ResourcesPress Release

Gul Rahman’s Death Was a Crime

For Immediate Release

Newly disclosed details of a 2005 CIA Inspector General investigation into detainee Gul Rahman’s death in the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan, published by Vice News, are a stark indictment of the U.S. government’s torture program.

“The CIA’s crimes at the Salt Pit, including Gul Rahman’s death, are the result of flouting every known protection against torture and ill-treatment,” said Sarah Dougherty, senior fellow for Physicians for Human Rights’ anti-torture program. “There are numerous legal safeguards to prevent torture, including prohibiting secret, incommunicado detention and providing timely access to legal counsel. There are also well-established medical safeguards, including an intake examination to assess a detainee’s health and to treat any injuries and illnesses. This baseline assessment also ensures that the medical professional will be able to identify any subsequent injuries and report torture or ill-treatment.”

“The CIA Inspector General’s report makes it clear that none of the safeguards against torture – legal or medical – existed at the Salt Pit. Instead, the CIA ‘reverse engineered’ these safeguards to create a torture chamber, where detainees were subjected to horrific brutality,” said Dougherty.

The newly released document confirms that the CIA relied exclusively on physician assistants to deliver medical care at the Salt Pit. There were no supervising physicians on site or medical standards in place. According to an earlier CIA investigation into Rahman’s death, when a physician assistant sought advice from the CIA Office of Medical Services, he was simply told to follow the Hippocratic Oath. As PHR has previously commented, these instructions were intentionally vague and logically incoherent, given the purpose of the secret prison: to extract information through torture. And the instructions were duly ignored.

Gul Rahman died on November 20, 2002, chained naked to a concrete floor in freezing temperatures. His death followed weeks of torture, including sleep deprivation, cold water torture, and full-body beatings known as “hard takedowns,” orchestrated by CIA psychologist Bruce Jessen. Detainees at the Salt Pit were kept in complete darkness and called it the “Dark Prison.” The degree of sensory deprivation was so extreme that an interrogator described it as “the closest thing he ha[d] seen to a dungeon.”

Based on what has been disclosed to date, it appears that Gul Rahman never received any medical care, and only after he died was a doctor consulted. The CIA Inspector General’s report concluded that the physician assistant violated his professional duty as a medical provider. However, the regimen of deliberate medical neglect at the Salt Pit, combined with the dismantling of safeguards and the lack of substantive guidance for medical personnel, renders such a conclusion absurd.

PHR has documented the extensive role of health professionals in the U.S. government’s post-9/11 torture program over the last decade and has advocated for transparency and accountability of those responsible. In light of this latest disclosure, PHR is calling for a targeted investigation of the actions or omissions of the CIA’s Office of Medical Services in connection with torture and related crimes under domestic and international law.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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