Report: CIA deputy director covered up detainee’s death

By Daniel Tencer
Thursday, April 1, 2010 15:49 EDT
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The CIA’s deputy director of operations personally oversaw the cover-up of the death of a detainee at a secret agency facility in Afghanistan, a magazine article alleges.

In 2002 Steve Kappes, then the deputy director of operations, “helped tailor the agency’s paper trail regarding the death of a detainee at a secret CIA interrogation facility in Afghanistan, known internally as the Salt Pit,” reports Jeff Stein at Washingtonian.com.

The detainee froze to death after being doused with water, stripped naked, and left alone overnight, according to reports in the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. He was secretly buried and his death kept “off-the-books,” the Post said.

According to two former officials who read a CIA inspector general’s report on the incident, Kappes coached the base chief—whose identity is being withheld at the request of the CIA—on how to respond to the agency’s investigators. They would report it as an accident.

An Associated Press story last week identified the dead prisoner as Gul Rahman, “a suspected militant.” Rahman’s death was “the only one known from a secret prison network that the CIA operated overseas after the Sept. 11 attacks,” AP reported.

The existence of the CIA’s “Salt Pit” first came to light in 2005 with a story in the Washington Post that identified an abandoned factory north of Kabul, along with some nearby buildings, as a CIA “black site” involved in the CIA’s terrorist suspect interrogation program. The site, which reportedly had been dismantled by the time of the 2005 report, was also used by the CIA to train Afghan counter-terrorism officials.

Kappes is now the CIA deputy director, the number-two official at the agency. According to Stein’s article, during the transition to the Obama administration, Kappes was involved in a push to have the CIA “retain the option of reestablishing secret prisons and using aggressive interrogation methods.”

While the CIA’s effort to retain those abilities was reported on previously, this appears to be the first time that Kappes’ name was linked to the effort.

Writing at Harper’s, civil rights lawyer Scott Horton says that Kappes’ effort to have the CIA hold on to some of its most controversial capabilities may have had less to do with a desire to torture prisoners than with a desire to protect himself from accountability over the operations he was involved in.

The push to keep the “option” of secret prisons and torture techniques had much to do with a strong desire to keep past use of these practices secret from the public and from prosecutors at the Justice Department. If the programs were fully terminated and blocked, then much of the rationale for continued classification of details of past operations would be removed….

Many of the Agency’s darkest secrets relate to the extraordinary-renditions program. Some of them have already led to the prosecution and conviction of 23 agents in an Italian criminal court. Others are being studied by criminal prosecutors today in Germany, Poland, Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom. They could be career-stoppers for a number of senior people at the Agency, including Kappes.

CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano told Stein that the account of a cover-up over the Salt Pit death is “shot through with errors and falsehoods.” He went on to attack the unnamed sources Stein quoted to link the cover-up to Kappes.

“It’s wrong—and it’s pathetic that someone would make such charges without the courage or decency to do so on the record,” Stein quotes him as saying. “The agency’s past detention practices have been thoroughly and repeatedly reviewed, inside and outside the CIA. These greasy insinuations of a coverup are not only utterly off the mark; they’re totally below the belt.”

In his review of the article, Horton says the Stein article shows Kappes as having “a modicum of competence, a great deal of controversy, a fanatical dedication to covering up past wrongdoing, and a stubborn refusal to learn anything from past mistakes. [He] looks a lot like the modern CIA.”

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