The death of Gul Rahman at a CIA black site sparked a historic lawsuit against the architects of the CIA’s torture program. Recently, new CIA documents were released containing revelations related to how agency interrogators abused, tortured, and ultimately killed Rahman.
In this week’s episode of the “Unauthorized Disclosure” weekly podcast, Vice News reporter Jason Leopold joins the show to talk about CIA documents he obtained as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The documents contain revelations, which could have profound implications for the lawsuit brought by the ACLU against CIA torture program architects, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen.
The discussion part of the episode is much longer than the interview with Leopold, however, we believe all of it is essential listening. Addressing the aftermath of Orlando massacre, the discussion addresses how Senate Democrats responded with a filibuster and push for legislation that included a provision to expand the terrorism watch list in order to enforce gun control. The show’s hosts pivot to the People’s Summit, a gathering of two to three thousand Bernie Sanders supporters in Chicago this weekend. Everyone gathered to strategize and plan for what’s next.
Host Kevin Gosztola attended the People’s Summit, and he shares multiple observations.
The two-part episode is available on iTunes. For a link to the interview (and also to download the interview), go here. A page will load with the audio file of the interview. For a link to the discussion (and also to download the discussion), go here. A page will load with the audio file of the interview. The file will automatically start playing so you can listen to the episode.
You can also click on the below players to listen to the episode.
Interview with Jason Leopold
Discussion About People’s Summit & Orlando Massacre
Below is a partial transcript of the interview with Jason Leopold. Parts have been slightly edited for clarity.
GOSZTOLA: What were you able to learn from these CIA documents, which contain details on the conditions of Gul Rahman’s confinement at a CIA black site? Who is Gul Rahman?
LEOPOLD: Gul Rahman was a CIA detainee held at a black site. He was a detainee that the CIA alleged, like everyone that they captured after 9/11, to be someone with ties to al Qaida and another terrorist group, and leaders. He was brought to a black site in Afghanistan called the Salt Pit, and it was also codenamed “COBALT.” It was at this black site, where Gul Rahman—He was there just for a few week actually. He froze to death and became the first and only—as far as we know—CIA captive, who died in custody.
What’s unbelievable about these documents—They’re disturbing because they go into great detail about the conditions that he was held in, the treatment that he endured almost immediately, the sexual humiliation that he was subjected to by his captors, the torment. You can say that he was tortured to death.
KHALEK: I thought I knew most of the torture techniques. I thought I’d read about the most horrid ones. I actually hadn’t heard of this. Kevin mentioned he hadn’t heard of it either, the one they used on him that the federal Bureau of Prisons taught him.
Two things—can you explain what “short shackling” is? It’s one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever heard about. And also, talk about the federal Bureau of Prisons aspect of it.
LEOPOLD: The federal Bureau of Prisons aspect of it is really, really, really significant. The Bureau of Prisons personnel visited this particular black site between September and December 2002. For researchers and journalists, we were wondering, whoa, what was the Bureau of Prisons doing out there and why were they out there? So, these documents actually show that “short shackling” was what the Bureau of Prisons said was a safer technique than hogtying.
They taught the military and the CIA how to safely shackle a detainee at a black site. The fact that they were there and just so heavily involved in this is new. And what’s also interesting about it is I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Bureau of Prisons after these revelations. I know others have as well, and the Bureau of Prisons claims, oh, we don’t have any records of us being out at this black site. Meanwhile, I have these documents showing, in fact, that they were there.
It’s very disturbing that they were there on the one hand, but also, in addition, the technique that they taught—this “short shackling” technique, which is actually more or less shackling a detainee in a stress position—is something that I believe is banned by the federal Bureau of Prisons. So they can’t use it.
KHALEK: So it’s a chain on the wall? Just describing it, it’s in a short chained position, which prevents prisoners from standing upright.
LEOPOLD: You’re really in this position where you can’t move. You are in a somewhat of a stress position.
KHALEK: That’s wild, the federal Bureau of Prisons. That tells you something. The federal Bureau of Prisons, it’s a technique that they’re supposedly not using, but they’re coming and they’re training.
LEOPOLD: I do think that’s significant by the way, and I think that it also does raise questions about, ok, what’s going on at the Bureau of Prisons? What kind of techniques are they using? I also should note, and I am sure you are both well aware—You know, this is not the first time the CIA or the military has claimed that they’ve adapted techniques from the federal Bureau of Prisons. The force-feeding that takes place at Guantanamo, what we’re told about it is the procedures are straight out of the federal Bureau of Prisons playbook, even though the detainees have described this as a painful procedure. What we’re told is it’s okay because the federal Bureau of Prisons does it. So, this raises questions about what’s going on at the federal Bureau of Prisons.
KHALEK: That’s a pretty explosive aspect to the story. So explain what happened to Gul Rahman.
LEOPOLD: Yeah, it’s sad. Immediately, after he was brought to this black site, he was “roughed up,” which basically meant scaring him, beating him, leading him to believe that he would die. One of the interrogators, who sat in on his interrogation, is Dr. Bruce Jessen. And Bruce Jessen is also the co-architect of the CIA’s torture program. Jessen also trained the manager of the black site. The manager of the black site, his name is Matthew Zirbel. He worked for the CIA.
What’s very notable again is it says in these documents Matthew Zirbel has no prison experience. He has no experience running a prison operation. He has no experience during interrogations. So, immediately, he’s put in charge of this black site and then is overseeing and conducting the interrogations with Gul Rahman. The interrogations consisted of water dousing, techniques again that were not approved. Two months before you had John Yoo, the Justice Department attorney, approving specific torture methods. So whether that means, whether that’s important, I don’t know. There were certain torture techniques approved.
KHALEK: Eh, who needs the law?
LEOPOLD: Yeah [laughs] This is really disturbing in terms of what he went through, his treatment—beatings, the stress positions. Immediately, after he was captured, again, in these new documents I obtained, sleep deprivation, mostly held in a sleep deprivation cell, loud music, held in total darkness. Just undergoing interrogations where he was forced to wear a diaper the whole time.
On the night before he died, he was stripped from the waist down. He was naked, and the temperatures there in Afghanistan drop significantly in the evening. He was naked from the waist down. He was in the short shackling position. The guards claimed that he was threatening to kill them. He threw his food, and his waste bucket at them. So they put him in this position, you know, from the waist down he was naked.
He could not stand upright so he was on the concrete floor of this cell, and it was freezing temperatures. He froze to death. Or at least that’s what they say in their report. And, remarkably, these new documents I have, they actually blame Gul Rahman for his own death.
KHALEK: How so?
LEOPOLD: They say that his actions caused his own death. By throwing his last meal, he was unable to provide his body with a source of fuel to keep him warm. His violent behavior resulted in his restraint, which prevented him from generating body heat by moving around and brought him in direct contact with the concrete floor. So they blame him for his own death, which is just unbelievable.
For the rest of the interview, listen to this part of the episode here.