TAKE NO PRISONERS
Vanity Fair US|June 2024
The State Department's hostage point man, Roger Carstens, works to free US citizens from captivity, whether they're being held by Vladimir Putin or Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro. ADAM CIRALSKY embeds with America's top negotiators through 15 months of rescue efforts with the highest of stakes: liberty or death
ADAM CIRALSKY
TAKE NO PRISONERS

At dawn on October 1, 2022,

Osman Khan was roused from his cell inside Venezuela’s notorious subterranean prison known as the House of Dreams.

Khan was a fresh-faced Floridian, all of 24 and barely out of college. Nine months before, he had made the fateful mistake of crossing the border into Venezuela to meet his girlfriend’s family, only to find himself in the clutches of one of the dictatorship’s dreaded security services. For weeks, his interrogators subjected him to torture of all kinds: waterboarding, electric shocks, beatings, stress positions, extreme confinement, and forced injections, which his family says induced grand mal seizures. One of his torturers went by the nickname the Piranha. Khan was incarcerated in a pariah state beset by gangs, rampant corruption, and humanitarian crises—a country that considered his homeland a mortal enemy.

“It was hell,” recalled his sister Jasmin, who, while finishing her master’s at Georgetown, was putting in long hours as Khan’s advocate in Washington. His incarceration had enveloped the close-knit family. “My mom is the strongest person ever,” said Jasmin, “but it definitely broke her. She was telling me, ‘If something happens to me, it’s your job to get your brother out.’ She was thinking of committing suicide.” Khan had already tried to take his own life, but his captors had intervened.

The Venezuelans alleged that Khan was not what he claimed to be: a lovestruck young man who had innocently entered their nation. Instead, they maintained, he was a CIA assassin dispatched to kill President Nicolás Maduro, who in 2013, after the death of his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, had wrested control of the beleaguered oil-rich nation, going on to establish a ruthless far-left dictatorship. As evidence, Khan’s minders produced a Google Map printout of Miraflores, Venezuela’s White House, which they claimed to have found among his possessions.

This story is from the June 2024 edition of Vanity Fair US.

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This story is from the June 2024 edition of Vanity Fair US.

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