Washington: More than seven years ago, a suspected Afghan militant was brought to a dimly lit CIA compound northeast of the airport in Kabul. The CIA called it the Salt Pit. Inmates knew it as the dark prison.
Inside a chilly cell, the man was shackled and left half-naked. He was found dead, exposed to the cold, in the early hours of Nov. 20, 2002.
The Salt Pit death was the only fatality known to have occurred inside the secret prison network the CIA operated abroad after the Sept. 11 attacks. The death had strong repercussions inside the CIA. It helped lead to a review that uncovered abuses in detention and interrogation procedures, and forced the agency to change those procedures.
Little has emerged about the Afghan`s death, which the Justice Department is investigating. The Associated Press has learned the dead man`s name, as well as new details about his capture in Pakistan and his Afghan imprisonment.
The man was Gul Rahman (gool RAHK`-mahn), a suspected militant captured on Oct. 29, 2002, a U.S. official familiar with the case confirmed. The official said Rahman was taken during an operation against Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, an insurgent group headed by Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (gool-boo-DEEN` hek-mat-YAR`) and allied with al Qaeda.
Rahman`s identity also was confirmed by a former U.S. official familiar with the case, as well as by several other former and current officials. A reference to Rahman`s death also turned up in a recently declassified government document.
The CIA`s program of waterboarding and other harsh treatment of suspected terrorists has been debated since it ended in 2006. The Salt Pit case stands as a cautionary tale about the unfettered use of such practices. The Obama administration shut the CIA`s prisons last year.
It remains uncertain whether any intelligence officers have been punished as a result of the Afghan`s death, raising questions about the CIA`s accountability in the case. The CIA`s then-station chief in Afghanistan was promoted after Rahman`s death, and the officer who ran the prison went on to other assignments, including one overseas, several former intelligence officials said.
The CIA declined to discuss the Salt Pit case and denied a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by a news agency.
Rahman was taken into custody in Islamabad with four others. They included Dr. Ghairat Baheer, a physician who is Hekmatyar`s son-in-law and a leader of Hezb-e-Islami, an insurgent faction blamed for numerous bombings and violence in Afghanistan.
Baheer, who said he spent six months in the Salt Pit during six years in Afghan prisons, said in an interview in Islamabad that he never learned what happened to Rahman. Rahman`s family repeatedly pressed International Red Cross officials about his fate, Baheer said.
"If he died there in interrogation or he died a natural death, they should have told his family and ended their uncertainty," Baheer said.
This account of the Salt Pit case was assembled from documents and interviews with both militants and officials in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and with more than two dozen current and former US officials. The Americans spoke on condition of anonymity because the details of the case remain classified.