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CIA Finally Admits to Hand in Iraq Detainee’s Death
Navy SEALs were punished for 2003 death of Manadel al-Jamadi while he was under CIA interrogation
For years now, the CIA and the Navy SEALs have worked side-by-side on highly-classified missions battling terrorists around the globe.
When things go right, the result can be nothing short of spectacular. The daring 2011 Navy mission into Pakistan that resulted in the death of Al Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden was not only a miraculous success but a publicity coup for both the CIA and the members of SEAL Team Six that led the raid. Both revelled in the glory.
When things go wrong, however, the blame is not always equally shared. A case in point: the death of an Iraqi insurgent in U.S. hands in Iraq.
The CIA and the SEALs follow different rules, report to different chains of command, and are ultimately accountable to two different systems of justice. How those two different systems play out when things go wrong is a theme of a book I’m writing on the death of Manadel al-Jamadi, an Iraqi insurgent captured by the SEALs in 2003.
Jamadi’s name may not be familiar, but there’s a good chance you’ve seen his face. His beaten and bloodied visage appeared in some of the nightmarish images from the notorious Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Photos showed U..S soldiers giving a thumbs-up over Jamadi’s ice-packed corpse. The title of my book comes from a nickname the guards gave the dead prisoner, The Ice Man.
U.S. Army guards in the prison reported that CIA personnel had stood by idly while Jamadi died. Internal CIA documents I’ve obtained show that a military pathologist concluded that the position Jamadi was placed in was “part and parcel” of a homicide. He had been suspended by his wrists, which were handcuffed behind his back. One guard said he was surprised that Jamadi’s shoulders didn’t “pop out of their sockets.”
Someone had to be held accountable for this disaster. It turned out to b the Navy SEALs.
Even though the only people in the room when Jamadi died were a CIA polygraph examiner on temporary duty in Iraq and a translator (agency unknown), the ones held accountable in Jamadi’s death were members of the SEAL platoon that captured him in a top-secret, direct-action mission.
The charges against the SEALs centered on allegations that they had kicked and punched Jamadi on the way back to their base when he refused to stop talking. The SEALs were hauled into military court and threatened with prison for abusing—but not killing—Jamadi and posing for pictures with him. Most received administrative discipline. One officer was acquitted at court-martial.
Evidence gathered during the proceedings revealed that the CIA had conducted brutal interrogations of detainees. Detainees were slapped, choked, subjected to terrifying mock assaults, doused with cold water, and had their joints stretched in painful ways, according to classified testimony from the SEALs I obtained for my book. One former SEAL told me that a CIA interrogator had used a large wooden mallet to frighten a prisoner by smashing it into the plywood wall near his outstretched hand.
Although the SEALs didn’t know it, this was a rogue interrogation program. Months before the news media’s exposure of its torture program, CIA headquarters had sent a detailed cable to the Baghdad station that spelled out limits on what agency personnel in Iraq could and couldn’t do in interrogations. “Enhanced” interrogation techniques were forbidden. The guidance in the cables was ignored.
“Either some people ... didn’t understand it, or chose in the heat of battle to go beyond it,” former acting General Counsel John Rizzo told the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment. Rizzo died in 2021.
The CIA’s role in Jamadi’s death was investigated by prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Alexandria, Virginia, led by Paul McNulty and Chuck Rosenberg, and Special Counsel John Durham. Prosecutors declined to file charges in both instances and no one at the CIA was ever held publicly accountable. The CIA station chief and two officers “were fired because they went beyond the guidelines,” Rizzo said.
News accounts tell a different story. The station chief, Gerry Meyer, “resigned rather than take a demotion,” the Associated Press reported. "Steve, a CIA officer who ran the detainee unit there, received a letter of reprimand,” former officials told the A.P. David Martine, chief of the CIA's Detention Elicitation Cell in Iraq, who was suspected of destroying evidence connected to Jamadi’s death, was also allowed to resign.
With help from attorneys at Loevy & Loevy, a Chicago-based firm specializing in civil rights and whistleblower cases, I filed a pair of lawsuits against the CIA to force it to disclose what happened to the Ice Man and the findings of an internal disciplinary board that reviewed the case.
Last week, the CIA produced a heavily redacted memo, dated June 22, 2007, in response to my lawsuit.
The memo, written by an assistant for then-CIA Inspector General John Helgerson, was titled “Comments on Report and Recommendations of the Special Accountability Board Regarding the Death of Iraqi Detainee Manadal al-Jamaidi.” (The CIA uses an alternate spelling of his name.)
After the Justice Department declined to prosecute anyone at the CIA in Jamadi’s death in 2006, the agency convened an internal accountability board to examine the case. What was the outcome? We don’t know. It’s classified.
A previously released version of this memo redacted Jamadi’s name and the acknowledgment that he “died during interrogation by the CIA.” This may not seem like much. I first reported that Jamadi died in CIA interrogation in a position the world recognizes as torture in 2005. But this is the first time that I’m aware the CIA has officially acknowledged it.
The rest of the 11-page document released to me was almost completely withheld except for an introductory paragraph that briefly outlines the memo.
The first section of the memo addresses the “accuracy of specific issues raised by the accountability board.” The second section deals with “more general issues raised concerning the quality and objectivity of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigations.”
The issues raised by the accountability board almost certainly referred to the complaints it had received of “alleged OIG bias and unfair treatment of CIA officers” in the internal investigation into Jamadi’s death. The specifics of these instances of “bias” are classified.
The Navy SEALs who captured Jamadi told me they were ignored when they tried to argue that they were being railroaded in military court and set up to take the fall for the CIA. Several of the enlisted SEALs were punished administratively with a reduction in rank, loss of pay, extra duty, and/or restriction to base. One junior officer received a career-killing letter of reprimand (which was later withdrawn). The lieutenant in charge of the SEAL platoon was acquitted at court-martial.
It was different over at the CIA, however. When agency officers complained that they were being treated unfairly, the agency listened.
CIA Push Back
In April 2007, then-CIA Director Michael Hayden asked his senior advisor, attorney Robert L. Deitz, to conduct an internal assessment of the Inspector General’s office. Hayden had received reports that Helgerson’s staff was conducting investigations with “a prosecutorial mentality and the director could not ignore them,” a senior intelligence official told The Washington Post.
Word of Dietz’s internal inquiry leaked out, prompting outrage on Capitol Hill. Former CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz said the inquiry would be seen as an attempt by Hayden to “call off the dogs.”
“The rank and file will become aware of it, and it will undercut the inspector general’s ability to get the truth from them,” Hitz told the Los Angeles Times. The CIA said Hayden needed to address “morale issues.”
Friction between the CIA officers in the field and the Inspector General’s office had been building for years. The tensions centered on the agency’s “enhanced” interrogation program which almost everyone outside the agency called torture. In 2004, Helgerson’s office concluded that the interrogation program may violate an international treaty banning cruel and degrading treatment. (Japanese army officers were held liable for waterboarding and other interrogation methods on POWs in war crime trials.) But the Bush Justice Department had assured them, in a deeply flawed legal opinion known as the Bybee memo, that it was perfectly legal.
While members of SEAL Team Seven’s Foxtrot Platoon were told they were being investigated for manslaughter in Jamadi’s death, the CIA was reviewing reports that one of its internal investigators had used a poor choice of words.
An officer with the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center wrote a memo for the record in 2005 stating that investigator with the Inspector General’s office "appeared to have presumed ill intent” when he or she opined that a detainee in Afghanistan had been "killed."
The detainee, Gul Rahman, froze to death in 2002 in a secret detention facility outside Kabul known as the Salt Pit. Rahman died nude from the waist down while shackled in a “short-chain” position that prevented him from standing to keep warm.
Perhaps not surprisingly, no one from the CIA was held accountable in Rahman’s death, either. An accountability board recommended a 10-day suspension without pay for Matthew Zirbel, the junior CIA officer who ran the Salt Pit, according to a CIA document provided in a lawsuit filed by reporter Jason Leopold. But the board was overruled by the executive director of the CIA, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, who said no discipline was warranted. (Foggo, the number three person at the CIA, was sentenced to three years in prison in 2009 in a corruption scheme that involved Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham.) Years later, the agency acknowledged that leadership had made a mistake in not holding anyone formally accountable in Rahman’s death. By then it was too late.
Deitz filed a 31-page report in 2008 that the agency has refused to release. Helgerson reportedly agreed to several changes designed to give CIA personnel “a greater ability to defend their actions and present their views,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
For the Navy SEALs and other military special operations troops, the message was clear: When things go wrong on missions involving the CIA, the agency will fight for its people; the military won’t always do the same.
Either way, it won’t be the CIA that takes the blame.
A contributing editor at Rolling Stone, Seth Hettena writes about national security and politics from San Diego. He is writing a book about the Navy SEALs and the CIA in Iraq.
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