Mimesis Law
7 June 2020

CIA to Bureau of Prisons: Show Us How to Run a “Black Site’ Dungeon

Apr. 21, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — A Senate Intelligence report on torture, interrogation, and detention has revealed how employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, or BOP, advised the CIA at a secret Afghan detention site for suspected terrorists. And now the ACLU has sued the federal government after the BOP refused to turn over papers that documented its visit to that “Black Site.”  ABC News reports on the scandal:

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Thursday claiming the Bureau of Prisons has wrongfully withheld documents related to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan known interchangeably by its nickname, “The Salt Pit,” and its code name, “COBALT.”

The Bureau of Prisons last year rejected an ACLU Freedom of Information Act request for documents about an inspection of the detention site conducted in November 2002. The visit to the site, which one CIA official called “the closest thing he has seen to a dungeon,” was documented in a Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture, interrogation and detention, which was released in 2014.

Let’s put aside the ACLU’s lawsuit for now and focus on what was revealed in that 2014 report with regards to the BOP:

The report describes the prison officials’ visit to COBALT, where they saw detainees who stood for days naked and shackled to walls in total darkness, while loud music played nearly constantly, given only buckets for their waste. The prison officials were invited to inspect the site because CIA agents worried conditions were too harsh for them to elicit reliable intelligence from the detainees. Some of the detainees “‘literally looked like (dogs) that had been kenneled.’ When the doors to their cells were opened, ‘they cowered,'” one interrogator said.

Prison officials said they were “wow’ed” and had “never been in a facility where individuals are so sensory deprived,” according to the Senate report. Still, they determined the site was sanitary, that detainees were not mistreated, and ultimately the site was not inhumane. They did however offer advice to improve safety for CIA officers.  (BOP’s involvement appears on pages 12, 49 and 60 of the report). (Emphasis added.)(BOP’s involvement appears on pages 12, 49 and 60 of the report.)

So, the BOP folks secretly went overseas on taxpayers’ dime to show the CIA how to run an off-the-books prison, and when they got there they were “wow’ed” by the torturous conditions but nonetheless managed to give its stamp of approval. And no one has been indicted, let alone fired for this.  For shame.

How does this hit home? According to the BOP, they “provide more progressive and humane care for federal inmates, to professionalize the prison service, and to ensure consistent and centralized administration of federal prisons.” Translation: they are in charge of warehousing everyone serving a federal sentence, and their reaction to the COBALT site provides us with two observations.

First, BOP employees said they had never seen that level of sensory deprivation, and that drives home the point that those that were “held” incognito — in our name — at COBALT endured conditions that a CIA official compared to a “dungeon.” Remember, this is the BOP that uses solitary confinement (euphemistically referred to as a Special Housing Unit, or SHU) to punish inmates for minor transgressions (perceived or otherwise), and then lies about it.  The BOP that has seriously mishandled the housing and management of non-citizens, and the BOP that has a disgraceful record when it comes to compassionate release.

And second: if the BOP people were shocked by the conditions at COBALT, but still managed to tell the CIA that all is kosher and to carry on, what would it take for them to be rattled? What would make them step back and determine that something has “crossed the line?” Two hundred thousand people are currently in its custody, and, even if someone thinks that he benefits from the good guy curve, the federal criminal code reminds us that prison can happen to anybody. Not all inmates look and act like the perps collared by Ice-T in Law & Order SVU.  Even those who were once law enforcement royalty can fall from grace and end up in federal custody.

The BOP has twice refused the ACLU’s requests for information regarding the visits, and the ACLU has since sued the DOJ and BOP for wrongfully withholding those records.  The BOP is now using the CIA as its regulatory valet out of this mess:

If any records do exist, there is a process by which they could be kept secret, even though the Bureau of Prisons doesn’t have the authority to classify documents, according to John Rizzo, who was the Acting General Counsel of the CIA — the agency’s top lawyer — for more than half a decade.

Rizzo said in an interview with CBS News that when a non-intelligence office does work in support of an intelligence agency, they can essentially agree at the outset that the intelligence agency will take ownership of all material related to the work.

In other words: when the CIA asks prison officials to visit a secret interrogation site, it can stamp itself as the “originating agency” on any documents related to that visit, keeping and classifying those files as if the CIA produced them itself.

The ACLU’s reply is that the cat’s basically out of the bag, that any information deemed confidential has already been exempt from public view, and that whatever the CIA left in the report is fair game.  ACLU’s lawyer has also countered the BOP’s claim that the agreement allowing the intelligence agency to keep documents related to COBALT “wouldn’t justify the bureau’s response that it has no records whatsoever.”  The BOP is being asked to fork over whatever they got:

“At a minimum, one would expect that there would be records of internal approvals, travel, and the agreement itself, not to mention records of scheduling and other logistics for the meeting at the CIA back in Washington about the visit to COBALT,” Takei said.

All this began with BOP showing the CIA how to manage a Black Site prison, and it ends (for now) with a BOP spokesman echoing CIA rhetoric when responding to the allegations:

In June, Bureau of Prisons spokesperson Ed Ross declined to either confirm or deny that the visit detailed by the Senate Intelligence Committee even happened. The agency declined again on Wednesday to comment on all questions related to the report, instead referring CBS News to its Freedom of Information Act Service Center. “We will not be providing any information regarding your inquiry,” Ross said in June. (Emphasis added.)



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