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Context of 'November 2002: CIA Officer in Charge of Salt Pit Black Site Requests Guidance on Handling Detainees, Requests Are Ignored'

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CIA officer Matthew Zirbel, who is in charge of the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan, asks for guidance on how he should manage the prison. However, the requests are largely ignored, apparently by his immediate boss, the CIA station chief in Afghanistan, known only as Paul P. Zirbel is a junior officer and has never run a prison before, which is presumably one of the reasons he makes the requests. Zirbel’s use of the water dousing method will later cause the death of a detainee (see November 20, 2002) and the CIA’s inspector general will find that the lack of guidance was a contributory factor leading up to the death. [Associated Press, 3/28/2010]

Entity Tags: “Paul P.”, Matthew Zirbel, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

An Afghan detainee dies of hypothermia while being brutalized by CIA interrogators at a secret prison north of Kabul code-named the “Salt Pit” (see After October 2001). The detainee, whose name is Gul Rahman, is considered uncooperative (see November 2002). [Washington Post, 3/3/2005; ABC News, 11/18/2005; Associated Press, 3/28/2010] He had originally been arrested in Pakistan, and then brought to Afghanistan. [Washington Post, 9/19/2009] An inexperienced junior CIA case officer named Matthew Zirbel, who is in charge of the Salt Pit, orders Rahman to be stripped semi-naked, chained to the concrete floor, and left overnight without blankets. [Washington Post, 3/3/2005; ABC News, 11/18/2005; Mahoney and Johnson, 10/9/2009, pp. 29 pdf file] The incident will later be confirmed by four government officials. Afghan guards paid by the CIA and working under agency supervision take Rahman to an abandoned warehouse, drag him around on the concrete floor, causing bruising and lacerations, before chaining him in his cell. When night falls, the temperature plummets. Rahman is found in the morning, frozen to death. A CIA medic quickly autopsies him and states that “hypothermia” is the cause of death, and guards bury the body in an unmarked, unacknowledged cemetery used by Afghan forces. The man’s family is not notified, and his remains are never returned for a proper burial. The man is not listed on any registry of captives, not even as a so-called “ghost detainee.” One government official says simply, “He just disappeared from the face of the earth.” Zirbel will later be promoted. [Washington Post, 3/3/2005; ABC News, 11/18/2005] Zirbel’s supervisor, the CIA chief of station in Afghanistan known only as Paul P., will go on to play a role in incidents of detainee abuse in Iraq, although details about this are unknown. [Washington Post, 9/19/2009; Harper's, 3/28/2010] Colleagues later describe Zirbel as “bright… eager, [and] full of energy,” and say that he was placed in charge of the facility because “there were not enough senior-level volunteers,” according to one senior intelligence officer. “It’s not a job just anyone would want. More senior people said, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ There was a real notable absence of high-ranking people” in Afghanistan. Moreover, the officer will add: “[T]he CIA did not have a deep cadre of people who knew how to run prisons. It was a new discipline. There’s a lot of room to get in trouble.” The CIA will brief the chairmen and vice chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on the death, but at least one official will say the briefing is incomplete. Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking minority member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will ask the committee chairman, Pat Roberts (R-KS), to investigate Rahman’s death, but Roberts will refuse. No one is sure if Rahman had any real connection to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. “He was probably associated with people who were associated with al-Qaeda,” one US government official will say. [Washington Post, 3/3/2005; ABC News, 11/18/2005]

Entity Tags: House Intelligence Committee, Matthew Zirbel, “Paul P.”, Pat Roberts, Central Intelligence Agency, John D. Rockefeller, Gul Rahman, Senate Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The CIA’s office of the inspector general begins an investigation of the killing of detainee Gul Rahman at the agency’s Salt Pit black site in Afghanistan (see November 20, 2002). The investigation begins after the agency’s inspector general, John Helgerson, is notified of the incident by management (see Shortly After November 20, 2002). It is unclear whether the inspector general issues a separate report on this incident or whether his office’s conclusions about it are contained in a general report on the effectiveness of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program (see May 7, 2004). Whatever the case, the inspector general’s conclusions focus on two agency officials, an officer named Matthew Zirbel, who caused Rahman’s death, and his boss, the CIA’s station chief in Afghanistan, known only as Paul P. The investigation finds that Zirbel displayed poor judgement in leaving Rahman to die, but that he made repeated requests for guidance that were largely ignored. [Associated Press, 3/28/2010]

Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (CIA), “Paul P.”, Central Intelligence Agency, Matthew Zirbel

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The CIA’s Executive Director Kyle “Dusty” Foggo reviews the case of the killing of Afghan detainee Gul Rahman at the Salt Pit black site in 2002 (see November 20, 2002). However, he takes no action against the two officers involved in the death, one named Matthew Zirbel, who had Rahman doused with water and left with little clothing in the cold, and one known as Paul P., Zirbel’s boss who failed to provide him with the proper guidance. [Associated Press, 3/28/2010] The timing of the review is unknown, but it must occur after Foggo becomes executive director in November 2004. [New York Times, 8/12/2009; Associated Press, 3/28/2010]

Entity Tags: Matthew Zirbel, Gul Rahman, “Paul P.”, Kyle Dustin “Dusty” Foggo

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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