New Lawsuit Wants to Know Why Bureau of Prisons Visited CIA Torture Site

Members of Witness Against Torture and Amnesty International projected the message, "Torture Is Wrong" in Washington, DC in 2013. (Photo: Justin Norman/flickr/cc)

New Lawsuit Wants to Know Why Bureau of Prisons Visited CIA Torture Site

ACLU challenges BOP stance that it has no records pertaining to visit to detention site Afghanistan between 2002 and 2004.

"What business did the Bureau of Prisons have with a torture site in Afghanistan?"

So asks Carl Takei, staff attorney at the ACLU's National Prison Project, as his organization on Thursday filed suit against the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) over documents related to a visit to a CIA detention site code named COBALT.

The ACLU had sought, under a Freedom of Information Act request, records of BOP visits to and involvement with the torture site, but the human rights and civil liberties organization's request was denied, with the BOP saying no such records could be found.

That's highly unlikely, ACLU says.

As the group states in its complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, "It is not credible that BOP has no records pertaining to the visit of a team of its employees to a detention facility in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2004."

In fact, the bureau's involvement with the detention site was documented in the Senate Intelligence Committee's torture report, which was declassified in 2014, The suit states:

According to a senior interrogator quoted in the [Senate torture] report, one detainee [at COBALT] "as far as we could determine" had been chained to the wall in a standing position for 17 days. The CIA's chief of interrogations described COBALT as "the closest thing he has seen to a dungeon" and said that some of the detainees "literally looked like a dog that had been kenneled," shrinking away when their cell doors were opened. Another senior CIA official called the detention facility an "enhanced interrogation technique" in itself. At one point, the CIA Renditions Group concluded that COBALT's "baseline conditions" involved so much deprivation that any further deprivation would have limited impact on the agency's interrogations.

The Senate torture report states that given the CIA's lack of experience operating detention facilities, the agency decided to turn to Defendant DOJ--and, in particular, to the Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP")--to provide such specialized expertise.

It adds:

According to the Senate torture report, the BOP staff commented that they were "WOW'ed" by the profound sensory deprivation at COBALT. They told the CIA that in spite of this sensory deprivation, their collective assessment was that "the detainees were not being treated in humanely [sic]." Despite the use of buckets for human waste, they also concluded that the facility was "sanitary" and that guards "did not mistreat" the detainees.

"CIA officers remarked that the BOP's assistance improved day-to-day operations at COBALT and made it a 'more secure and safer working environment' for officers," the suit states.

"The bureau controls conditions for the 200,000 federal prisoners in the United States while teaching its methods to jails and state prisons around the country," Takei's statement continues. "We have to wonder why a team from that institution would give its approval to a place where prisoners are kept in solitary confinement in near-total darkness 24-7, shackled to the wall standing up, and with a bucket for human waste.

"We asked the Bureau of Prisons for any and all documents related to an official government trip taken halfway around the world, but they came up with nothing, not a single email," he continued. "Anyone who has traveled for work would agree that this is difficult to pull off without a paper trail, yet that's what the Bureau of Prisons would have us believe.

"This trip has been documented by the United States Senate. It's time to come clean," he stated.

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