President Donald Trump nominated CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel to succeed Mike Pompeo as director of the agency. Haspel was briefly in charge of a black site prison and helped destroy evidence to cover up torture.
The possible promotion is but another consequence of the failure and refusal among President Barack Obama’s administration and the political establishment to meaningfully hold officials accountable for torture.
Trump made the announcement as part of a tweet that indicated CIA Director Mike Pompeo was nominated to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Tillerson was effectively fired.
Haspel would not only be the first woman to run the CIA. She would also be the first woman, who helped agency officials conceal evidence of torture and abuse against detainees in the “war on terrorism,” to serve as a CIA director.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which represents survivors of the CIA rendition and torture program, reacted, “During [President George W. Bush’s] administration, Gina Haspel oversaw the torture of Abu Zubaydah and others at a CIA black site in Thailand, where he was waterboarded 83 times. She was then instrumental in the destruction of the tapes of those interrogations, which were evidence of torture.”
“She is unfit to lead the CIA. Gina Haspel should be prosecuted, not promoted,” CCR added.
Republican Senator John McCain, who is chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, did not signal opposition to Haspel but stated, “The torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history. Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process.
“I know the Senate will do its job in examining Ms. Haspel’s record as well as her beliefs about torture and her approach to current law,” McCain suggested.
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, opposed the nomination.
“Ms. Haspel’s background makes her unsuitable to serve as CIA director,” Wyden asserted. “Her nomination must include total transparency about this background, which I called for more than a year ago when she was appointed deputy director. If Ms. Haspel seeks to serve at the highest levels of U.S. intelligence, the government can no longer cover up disturbing facts from her past.”
Back in February 2017, Wyden and Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich urged Pompeo to declassify certain information on Haspel so Americans were not kept in the dark when it came to her past. They contended classifying information about her violated an executive order prohibition against concealing “violations of law” or to “prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency.”
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who has served on the Senate intelligence committee and played an instrumental role in producing the study on the CIA’s torture program, was restrained in her statement on the nomination.
“I look forward to speaking again with Gina Haspel about the role she would play and how she would run the CIA,” Feinstein stated. “It’s no secret I’ve had concerns in the past with her connection to the CIA torture program and have spent time with her discussing this. To the best of my knowledge, she has been a good deputy director and I look forward to the opportunity to speak with her again.”
Feinstein apparently has no problem with Pompeo and the CIA concealing key information about her role in the torture program so she can continue to enjoy prestigious promotions in government.
Jerrold Nadler, a Democratic Representative from New York who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, unequivocally opposed the nomination.
“The Senate owes it to the American people to take a hard look at Deputy Director Haspel, whose career at the CIA coincides with some of the darkest moments in recent American history. She oversaw a ‘black site’ prison in Thailand. She approved interrogation techniques that were clearly unlawful at the time and ordered the destruction of evidence of those practices.”
Nadler added, “Torture is not only abhorrent, torture is a crime. The Senate already—rightly—denied Deputy Director Haspel a post as head of the clandestine service because of the role she played in the Bush Administration’s ‘enhanced interrogation’ program. The Senate should not confirm Deputy Director Haspel to lead the CIA.”
In 2002, Haspel briefly operated the CIA’s secret prison in Thailand. The chief of the base was given “final decision-making authority” to determine whether “enhanced interrogation” techniques were used. She was responsible for approving the torture Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who was waterboarded.
Haspel engaged in a conspiracy with the National Clandestine Service chief, Jose Rodriguez, to ensure torture videotapes of Zubaydah never saw the light of day.
In Rodriguez’s memoir, “Hard Measures,” he recounted how Haspel, his chief of staff, helped him destroy the evidence.
“My chief of staff drafted a cable approving the action that we had been trying to accomplish for so long,” Rodriguez wrote. “The cable left nothing to chance. It even told them how to get rid of the tapes. They were to use an industrial-strength shredder to do the deed.
“On Tuesday, November 8, after scrutinizing the cable on my computer for a while, I thought about the decision. I was not depriving anyone of information about what was done or what was said. I was just getting rid of some ugly visuals that could put the lives of my people at risk. I took a deep breath of weary satisfaction and hit Send.”
Though Rodriguez confessed to a crime in his memoir, he was never prosecuted.
According to the torture report, “Over a two-and-a-half-hour period, 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.”
This was the kind of treatment that Haspel helped the CIA conceal when she participated in the effort to destroy torture tapes.
The destruction of videotapes of Nashiri and Zubaydah’s waterboarding sessions had a huge influence on the Senate intelligence committee and fueled the decision to produce a study that would clearly document the brutality of the CIA torture program and the efforts of officials, like Rodriguez and Haspel, to lie to Americans about what was done in their name.
Up until her appointment as deputy CIA director, establishment media outlets protected her identity and withheld her name from coverage of the torture program. (In fact, Rodriguez did not use her name in his 2012 book. She is only referred to as “my chief of staff.”)
It is well-known that she was part of the destruction of torture tapes, but as for what other deeds she committed while working for the CIA, the agency has withheld crucial information from the public.
With no accountability for torture, it will forever be easy for career officials like Haspel to pursue leadership positions at the CIA.