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Memos reveal torture of detainees at CIA black site in Afghanistan

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This AFP file photo taken on July 17, 2003 shows an IKONOS satellite image provided by Space Imaging of a suspected "black site" facility near the Afghan capital of Kabul.

New details have been disclosed about the CIA’s torture program at a black site prison near Kabul, Afghanistan, thanks to newly unsealed documents the spy agency and US Defense Department were forced to declassify over a lawsuit filed by victims of the torture program.

The newly revealed papers expose in shocking detail how the agency integrated two contract psychologists to design brutal torture techniques to break detainees’ resistance and give torture the appearance of legality.

Two surviving prisoners and the family of a detainee who died at the ‘Cobalt’ site in Afghanistan reached an out-of-court settlement with CIA psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen in August after a lawsuit was filed for their role in the torture.

The CIA and Pentagon were forced to declassify the documents related to the case in pretrial discovery. The memos also capture high-level agency discussions revealing a cover-up in action.

The Cobalt site, which opened outside Kabul in September 2002, was made up of 20 cells, according to the documents. In 16 cells, prisoners were shackled to a metal ring in the wall. In four, designed for sleep deprivation, they stood chained by the wrists to an overhead bar.

The cells were unheated, and inmates were subjected to blaring music around the clock.

“The atmosphere was very good,” Jessen told CIA investigators. “Nasty, but safe.”

The Cobalt site came to be referred to as "The Darkness" by inmates for its full sensory deprivation darkness which detainees experienced round the clock, sometimes for years.

Mitchell and Jessen designed a list of "techniques" to be used to torture prisoners, including waterboarding (causing the individual to experience the sensation of drowning) and walling (slamming inmates into flexible walls).

The objective was to "reach the stage where we have broken any will or ability of subject to resist or deny providing us information," the pair unambiguously stated.

Jessen had been visiting the site to oversee the interrogation of Gul Rahman, a detainee who was interrogated for several weeks in November, 2002.

An undated photo of Gul Rahman

Rahman, wearing only socks and a diaper in the unheated cells, was subjected to 48 hours of sleep deprivation and cold showers, despite concerns by one supervisor that he might develop hypothermia.

Five days after Jessen left the site, Rahman died of hypothermia. He had been left in his cell naked from the waist down.

The two psychologists were paid $80 million for their work, which included helping interrogate Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks, and Abu Zubaydah, another top al-Qaeda official.

The Senate Intelligence Committee released a report in 2014 about CIA's brutal detention and interrogation program and its use of various forms of torture on detainees between 2001 and 2006 during the so-called war on terror.

The report concluded that the spy agency’s interrogation methods were far more brutal and less effective than what the agency had publicly acknowledged.

The report also said that not a single terrorist attack was foiled as a result of the use of the so-called harsh interrogation techniques.

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