Gina Haspel, who once was in charge of operating a CIA secret prison in Thailand where at least two detainees were waterboarded and tortured, was selected by CIA Director Mike Pompeo to be the CIA’s deputy director.
Although Pompeo publicly pledged during his confirmation hearing to keep the CIA out of the “enhanced interrogation business,” Haspel’s appointment is an ominous development. It significantly increases the likelihood that the CIA will restore some torture techniques, which were banned by President Barack Obama.
“Gina is an exemplary intelligence officer and a devoted patriot who brings more than 30 years of agency experience to the job,” Pompeo declared. “She is also a proven leader with an uncanny ability to get things done and to inspire those around her. We are fortunate that someone of her intellect, skill, and experience will be our Deputy Director. I know she will do an outstanding job, and I look forward to working with her closely in the years ahead.”
She is a career intelligence officer, who joined the CIA in 1985. She has “extensive overseas experience and served as station chief in several assignments.” She briefly operated a secret prison, where torture occurred, and also participated in a coverup of torture when she helped destroy videotape evidence.
According to a report published in 2013 by the Washington Post, “After running the “black site” in Thailand,” Haspel “returned to headquarters for a senior job at the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. Former colleagues said she lobbied for several years to have the videotapes taken in Thailand destroyed.”
In 2005, the tapes showing CIA torture of detainees Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were destroyed. The CIA was advised by top lawyers at the Justice Department to not destroy the tapes. A criminal investigation was opened but charges were never filed.
Haspel reportedly collaborated with the National Clandestine Service chief, Jose Rodriguez, to ensure torture videotapes never saw the light of day because, as Rodriguez contended, the scandal from destruction would never be as bad as the scandal that would ensue if the tapes saw the light of day.
When Haspel had an opportunity in 2013 to become the first female clandestine chief of operations, she was passed over. Reports suggested Haspel did not get the promotion because of her past history of involvement with torture and destruction of evidence.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, was instrumental in the production of a 6,300-page report on the CIA torture program. The Associated Press reported her opposition to any promotion of Haspel.
Haspel briefly ran the CIA’s secret prison in Thailand in 2002. The chief of the base was given “final decision-making authority” to determine whether “enhanced interrogation” techniques against Zubaydah were halted.
According to the torture report, “Over a two-and-a-half-hour period, Abu Zubaydah coughed, vomited, and had ‘involuntary spasms of the torso and extremities’ during waterboarding.”
The CIA employed a combination of torture techniques against Zubaydah that included “walling, attention grasps, slapping, facial hold, stress positions, cramped confinement, white noise, and sleep deprivation.” They used varying combinations “24 hours a day” for 17 straight days in August 2002. He was waterboarded 2-4 times a day “with multiple iterations of the watering cycle during each application.”
As Zubaydah personally described, “They shackle me completely, even my head; I can’t do anything. Like this, and they put one cloth in my mouth and they put water, water, water.” Right before he is about to die, the board was stood up. He made heavy breathing noises. He told them, “If you want to kill me, kill me.”
Zubaydah was apparently mistaken for a top al Qaeda leader. An agency interrogator even apologized, “Sorry, we made a big mistake.” But he remains in indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay.
Nashiri was waterboarded three times at the same black site prison in Thailand, which was apparently shuttered in December.
The destruction of videotapes of Nashiri and Zubaydah’s waterboarding sessions had a huge influence on the Senate intelligence committee, which decided to undertake a study that led to a major report on the CIA torture program.
Haspel previously served undercover. Even though the torture of Nashiri and Zubaydah made significant headlines, her name was mostly withheld from coverage of CIA torture by the major establishment media outlets.
The decades of experience Haspel has in intelligence dwarfs Pompeo’s involvement in intelligence tremendously. She is likely to hold great influence over the direction of the CIA under President Donald Trump.
Former CIA director Michael Hayden endorsed Haspel as a “trusted friend, lieutenant and guide to the sometimes opaque corridors of American espionage.” Former Republican chair of the House intelligence committee, Mike Rogers, said Haspel showed the “savvy and grit needed in difficult situations,” which “garnered respect of colleagues and adversaries alike. Her commitment to the mission and rule of law are unparalleled.”
How overseeing torture and advocating for the destruction of evidence of torture represents a “commitment” to the “rule of law” is unclear. Certainly, Haspel may actively campaign for a restoration of the CIA detention network and a return to the days of torture. She will probably succeed because no officials were prosecuted for torture, and there is little deterrence for officials inclined to resume torture.