freezing” is puzzling to me. Presumably you use it because water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and the cell only got as cold as 36 degrees F. But, the temperature at which something freezes is a function of what that something is. Different liquids freeze at different temperatures. Humans are not simple liquids and it is clear that if left unprotected they will freeze to death at 36 degrees F. I think you are on safe ground to simply say “freezing temperatures” and leave it at that.

      • phred says:

        LOL : ) That is one of my most favorite quotes from ST:TNG : ) Indeed, we are, but it is all the contaminants mixed in that determine things like life and death, and our melting and boiling points ; )

    • sailmaker says:

      Sailors have a maxim, “Fifty degrees, fifty minutes, 50-50 (chance of survival)”. If someone falls overboard in the ocean around San Francisco, one has maybe 25 minutes to find them in order to be assured of their survival.

      IMO what these people (using the term loosely) did was torture with the intention of death, not torture for information. Petty assed revenge at that. Someone can’t take an unarmed man throwing a latrine bucket?

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Yep. And that 25 minutes in the Pacific off SFO would only apply in summer and disregards the hunger of creepy crawlies off Stinson Beach. Off season, you’d be unconscious in about half that time and dead shortly thereafter.

        I think the episode displays the jailer’s inevitable revenge at his control being challenged, an old story. It also suggests the venting of post 9/11 rage at a largely unseen (even if looked at) brown, foreign enemy that seems to have run up and down the chain of political and departmental command, from Cheney’s office to the field agents and contractors who put pliers to uses not anticipated by Channellock.

        That it also suggests a break down in discipline and obedience to rules – in favor of “obeying orders”, a defense that hadn’t worked at least since Nuremberg – doesn’t seem to be a problem this administration or its predecessor deems worthy of addressing.

  10. Elliott says:

    totally OT
    but Happy Birthday, Marcy.

    may you enjoy a day full of custom made pancakes slobbered with maple syrup and toasted with Irish whiskey.

    • phred says:

      Happy Birthday EW!

      May the road rise up to meet you… preferably with a lorry carrying Beamish your way ; )

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Ah, you’ve quoted from that famous Irish poet, Anon.:

        May the road rise to meet you,
        May the wind be always at your back.
        May the sun shine warm upon your face,
        The rain fall soft upon your fields,
        And until we meet again,
        May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

        [Presumably, though, not a few of the Vicar of Christ’s priests.]

  11. R.H. Green says:

    From the summaries I’ve read so far, it seems that hypothermia as the cause of death is inferential. Is there data on this? What the summary provided here says is that Rahman was “roughed up and doused with water”. It is equally speculative to note that death could have resulted from being “roughed up”, for example, from a bleeding kidney.

      • R.H. Green says:

        OK; read the AP story. CIA medic on-scene declared hypothermia, “confirmed” by physician at some later date. I’m still skeptical, but given the secrecy there’s little that can be done beyond pointing to the implications in the “story”, as EW is doing.

        And a Happy Birthday to her. (Do we know if she actually was born; is there a birth certificate? Inquiring minds want to know!)

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          It would seem worthwhile to explore how hypothermia was induced, other than going out for too long a stroll on a windy night.

        • emptywheel says:

          I think you’re right to point to the inferential nature of all this–particularly since he was buried with no notice.

          They clearly didn’t want anyone to look too closely.

        • emptywheel says:

          Just got off the phone with my mom. She insists–at almost 10 pounds–I was definitely born.

          In fact, when they first weighed me I WAS 10 pounds. Then my dad, who was known to be a bit pushy, ordered them to keep weighing me until his baby girl came in under 10. So my birth certificate says I was 9 pounds 15 oz. (Now if I ever become President the birthers will claim my birth certificate is fraudulent.)

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        That’s a bit like saying the deceased died of heart failure. I believe it was Agatha Christie who had Hercule Poirot say that he had never seen a corpse whose heart was still beating.

  12. Jeff Kaye says:

    And for fear of clogging up the thread here, I ask forbearance for one final quote, from another military study, one that in the late 1990s studied the creation of a cold strain index (CSI) to use in evaluating hypothermia risk, to add to other methods by which the latter could be assessed. There are many studies on this issue… many… and it boggles the mind that they try to rewrite history now and make it seem like some kind of accident.

    This study was by Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine and an Israeli medical center, published in August 1999 in the American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology.

    The impact of water immersion on heat-balance mechanisms is greater than that of a similar air temperature because conductivity of water is 25 times greater than that in air (19) and because heat loss in water is particularly sensitive to the skin-water temperature difference. As a consequence, temperature gradients become great, and physiological responses are dramatic.

  13. Mary says:

    Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is at the center of a storm right now, bc Karzai has been meeting with Hek’s reps to strike an accord. Hekmatyar has long been alleged to have ISI (and old Saudi) ties and has been recently decried by India as ISI’s proxy for striking Indian interests in Afghanistan.
    The waters are pretty murky on what was going on with the Pakistani arrest of Mullah Omar’s deputy, Baradar. But at least some have said that Karzai was trying to reach some agreements via a pipeline with Baradar and the ISI decided to shut that down and guarantee their interests were being protected by leaving Hekmatyar as the main player in Karzai’s peace efforts. From the India based Economic Times source linked:

    Kai Eide, till recently the UN’s Special Representative to Afghanistan criticised Pakistan for its recent arrest of prominent Taliban leaders especially Taliban No 2 Mulla Abdul Ghani Baradar and said that channels of communication that had been opened with the Taliban had been shut down by Pakistan.
    Questioning the motivation, Mr Eide said, “The effect of (the arrests), in total, certainly was negative on our possibilities to continue the political process that we saw so necessary at that particular juncture.” “The Pakistanis did not play the role they should have played…. they must have known who they were, what kind of role they were playing, and you see the result today” the former UN envoy said in an interview to the BBC. Even before Mr Eide’s remarks, a top aide to Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the Associated Press that Baradar’s arrest by Pakistan had come after he had agreed to take part in ‘peace jirga’ to be hosted by Mr Karzai next month. Experts see the Pakistani action against the Taliban as an attempt to ensure a central role in the reconciliation process and to checkmate India in Afghanistan.

    Hekmatyar had fought against the Soviets and in the later half of the 1990s, he was forced out of Afghanistan by – – the Taliban. He went to live in Tehran, but during the US invasion and after, he was very vocally anti-American and anti-Karzai, so the Iranians (who were looking for beter US relations back then) tossed him out.

    In February 2002, the Iranian authorities expelled Mr Hekmatyar and closed down the offices of his Hezb-e-Islami in Tehran.

    They accused him of abusing Iranian hospitality with his comments vowing to fight the Karzai administration.

    He returned to an undisclosed location in Afghanistan following threats by the Afghan government to arrest him and try him for war crimes.

    In March of the same year he offered an olive branch to Mr Karzai.

    He did reappear after the US invasion and has fought against various and sundry (again reinforcing the speculation of his role as an ISI proxy) including Americancan, but it wasn’t until 2006 that he declared any kind of an alliance with al-Qaeda.

    However, from the BBC profile linked earlier

    In May 2002, the CIA reportedly spotted him in the Shegal Gorge, near Kabul, and tried to kill him with a missile from an unmanned spy plane. It missed.

    The US continued to tighten the screw and was reportedly behind the arrest in Islamabad in October of Mr Hekmatyar’s son, Ghairat Baheer.

    Mr Hekmatyar’s response was defiance. At the end of that year, he warned that a holy war would be stepped up against international troops in Afghanistan.

    His message was distributed along the Afghan-Pakistan border to drum up recruits.

    The message read: “Hezb-e-Islami will fight our jihad until foreign troops are gone from Afghanistan and Afghans have set up an Islamic government.”

    So, after the Fall, 2002 torture killing by the CIA, Hekmatyar abandons the olive branch strategy and makes a full force commitment by his crew to jihad on foreign troops.

    ALL OF THAT said to point out the odd references in the story to Gul Rahman’s status. They start off with calling him a *suspected Islamic militant* (not a terrorist and btw – remember how those OLC authorizations involved ok’s based on the status of a torturee as a high value operational al-Qaeda member?) and then they very much blur what is and what was. From EW’s linked AP story:

    The man was Gul Rahman (gool RAHK’-mahn), a suspected militant captured on Oct. 29, 2002, a U.S. official familiar with the case confirmed. The official said Rahman was taken during an operation against Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, an insurgent group headed by Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (gool-boo-DEEN’ hek-mat-YAR’) and allied with al-Qaida.

    In 2002, Hekmatyar was the guy the Talian had driven out and who was getting back into Afghanistan in the chaos of the American invasion to try to regain his power. He was figthing on lots of fronts and was being alternately linked to making overtures to Karzai and a possible bombing plan against Karzai. But in 2002 it was a bit premature to say that despite having recently been driven out of Afghanistan by al-Qaeda’s protectors, the Taliban, he was allied with al-Qaeda.

    OTOH, after the torture killing of Rahman, Hekmatyar makes a full on public commitment to killing American soldiers in Afghanistan. That was followed, in 2003 (after the CIA had tortured to death Rahman) by the US State dept declaring him a terrorist .

    So before the torture killing of Rahman, while Hekmatyar was pretty much viewed as a very ruthless warlord and all around self-interested bad buy (of the kind we generally cultivate) with ties our our pals the Saudis and ISI, he had more of an axe to grind against the Taliban than a reason to align with them and al-Qaeda. But somehow all that is blurred in the CIA killing story into the 2002 capture being linked with Hekmatyar being allied (after the killing) with al-Qaeda.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      How nicely those observations fit into Cheney’s determination that we acquire enemies worthy of his rage and his fear that 9/11 might carry political consequences for his constitutionally unique administration.

      It’s almost as if he went out and made them so he could rail against them, and so that we would go along with his constitutional “reforms”; his massive spending, warmaking and outsourcing; and his gelding of federal regulatory powers.

    • emptywheel says:

      And to add to that, two geographic details. First, Rahman had been living in Peshawar. But Baheer was living in Islamabad, which is where he and Rahman were rounded up. And they didn’t declare Hekmatyar a terrorist, per your link, until around the time they let Baheer go.

    • Jeff Kaye says:

      All good comments, but note that Hekmatyar is not just the kind we warlord we generally cultivate, we did cultivate him.

      Statement of Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, US Policy Toward Afghanistan, Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on South Asia, 14 April 1999.

      “The US has a very close relationship with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, in matters concerning Afghanistan, but unfortunately, instead of providing leadership, we are letting them lead our policy. This began during the Afghan war against the Soviets. I witnessed this in the White House when US officials in charge of the military aid program to the mujahideen permitted a large percentage of our assistance to be channeled to the most anti-western non-democratic elements of the mujahideen, such as Golbodin Hekmatayar. This was done to placate the Pakistan ISI military intelligence.”

      From the same link:

      By August 1992, ongoing rocketing by the forces of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar – a one-time favourite of Pakistan and the US – had driven out half a million civilians from the capital city Kabul and killed over 2,000 people.

      From a good article summarizing Hek’s career:

      So great was Hekmatyar’s cooperation with the CIA (then headed by William Casey) that he even, at their request, launched rocket attacks from Afghanistan against the Soviet republic of Tajikistan in 1987 ([Ahmed Rashid, Taliban [Yale University Press, 2000], p. 129)

      Interestingly, that attempted takeout of Hekmaytar in May 2002 via Hellfire missile from a Predator, was reportedly the first such Predator attack aimed at a non-Taliban, non-Al Qaeda target.

      • bobschacht says:

        Hekmatyar is among the worst of the worst. We should not be dealing with him at all. Dealing with him is like dealing with the devil– its almost impossible to wind up winning.

        Bob in AZ

  14. Mary says:

    It’s your B’day?

    Have a great one!

    I’m off to do outside stuff, trying to forget the truly abysmal UK performance against WVA. Since all my family is from WVA, it should be the silver lining, but they were all Marhallies, with a distinct dislike for all things WVU, so I’m really slinking today.

  15. Mary says:

    BTW – I really like the things unsaid in this part of the AP story:

    The inspector general referred the Salt Pit death to prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia. Two federal prosecutors, Paul J. McNulty and Chuck Rosenberg, conducted separate reviews. Each prosecutor concluded he couldn’t make a case against any CIA officer involved in the death. Neither would discuss his decision.

    Let’s see – referral to McNulty results in McNulty’s appointment as DAG when he declines prosecutions. Rosenberg serves as COS to Comey while Comey signs off on at least one of Bradbury’s torture memos, then Rosenberg gets the gig to do a second review of the torture referrals.

    During this time, EDVA is actively concealing torture evidence from the courts with outstanding discovery orders and then, despite those same courts protection orders, actively conceals destruction of the torture evidence.

    Meanwhile meanwhile, all the guys involved in the reviews are subordinates to, and bound by the decisions of, and actively seeking to protect – – the AG who was likely the guy to give the verbal oks in the Principals meetings or otherwise, and who still hasn’t anted up his involvement in torture.

    DOJ is like a later day Prometheus that has been taught to dutifully croon “let the eagle soar” as its liver is being repeatedly torn out.

    I know Easter isn’t a big time for most of you, but with it approaching, it all makes me that much more sickened, the men and women whose lesson learned from the Passion is to align themselves with the torturers and never, ever, ever, allocute or repent.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      They’re playing the odds by not allocuting or repenting. After all, what’s a peasant village Jew compared to the might of the Roman Empire and its occupying army?

      As for McNulty, et al., I’d love to explore what went into the conclusion that he/they “couldn’t make a case”. Not without disclosing torture intelligence sourcing and methods? Not without disclosing the criminal behavior in the White House?

    • Gitcheegumee says:

      Mary, I was thinking on the various suppurating dams of hierarchical corruption as Holy Week approaches….that much rot has to collapse under its own weight,whether it be the government institutions OR the Catholic Church.

    • justalacky says:


      What most sickens me tho is that I don’t see any resolution occurring, no movement, just additional entrenching and protection.

      Are there any White Hats left?

  16. Garrett says:

    Whether and when approved or not, water dousing seems to be one of our hallmark techniques.

    It is so widespread and universal and routine that it seems more taught and encouraged than independently arrived at. As combined technique, it is very closely associated with standing stress position sleep deprivation. It is also frequently used in actual interrogation, as opposed to setting conditions.

    Interrogators seem pretty cagey about discussing it. They know it is a sensitive subject. The SEALs interrogating Manadel al-Jamadi remember it was done, but can’t remember exactly which one of them did it. The al-Qahtani interrogators use downplaying bravado style “a few drops of water were sprinkled on him” in entries.

    • emptywheel says:

      I have wondered whether they didn’t use it to replace waterboarding after waterboarding became politically untenable even within the Administration (remember that by 2004 even Alberto Gonzales was worried about waterboarding).

      And remember they DID threaten to use waterboarding while water dousing with one of the high level detainees interviewed for the 2007 ICRC report.

      • Garrett says:

        I wonder about water immersion, as perhaps a distinct technique from water dousing, as a substitution for waterboarding.

        An example would be the elderly Baathist widow from Mansour, captured during Operation Victory Bounty in fall 2003, and held at what seems to be Camp Cropper, forced to “swim” in water on the floor of a cell: a combined technique of use of water, and exercise to exhaustion.

        Another example would be the three at Abu Ghraib at close to the same time: after beatings and sexual humiliation, thrown naked into waterlogged cells when it was over. The current Mrs. Charles Granier explains this as being nice to them: he was just cleaning and preparing a comfy cell.

  17. Gitcheegumee says:

    EW…to you…I raise a toast of Jameson’s…and sincerest wishes for continued success ,health,wealth and most of all,love.

  18. oldnslow says:

    Thanks for the write up, Empty.

    I don’t think I have ever been so ashamed of my country. Or countrymen.

    Again thanks for the truth no matter how painfull. We as a nation bear deep and lasting shame even if those responisble for this are brought to justice. If, as has been the case so far, we continue to allow those people to go free, we are so overwhelming compromised as a society it may be impossible to recover our standing in the world.

    I am deeply sadened to think the country I proudly served as a uniformed member of the Armed Forces is reduced to this. Shame, shame, shame.

    Almost forgot, Happy Birthday, Marcy!!!

  19. JohnLopresti says:

    Once there was a baby from NCaroline
    Of prodigious newborn weight and mind
    The latter grew so immense
    Her words gained fame
    And now she always employs the correct verb tense.

    Happy birthday ew, from a ne’er too hearty limericist.

  20. qweryous says:

    Link to this is up at The Raw Story.

    It shows there as “Did CIA use Bybee memo for protection?”.

    Clicking sends one directly here.

  21. ondelette says:

    Thanks for all the careful sleuth work. We are likely to find more holes in the direct commands for this technique, water dousing. There are techniques that seem to have been somewhat controlled, like waterboarding, (controlled here refers to approval processes for using them, not the techniques themselves), and techniques which were proliferated in what seems like an extremely premeditated Lord-of-the-Flies creation. The latter has some prominent names, Geoffrey Miller, Captain Carolyn Wood, and Donald Rumsfeld the most prominent. Their program, largely military instead of CIA, was to produce less accountable scenarios in which there is no direct chain of command, but there is mass torture for the ostensible purposes of aiding the OGA people (as they referred to them, the CIA) in “softening up” prisoners for interrogation — the program that created the Abu Ghraib scandal among other things.

    Certain techniques ended up in that program: sexual degradation, strappado, chaining from the ceiling, dogs, and this one, water dousing. This one was used on large numbers of people in the network of close to 100 prisons being run in Afghanistan, most of which had been declared by the military as being not fit for anything but temporary (the military defined this as two weeks) incarceration, but people were held in it far longer. Many of the cells were (are?) chicken wire, and jailers dumped water on the inmates at night, in some cases causing lesions from frostbite. They also withheld blankets, and left people in the sun (in summer) in such cells. The interrogations for which they were being “softened” in many cases never occurred.

    Just a thought but this may account for the dead phones when the officer on site was trying to get “guidance”. One of the principal features of the Miller/Wood style was that such guidance was not needed, and the lack of it provided deniability. Just provide the conditions and some ‘seed’ guidance and the Stanford Prison Experiment effects would take the jailers where their superiors wanted them to go.

    John Yoo may not want to take responsibility for this program and in fact may not really be in a direct fashion (and he isn’t the type of person who can link his memoes to the horrible things they produced without his usual babbling about the Article II powers and protecting the nation). But Carolyn Wood would probably know all about water dousing, even if it was first invented at the Salt Pit by the CIA.

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