The Torture Trail of Gina Haspel Makes Her Unsuitable to be Director of the CIA

22.3.18

Gina Haspel, the current Deputy Director of the CIA, and Donald Trump, who last week appointed her as the CIA's next Director, a nomination that should face hurdles in Congress because of her role overseeing a "black site" in Thailand, and her role in destroying videotapes of torture at the site.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Last Tuesday, Donald Trump announced that Mike Pompeo, the current Director of the CIA, would become the new Secretary of State, replacing Rex Tillerson, while Gina Haspel, the current Deputy Director of the CIA, would be promoted to Director, “the first woman so chosen.”

There was nothing positive about this development. As usual, Trump, defying protocol and any notion of politeness, announced Tillerson’s sacking, and the new appointments, by tweet. Tillerson, formerly the CEO of ExxonMobil, had been an indifferent Secretary of State, but Pompeo is a poor choice to be the nation’s top diplomat — hawkish on Iran, and a supporter of the continuing existence of Guantánamo. Interestingly, the New Yorker noted that Tillerson was fired shortly after agreeing with the British government that Russia “appears” to have been responsible for the recent nerve-gas attack on a former Russian spy in Salisbury, in the UK. Pompeo, however, is not averse to criticizing Russia, in contrast to Trump himself, who, ignoring his advisers, on Tuesday congratulated Vladimir Putin on his recent election victory.

However, the bulk of the criticism after Trump’s announcement has, deservedly, been reserved for the promotion of Gina Haspel, who oversaw the last few months’ existence of the CIA’s first post-9/11 “black site” in Thailand, and later conspired to destroy videotapes of the torture that took place there. Unlike Mike Pompeo, who has taken a stance agains torture, there is no sign from Haspel that she recognizes the illegality of torture, and in Donald Trump, of course, she has a president who is an enthusiastic advocate for the use of torture.

Last week, we joined with other rights groups, including the Center for Constitutional Rights and Witness Against Torture, to issue a statement declaring that Gina Haspel’s “documented involvement in torture should absolutely disqualify her from consideration for the post.”

We stand by that assessment, and are pleased to note that, on March 16, 29 organizations including the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, CCR and Reprieve, wrote to Senators “to ask that you not advance her nomination until all of the records on her past involvement in the CIA torture program are declassified and released to the public.”

The letter explained well the reasons for fearing that Haspel had crossed lines that should disqualify her from leading the CIA. As the signatories stated:

Detainees at the Thailand “black site” were waterboarded, slammed against walls, subjected to enforced sleeplessness, and confined to coffin-shaped boxes, among other criminal practices. Ms. Haspel reportedly was in a supervisory position over the Thailand “black site” during this period — including an on-site leadership role when at least one detainee was brutally tortured — and knew about, reported on, and was otherwise involved in other cases of torture and detainee abuse. But the full extent of her involvement is impossible to confirm because the CIA continues to insist that information about the full extent of her role remain classified. Executive Order 13526 prohibits the classification of records to “conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error” or “prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency,” so there is no reason for the torture program, or Ms. Haspel’s role in it, to remain classified. Senators and the American people must be able to read these documents in assessing her nomination to be CIA Director.

The signatories also noted:

In addition to her role overseeing the use of torture, Ms. Haspel’s participation in the destruction of videotapes of the torture program, over objections of White House counsel and CIA General Counsel among others, is alarming. In November 2005, amid increasing public outrage over revelations of torture at the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba detention facility, the CIA destroyed 92 videotapes of interrogations at clandestine facilities elsewhere. While the CIA maintains that the decision to destroy the tapes was made by then-Director of the National Clandestine Service Jose Rodriguez, Rodriguez says in his 2013 book that Haspel drafted the order herself. Former CIA Acting General Counsel John Rizzo says Haspel and Rodriguez were the “staunchest advocates inside the building for destroying the tapes.”

As the signatories proceeded to note, the tapes’ destruction was “a clear violation of the Federal Records Act, and indicates that Ms. Haspel does not believe she has an obligation to follow the law or a court order.”

The signatories stopped short of describing Haspel as having engaged in criminal activities, but as they pointed out, “The Senate’s constitutional obligation to ‘advise and consent’ on any nomination requires that it have full access to relevant information on the nominees before it. In Ms. Haspel’s case, the precise details of her role in the torture program remain classified. All senators should demand that those records be declassified and made public — before her nomination moves any further — so that they can actually discuss Ms. Haspel’s deeply disturbing background in open session, and so that the public can glean a more detailed picture of her role in one of the darkest chapters in U.S. history.”

In their conclusion, they added, “Ms. Haspel was a central figure in the torture program and the destruction of evidence of torture. Based on already available records and public reporting, it is clear by her wrongdoing that she demonstrated disregard for the rule of law and fundamental human rights.”

In a letter to Senators, it is not entirely surprising that the organizations involved toned down their language for the occasion, but the blunt truth about Gina Haspel’s involvement in supervising the “black site” in Thailand and in the destruction of the videotapes documenting that torture is that she broke the law, both by being involved in torture, which is illegal, and in covering up evidence of that torture.

Rather shockingly, however, these irrefutable details were swiftly overshadowed when ProPublica retracted claims made in a 2017 article, based on interviews with people involved in the CIA torture program, that Haspel has been in charge of the “black site” in Thailand when Abu Zubaydah was being tortured there, and that she had mocked his suffering as an act in a private conversation with him.

Haspel’s supporters attempted to use this retraction to whitewash her crimes, even though she oversaw the torture of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri at the site in Thailand, and remains complicit in the destruction of the videotapes. Moreover, in the Daily Beast, as Spencer Ackerman reported, “The Daily Beast’s reporting, and its continued understanding, is that Haspel was in a position of responsibility over the black site during the Abu Zubaydah interrogation, though she was not physically present. That reporting did not and does not rely on ProPublica’s, and a Daily Beast report on Wednesday mentioning ProPublica’s reporting treated it cautiously, particularly in a footnote calling attention to discrepancies in the account. The Senate intelligence committee’s 2014 report on CIA torture references extensive cables describing Abu Zubaydah’s spring and summer torture — including his ‘involuntary spasms of the torso and extremities’ following his extensive August 2002 waterboarding sessions — which Haspel was likely to have received.”

It is to be hoped that Senators will recognize the importance of having a full and frank disclosure of Gina Haspel’s past activities before confirming her as the next Director of the CIA, and we continue to believe that any objective analysis will reveal her as unsuited for the role, and as someone who “should be in jail,” as Wells Dixon of the Center for Constitutional Rights explained last week.

What we also find troubling about her nomination, and the sacking of Rex Tillerson and his replacement with Mike Pompeo, is what Trump said last Tuesday, after his tweet, and, as Rolling Stone described it, “as he left for a trip to view prototypes for his proposed wall on the Mexican border.” He said of Haspel, “She’s an outstanding person who I’ve gotten to know very well. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people very well over the last year. I’m really at a point where I’m close to having the cabinet and other things that I want.”

Does that mean what we think it means? That, in Trump’s mind, “the cabinet and other things that I want” means having those closest to him who share the fundamental impulses that drive him — including his enthusiasm for torture. We fear that it does, and urge Congress not to indulge him, for all our sakes.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

8 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, looking at the grave problems with Donald Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel as the Director of the CIA. Haskel, currently the CIA’s Deputy Director, spent some time overseeing the first CIA “black site” in Thailand, and was also involved in the subsequent destruction of videotapes on the torture that took place at the site, both of which are crimes. It seems she should be in jail rather than heading the CIA, but at the very least her nomination needs to be subjected to rigorous scrutiny by Congress, and the CIA should be required to unclassify all the relevant information. This article was originally posted at http://www.closeguantanamo.org.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. I posted it earlier than usual, because I was out at Bettersea Arts Centre watching my son Tyler performing in the most amazing show based on ‘Frankenstein’ – a powerful and unique mix of beatboxing, rap and song, beautifully lit and choreographed. More on that soon.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Anyone wanting to read more might like to check out this perceptive article by Emile Nakhleh, formerly a Senior Intelligence Service officer and Director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program at the CIA: https://lobelog.com/pompeos-appointment-bodes-ill-for-the-middle-east/

  4. Tom says...

    Thanks for posting this. Some cross promotion. As much as I can, I try to post links to this site in high visibility places. Now, when you can please post links to my PTSD blog (http://ptsdwellbeing.blogspot.co.uk). I’m working on a new post re: torture. Coming soon.

  5. Tom says...

    The post is done. NOTE: This contains graphic language and potentially triggering content. Read at your own risk.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom, for trying to help others based on your own terrible experiences.
    The post you mention is here: http://ptsdwellbeing.blogspot.co.uk/2018/03/whats-torture-really-like-contains.html

  7. Tom says...

    Thanks Andy. keep up the great work.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. I just found out that there’s a Credo Action petition against her nomination that has nearly 100,000 signatures: https://act.credoaction.com/sign/block-haspel

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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