It took almost 15 years for Gul Rahman’s family to receive a direct acknowledgment that he had been killed in a secret CIA interrogation facility in Afghanistan, according to Guardian.
Now the family is pressing the United States to disclose what happened to his remains.
A Freedom of Information Act (Foia) request filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of 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”.
Rahman disappeared in October 2002, when the family was living in a refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan. He was delivered to a clandestine CIA prison near Kabul known as “the Salt Pit”, where he endured more than three weeks of interrogation that included being doused with frigid water and shackled naked or in a diaper for days in stress positions.
He was discovered dead in his cell on 20 November 2002, after being restrained overnight on the concrete floor on a night when the outside temperature dropped below freezing.
Gul Rahman’s family, represented by his nephew Obaid Ullah, filed a lawsuit in 2015 alongside two surviving former Salt Pit prisoners against James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, the two 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”.
But the settlement left unresolved the mystery of what happened to Gul Rahman’s remains. Internal CIA investigations produced for the lawsuit recorded that the CIA ordered a freezer to preserve the body for an autopsy, and summarized an autopsy report that listed the likely cause of death as hypothermia. No records relating to the disposition of Rahman’s remains have been released.
The Geneva Conventions and other international treaties require that prisoners who die in custody in wartime be buried in marked graves, that the graves’ locations be recorded in a registry, and that their families be notified and allowed access to the gravesites when hostilities end.
In a deposition for the lawsuit against Mitchell and Jessen, Obaid Ullah pleaded for return of his uncle’s remains. “Where is his gravesite 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.”
Steven Watt, the ACLU attorney who filed the Foia request on behalf of the family, called the CIA’s continuing refusal to account for Rahman’s remains “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,” he added.
Rahman’s death in November 2002, and the death of another prisoner the CIA delivered to an interrogation facility in Afghanistan two weeks later, convulsed the CIA’s fledgling Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation program.
The deaths came as the CIA was debating what to do with videotapes of the torture of Abu Zubaydah, which included 83 sessions of waterboarding, and as a second CIA captive, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was being subjected to similar treatment at the CIA’s black site in Thailand. Mitchell and Jessen led both those interrogations, and also participated in the interrogation of Gul Rahman in Afghanistan.
This turbulent period is likely to receive renewed scrutiny during the forthcoming congressional confirmation hearings for Gina Haspel, Donald Trump’s nominee to direct the CIA. Haspel, currently deputy director of the CIA, reportedly oversaw the Thai black site during al-Nashiri’s interrogation, and had a central role in the eventual destruction of the videotapes, which prompted a lengthy justice department investigation that ended without charges.
The Foia request filed Wednesday is directed to the CIA, the Department of Defense, and the state department. It specifically seeks information relating to the disposition of Gul Rahman’s body and its present location, and to protocols for family notification, investigations, and treatment of remains in the event of a death in CIA custody.