Thursday 24 Jan 2019 | 17:24 | SYDNEY
Thursday 24 Jan 2019 | 17:24 | SYDNEY

The Salt Pit: What the CIA has wrought in Afghanistan



12 December 2014 09:36

On Tuesday the US Senate Intelligence Committee, amid criticism and concern over a backlash, released its report on CIA interrogation tactics. The New York Times sums up the 500-page report as follows:

Taken in its entirety, the report is a portrait of a spy agency that was wholly unprepared for its new mission as jailers and interrogators, but that embraced its assignment with vigor.

That is likely a most flattering description, given the report outlines an agency that embraced torture despite little evidence that it leads to useful information, put junior and unsuitable individuals in charge of detention sites and enhanced interrogation practices (read torture), did not bother to supervise properly such interrogations nor insist on keeping records on it, and allowed two psychologists of questionable expertise to give torture orders while never dirtying their own hands. The fact the CIA lied for so long about the existence of the program might be the least of the offenses and blunders committed.

But since others have already outlined the CIA's sheer incompetence and disregard for basic humanity, I will focus here on Afghanistan, where four sites were acknowledged in the report, specifically the Salt Pit (called 'Cobalt' in the report) and three others called Gray, Orange and Brown, because I believe these might only be the tip of the iceberg. Consider the entire colour spectrum at use in Afghanistan and you might get closer to the truth. What makes me believe that four sites are only part of what really happened in Afghanistan?

  1. Many researchers in Afghanistan, including me, have spoken to released detainees. See this article I wrote five years ago on the plight of a person wrongfully detained, with eerie parallels to some of the 'enhanced interrogation tactics' described in the report. This person was clearly lucky to have evaded the full deluxe package.
  2. I believe some 'interrogations' may have been outsourced to private security companies.
  3. The fact that the CIA is still happily inside Afghanistan, embedded close to US development contractors.
  4. The fact that the CIA Director John Brennan seems to critique the report as an 'incomplete and selective picture of what occurred.' So does this mean the CIA actually had more detention sites than reported and possibly tortured more prisoners than discovered? After all, the CIA failed to keep proper records on them. I know the CIA still thinks its actions were good and justified, and is now worried more about the impact of the report on its staff than the human rights and dignity of those affected by its interrogation tactics. I am glad the CIA seems to have its priorities straight.

I agree with Senator Dianne Feinstein. This program, and possibly what the US is still doing overseas, is a stain on American values and history. Remember the late John F Kennedy in his famed civil rights address: 'the rights of all men are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.'

I still wish it was not true that Western liberal democracies use torture, but what really gets me over and over again is that even when these practices come the light, intelligence agencies and security forces tend to think they can get away with it. They seem to assume that places such as Afghanistan are simply too difficult for civilians to catch up with what they are doing. But we do catch up with them and we do write about it, only to be rebuffed as being biased and doing poor research.

At last, the truth has come out and it is good that it did, even if now the Taliban, al Qaeda, ISIS and others have a great new propaganda tool. The West is really not any better or different, they will say. They torture, they lie, they abuse human rights. That is really unhelpful in any war. If we claim to be the good guys, why don't we act like it? Why are we coming down to the level of terrorists and rouge insurgents? What makes us different from a rag-tag group of fighters if we ignore the very international standards we established? Where does this all lead other than to a continuous tit-for-tat escalation of violence and revenge?

In the end, the CIA worries about its staff and soldiers, when it is the CIA itself which puts civilians at risk, as now insurgent groups and terrorist have new propaganda fodder to justify the killing of Westerners. It makes it all the harder for well-meaning humanitarian and development organisations to gain access to countries such as Afghanistan. We now have to work twice as hard to convince Afghans that we are here to help and not hurt. Well done, CIA.

Photo by Flickr user Allan Brewer.

You may also be interested in...