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Frustrated family wants CIA detainee’s remains

- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 5, 2011

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — The family of Gul Rahman is still trying to recover his remains for burial, months after learning that he was stripped naked, doused in cold water and then left to die in a CIA-run Afghan prison known as the "Salt Pit."

Suspected of links to al Qaeda, Rahman was picked up in the early morning hours of Oct. 29, 2002, from a home in Islamabad and taken with four other people to a CIA black site called the Salt Pit near the Kabul Airport.

Rahman died Nov. 20, 2002, but his identity was not known until revealed by an Associated Press investigation in March. Since then, appeals by his family — Afghan refugees living in Pakistan since the 1980s — for his remains have gone unanswered.

"It has been a mental torture for his family," said Dr. Gharat Baheer, who was picked up with Gul Rahman. Dr. Baheer spent six months at the Salt Pit and six years in Afghan prisons before being released in 2008. Dr. Baheer said the family has yet to even receive confirmation of Rahman's death from the United States.

"His wife and his mother are in agony," Dr. Baheer said. "They want to have a religious ceremony."

Dr. Baheer, who spoke to the AP last week, is in regular touch with Rahman's family, who he says are living in a refugee camp outside the Pakistani frontier city of Peshawar. Dr. Baheer said they fear that if they protest too loudly, the United States will press Pakistan to harass them or even expel them from the country.

Rahman's brother, Habib Rahman, spoke to the AP in April, saying his family hopes U.S. authorities will return the remains. "We want them to let us give him a religious burial," he said. Reached by the AP last week, he said he was too distraught to speak again.

The CIA on Monday declined to comment on the return of Rahman's remains. The agency has said that its detention and interrogation program is over and it's focused on preventing future terrorist attacks. An AP Freedom of Information Act request for Rahman's autopsy report was rejected — a decision upheld on appeal by the Justice Department in November.

The Rahman family has sought the help of the International Committee for the Red Cross both in Peshawar and in Afghanistan.

"But the Red Cross isn't able to get anything from the Americans," Dr. Baheer said.

Dr. Baheer is the son-in-law of wanted militant Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose al-Qaeda-allied group Hezb-e-Islami is battling U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Najum-ul-Saqib, the Red Cross communication officer in Pakistan, told AP on Tuesday that the Geneva-based organization has registered Rahman as a missing person and has sent out requests for more information. "Beyond that, we are not authorized to say anything more," Mr. Saqib said.

Rahman's name previously was not known until the AP identified him as the detainee who had died at the Salt Pit. Rahman was the only detainee known to have died in a CIA-run prison, and his death stands as a cautionary tale.

Former CIA officials say Rahman was acting as a conduit between Mr. Hekmatyar and al Qaeda. Mr. Hekmatyar's insurgent group is believed to be allied to al Qaeda. The former officials said the CIA had been tracking Rahman's cell phone at the time of his capture and were hoping the suspected militant would provide information about Mr. Hekmatyar's whereabouts.

But Rahman never cracked under questioning, refusing to help the CIA find Mr. Hekmatyar. Former CIA officials described him as one of the toughest detainees to pass through the CIA's network of secret prisons.

So far, no CIA officer has been formally punished for the death of Rahman, who died of hypothermia. But federal prosecutors are re-examining his death, along with a small number of other cases involving CIA detainee abuses.

In March, the FBI rejected a Freedom of Information Act request the AP submitted for autopsy records in Rahman's death, saying it was relevant to "a pending or prospective law enforcement proceeding."

The AP appealed, but the Justice Department upheld the decision in November because releasing the information "could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings." The Justice Department added that disclosing the autopsy report could cause "foreseeable harm" to the ongoing investigation.

Dr. Baheer said Rahman, in his early 30s, went by the nom de guerre Abdul Menan when he served as one of Mr. Hekmatyar's elite guards. But when he was picked up in 2002, he had left Mr. Hekmatyar's service and returned to his family at Shamshatoo refugee camp, near Peshawar, Mr. Baheer said.

At the Salt Pit, the code name for an abandoned brick factory that became a forerunner of a network of secret CIA-run prisons, Mr. Baheer said, his own interrogation often consisted of being tied to a chair while his American interrogators, wearing masks, would sit on his stomach. For hours he would be left hanging, naked and shivering.

"They were very cruel."

Adam Goldman reported from Washington.

 

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