Torturers ‘R US

The Taliban gave a tour to reporters of an abandoned US base that they claim was used by the CIA to plan their attacks and torture prisoners.

The cars, minibuses and armoured vehicles that the CIA used to run its shadow war in Afghanistan had been lined up and incinerated beyond identification before the Americans left. Below their ashy grey remains, pools of molten metal had solidified into permanent shiny puddles as the blaze cooled.

The faux Afghan village where they trained paramilitary forces linked to some of the worst human rights abuses of the war had been brought down on itself.

All formed part of the CIA compound that for 20 years was the dark, secret heart of America’s “war on terror”, a place were some of the worst abuses to sour the mission in Afghanistan would fester.

The sprawling hillside compound, spread over two square miles north-east of the airport, became infamous early on in the conflict for torture and murder at its “Salt Pit” prison, codenamed Cobalt by the CIA. The men held there called it the “dark prison”, because there was no light in their cells, the only occasional illumination coming from the headlamps of their guards.

It was here that Gul Rahman died of hypothermia in 2002 after he was chained to a wall half-naked and left overnight in freezing temperatures. His death prompted the first formal CIA guidelines on interrogation under a new regime of torture, eviscerated in a 2014 report that found that the abuse did not provide useful intelligence.

The base has for two decades been a closely guarded secret, visible only in satellite photos, navigated by the testimony of survivors. Now the Taliban’s special forces have moved in and recently, briefly, opened up the secret compound to journalists.

ProPublica has a report on efforts to get the government to acknowledge the existence of a torture camp in Poland, by virtue of a case that has wound its way via a circuitous route to the US Supreme Court, with one of the victims of torture demanding that depositions be obtained from the two infamous psychologists who designed some of the worst techniques that were used.

Zubaydah’s case has reached the Supreme Court circuitously, beginning with an investigation in Poland five years ago into whether any of its government officials were complicit in Zubaydah’s detention and torture. The United States has refused to cooperate with the Polish prosecutors, citing national security concerns.

The Polish investigators asked for help from Zubaydah’s lawyer, who in turn sought to take the depositions of psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. Paid more than $80 million, they were the principal architects of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” — the agency’s euphemism for waterboarding prisoners, slamming them against walls, forcing them into a coffin-sized box, depriving them of sleep for days at a time and other forms of torture. Zubaydah was the first prisoner on whom Mitchell and Jessen tested their techniques, according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report released in 2014.

After the CIA seized Zubaydah in Pakistan in March 2002 and secretly took him to a black site in Thailand, Bush administration officials asserted that he was al-Qaida’s third-highest-ranking leader. The government has since acknowledged that he was not a senior terrorist leader and that he had no known connection to the 9/11 attacks. He had been in and out of Afghanistan and Pakistan for nearly a decade and had suffered a serious head injury while fighting against the Soviet-backed government. Intelligence officials concluded he was more of a facilitator, providing false passports, housing and other arrangements for men, some potential terrorists, who moved between the two countries.

After being waterboarded 83 times in Thailand, Zubaydah had still not revealed any “actionable intelligence,” cables from Thailand to Langley reported. Later, interrogators would conclude he knew nothing about al-Qaida’s plans.

In December 2002, when journalists began asking questions about a black site in Thailand, it was shut down, and Zubaydah was secretly transferred to Poland.

It is reported that there have been as many as 20 CIA-run ‘black sites’ or torture camps around the world, including Thailand, Poland, Romania, Lithuania and Kosovo. The US refuses to acknowledge their existence until they are revealed by other sources.


  1. says

    @bmiller -- and, still, nobody has explained what knocked one of his eyes out.

    They knew he knew nothing after they waterboarded him the first half dozen times. The rest were pure sadism.

  2. jrkrideau says

    @ 2 Marcus
    And as the Canadian engineer, Maher Arar, said when asked regarding his false confession about being in an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, ” When you are being tortured you tell them what they want to hear”.

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