Unsealed CIA Memos Provide Shocking 'Salt Pit' Black Site Details

A new batch of 274 CIA documents connected with Bush era torture have just been made public as a result of a lawsuit brought by families of victims. Contained in the documents are newly unearthed details on the CIA's "black site" program which reached its peak under Bush's 'war on terror' as well as shocking details revealing how the agency integrated its contract psychologists into its 'enhanced interrogation' program in order to give torture a veneer of legality. While much of this story of CIA torture has already slowly come to light over the past few years, especially with the 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report, the just released documents capture internal high level agency discussions revealing a cover-up in action.

Many of the memos focus on the CIA's infamous 'Cobalt' site in Afghanistan (also code named The Salt Pit), routinely described in headlines as the "sadistic dungeon" and "dark prison" for its full sensory deprivation darkness which detainees experienced round the clock, sometimes for years, as well as the two psychologists credited with designing the program of brutal interrogation techniques: John "Bruce" Jessen and James Mitchell. 

Two surviving prisoners and the family of a detainee who died at the Colbalt site reached an out-of-court settlement with the CIA psychologists in August after a lawsuit was brought for their role in the torture. As was hoped, the CIA and Pentagon were forced to declassify the documents related to the case in pretrial discovery. 

Satellite image of Cobalt site, also called the Salt Pitt, from now public documents.

The documents show the psychologists had been directly involved in designing and implementing torture, and that the blurring of lines between CIA interrogators and the psychologists originally brought in for "research" and development of techniques had agency leadership worried over future legal ramifications. Jessen himself had spent 10 days at the Cobalt facility in November 2002 where he was involved in interrogating Gul Rahman - a suspected militant who died of hypothermia while chained naked from the waist down to a concrete floor. He died 5 days after Jessen left. 

Ironically, a key fact rarely highlighted is that Gul Rahman was captured among Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami faction, which itself had previously been funded and vastly expanded by the CIA  as part of Operation Cyclone. By 2010 terror leader Hekmatyar himself would enter negotiations with then President Karzai, and by 2017 would be fully reconciled with the US-backed government in Kabul.

Dr. Bruce Jessen, left, and Dr. James Mitchell, psychologists who contracted with the C.I.A.

The Guardian summarizes the newly released "Chronology of Significant Events" court findings covering the specific time period of Rahman's slow death at the Salt Pit as follows:

  • November 2002: Rahman wearing only socks and diaper; supervisor has concern regarding hypothermia
  • Rahman subjected to 48 hours of sleep deprivation, rough treatment, cold shower and other measures but remained noncompliant.
  • Subjected to cold conditions and minimum food and sleep... confused due to dehydration and fatigue.
  • Cable recommends future use of continued environmental deprivations with interrogations 18 out of 24 hours daily
  • Linguist asks questions about the temperature at which hypothermia occurs
  • November 19 2200 hrs guard check - Rahman is alive.
  • 2300 hrs guard check - Rahman is alive.
  • November 20 0400 hrs guard check - Rahman is alive.
  • 0800 hrs guard check - Rahman is alive.
  • 1000 hrs guard check - Rahman is dead.

The Guardian further describes the now declassified documents as providing "the fullest picture yet of what the three men suffered [associated with the lawsuit] in that secret CIA dungeon – and of how fatefully their lives intersected with the rise and fall of James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the men who designed the torture regime."

Highlighted below are some revealing sections from the newly released batch of CIA torture memos - some of the below were already available before the latest release:

CIA contracted psychologists created an “Exploitation Draft Plan” which involved holding captives in soundproof cells in hidden facilities that were beyond the reach of the Red Cross, the press, and even internal US government oversight. The plan notes: No International Red Cross [IRC] nor even US observers. Detainees were essentially "disappeared" individuals and not even family members knowing their fates. Rahman's family didn't know of his whereabouts or death for seven years until an AP report unearthed his name. As noted in the below memo, Pentagon involvement ended with capture and transfer as a DoD psychologist accompanied the captive "unbeknown to the subject" after which the CIA psychologists would be involved in interrogation. 

Particularly intense "interrogation" sessions involved medical personnel attending to detainee wounds, and even applying antibiotics, so that torture could continue: "The straps were removed: subjects breathing continued to be rapid. Subject was then instructed to off the [water] board under his own power, which he did. The interrogators pointed to the small box and said, 'you know what to do.'... At 1130 hours, taken out of small box, hooded, and made to stand against a cell wall: at 1230 hrs, back into the large box (unhooded)--note that medical officers dressed as security team member at this time gave subject Betadine to clean wound. Subject was also given a topical antibiotic to apply to the leg wound... At 1450 hrs, back to large box. At 1601 hrs into small box: 1612 hrs, subject was heard crying/wimpering/chanting, 1635 went from small box to floor, sitting down hooded; and 1655 hrs, returned to large box, unhooded..."

CIA leadership envisioned that psychologists Jessen and Mitchel would provide a legally "defensible" veneer to torture sessions (after being paid $81 million). So long as their personal assessments vouched for detainees being of mentally sound mind, "enhanced interrogations" could be initiated. "In my read of the DOJ memo, providing we abide by our water board process on [redacted] (qualified medical staff present, the defensible exam is done and we follow our procedures) I believe the water board can be approved by CTC/LGL [CIA's internal legal review team] without the need for further input from DOJ." Jessen and Mitchel were paid $81 million by the CIA in the process.

CIA leadership suggested psych evals be done from afar based on mere review of a file in order to set up a minimally invasive rubber stamp process. "to get waterboard approvals, we need a psychological evaluation... [Name redacted] indicated that we need to make a 'defensible' psychological analysis indicating that, given the individual's particular mental disposition, he would not suffer prolonged and sever psychological problems resulting from the enhanced interrogation techniques... can OTS make a defensible analysis based on a file review on the targets? Or do they need to have a psych eval done on the ground, face-to-face?  [Name redacted] indicates that all it must [be] is 'defensible.'"

Doctors and nurses were requested to be present during sessions. One email with the subject line "Medical coverage planning" asked "There would be nurses on site correct?" This was presumably to allow torture to continue after detainees were injured, wounded, or sick - while also preventing those running the program from being legally exposed to prosecution. 

Internal admissions of "blatant disregard for ethics": CIA contracted psychologists' ethics were questioned even by colleagues. They "have both shown blatant disregard for the ethics shared by almost all of their colleagues." Other emails admitted: “No professional in the field would credit their later judgments as psychologists assessing the subjects of their enhanced measures." And also, “if some untoward outcome is later to be explained, their sole use in this role will be indefensible.”


giovanni_f divingengineer Tue, 10/10/2017 - 03:59 Permalink

"I hope Trump can eviscerate the CIA before they do him."No, under Trump CIA and the rest of the swamp sub-secosystems will thrive more than ever. Trumps goal is to eliminate his enemies WITHIN the swamp and form a new, yuuuuge Trump-owned swamp. He is a swamp creature as can be. How many proofs do you still need: Trump is pro big government, pro deep state, pro war, pro big corporations, pro MIC.The last chance was Ron Paul. We fucked it up.

In reply to by divingengineer

fx Boris Alatovkrap Tue, 10/10/2017 - 05:47 Permalink

Imagine if any other country on earth would have done that, except for the US's staunchest lapdogs (Israel, Britain, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Poland)! American marines and missiles would already be on their way to "rescue" the poor chaps, along with Un security council noise 24/7. These are war crimes that are no different from the ones committed by fascist nazi germany

In reply to by Boris Alatovkrap

BennyBoy frenzic Tue, 10/10/2017 - 06:02 Permalink

 Dr. James Mitchell and Dr. Bruce Jessen got $81 million from the CIA to torture these people.I think they fit “Sadistic Personality Disorder” (SPD) Tyrannical sadist. They are the most frightening and cruel of the subtypes because they relish menacing and brutalizing others. They enjoy forcing their victims to cower and submit seems to provide them with a special sense of satisfaction.They usually  carefully select their victims, ensuring that their choice will not resist, and they generally have low self-esteem and insecurities that they hide from others; by overwhelming others they can feel superior to them.Enforcing sadist. They are usually found in jobs where they feel they should be the ones controlling and punishing people who ignore rules, regulations, or laws. They seek out rule-breakers and exercise the most severe punishments. The more they dominate and punish others, the more satisfaction and power they feel, reinforcing their self-perception of righteousness and increasing their ego.

In reply to by frenzic

SybilDefense giovanni_f Tue, 10/10/2017 - 08:48 Permalink

Rand would have been a step fwd at least.  He isn't backing Trumps initiatives for good smaller gov reasons, unlike maccain who is a vindictive ass leading the just say no push(es).  MacCain remaining in "power" is torture enough for the American people.  I can certainly see your point about a potential Trump Swa(m)p.  Our gov due to its shear size alone is mucked up.  Only swamp creatures can live there.  Learning more about Pres Trump everyday, suggests that: "their swamp - baaad,  my swamp - goooood".  What ever happened after Frankenstein's monster was eliminated?  Did Europe become more prosperous and happy? Or did it remain the same, with more monsters taking their place in history one by one until we have what we have today?  The swamp has to go, and the monsters that breed there will follow.  It took many years and great foresight derived from many more of being under the king/queen's control to arrive at our constitution which was written in effect to provide guidance in our own governmental decisions, but more importantly to protect us from the type of rule we have in the swamp we came from, across the pond.  It should be compulsory reading before anyone ever votes, and a good place to start the reset.  We don't have to rebuild the wheel here to avoid being run over regularly by the whole damn truck.  The answers have already been thunked out, and the recipe worked for 200+ years.  Bakers know that when you screw with the batter, the cake sucks. The Psycho-logists getting $81M for legal counsel on torture shows the extent of profiteering within our gov.  George & Abe didn't do it for the money.  Today's govern'ers won't do it without, and lots of it please.  Money creates that swampy disconnect we all feel today, and lots of it.  With an effective internet IT solution, our country could better be governed for free, by the people and for the people, and we could limit Washington to a few "administrators" who are paid to implement the peoples will.  Once the gov was removed, our country's needs would be relatively simple: keep our borders safe and maybe have a helping hand for when times are occasiinly hard.  Imagine a diff USA where Trillions weren't being flon to Iran undercover to fund BS we don't even know about.Cheers peoples 

In reply to by giovanni_f

lew1024 SybilDefense Tue, 10/10/2017 - 11:07 Permalink

The worst aspect is that torture was used to extract false confessions to provide a veneer of truth to 'Osama Bin Laden did 9/11' propaganda.Nobody at the highest level of the CIA thought torture works, they know damn well that isn't the way to extract information, the methods have been well-studied for a long time by serious psychologists and practitioners of interrogation everywhere.

In reply to by SybilDefense

booboo divingengineer Tue, 10/10/2017 - 11:36 Permalink

I’m guessing you are good with torture as long as they are in the field of
Battle then... regardless of the flag they fight under? USA torture good, ISIS torture bad (unless they are good ISIS) then it’s good(unless they take CIA weapons and kill US troops with them (but if they can’t trace weapons back to Bulgarian gun runners funded by the US then it’s good)

In reply to by divingengineer

Chupacabra-322 phatfawzi Tue, 10/10/2017 - 08:29 Permalink

To state the obvious; the CIA has deeply humiliated the American people in their attempt to tie the American people to be responsible for the CIA's crimes against humanity across the world.

The CIA appears to be the world's greatest threat to peace and prosperity. It is the penultimate terrorist organization, being the direct or indirect creator of all other terrorist organizations. It also appears to be the world's penultimate illegal drug smuggler and pusher making all other illegal drug trading possible and instigating the horrors of addiction and suffering around the world.

If I believed that the CIA was working in any way on behalf of the US government and the American people then it would be sad and shameful indeed. However, it is my belief that the CIA instead was captured long ago, as was the secret military operations and now works for a hidden power that wants to dominate or failing that, destroy humanity.

The Agency is Cancer. There should be no question about the CIA's future in the US.

Dissolved & dishonored. Its members locked away or punished for Treason. Their reputation is so bad and has been for so long, that the fact that you joined them should be enough to justify arrest and Execution for Treason, Crimes Against Humanity & Crimes Against The American People.

And yet, there is something positive in this. By experiencing and knowing evil, we can choose the path of light or choose to ignore both dark amd light. It is a choice we all must make if we intend to evolve from being animals ruled by this world and its illusions.

In reply to by phatfawzi

Abaco phatfawzi Tue, 10/10/2017 - 09:23 Permalink

Why is there the "other side?"  We fought World War II in about 4 years.  Can you articulate why we are still in Iraq and Afghanistan 16 years later?  Can you articulate why we even went into Iraq and killed our former puppet Sadam? If we were actually trying to "win" in Afghanistan and Iraq, and have failed for 16 years, we should shoot all the generals for incompetence and pull out anyway. There was no legitimate reason for  us to invade either country.

In reply to by phatfawzi

glenlloyd booboo Tue, 10/10/2017 - 17:36 Permalink

It is extremely difficult for me to justify patriotism for the US Govt when I read posts like this. I'm not talking about the people, the citizens, but the govt officials that do this sort of thing in the name of the citizenry and then either 1) lie about it or 2) act like it's ok.I am convinced that if the citizenry knew everything that has been done in their name and knew all of the circumstances there would be such a public outcry that the present bunch of political hacks and their pundits would be swept aside. 

In reply to by booboo