The CIA, however, paid the entire cost of maintaining the facility, including the electricity, food and salaries for the guards, who were all vetted by agency personnel. The CIA also decided who would be kept inside, including some "high-value targets," senior al Qaeda leaders in transit to other, more secure secret CIA prisons.
"We financed it, but it was an Afghan deal," one U.S. intelligence officer said.
In spring 2004, when the CIA first referred the Salt Pit case to the Justice Department for possible prosecution, the department cited the prison's status as a foreign facility, outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. government, as one reason for declining to prosecute, U.S. government officials aware of the decision said.
The case officer who was put in charge of the Salt Pit was on his first assignment. Described by colleagues as "bright and eager" and "full of energy," he was the kind of person the agency needed for such a dismal job. The officer was working undercover, and his name could not be learned.
"A first-tour officer was put in charge because there were not enough senior-level volunteers," said one intelligence officer familiar with the case. "It's not a job just anyone would want. More senior people said, 'I don't want to do that.' There was a real notable absence of high-ranking people" in Afghanistan.
Besides, the intelligence officer said, "the CIA did not have a deep cadre of people who knew how to run prisons. It was a new discipline. There's a lot of room to get in trouble."
Shortly after the death, the CIA briefed the chairmen and vice chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees, the only four people in Congress whom the CIA has decided to routinely brief on detainee and interrogation issues. But, one official said, the briefing was not complete.
The Afghan detainee had been captured in Pakistan along with a group of other Afghans. His connection to al Qaeda or the value of his intelligence was never established before he died. "He was probably associated with people who were associated with al Qaeda," one U.S. government official said.
The brick factory has since been torn down, and the CIA has built a facility somewhere else.
A team of federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia recently convened to handle allegations of detainee abuse is now taking a second look at the case.
The pace of the CIA investigations has tested the patience of some in Congress, as was evident two weeks ago when Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), a member of the Senate intelligence panel, asked CIA Director Porter J. Goss when the inspector general's inquiry would be complete and available to the oversight committees.
"I haven't asked him what day he's going to finish all these cases," Goss replied.
"Or a month?" shot back Levin.
"As soon as they are through," Goss answered. ". . . I know there is still a bunch of other cases."
In recent weeks, the ranking Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence panels have asked their Republican chairmen to investigate the CIA's detention and interrogations. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) has declined the request from Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.).
The CIA inspector general, meanwhile, recently completed a review of detention procedures in Afghanistan and Iraq and gave Goss 10 recommendations for improving administrative procedures for holding, moving and interrogating prisoners. The recommendations included more detailed reporting requirements from the field, increased safeguards against abuse and including more CIA officials in decisions affecting interrogation tactics.
Two have been fully adopted, officials said.
Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.