from the say what now? dept
Update: Late this evening ProPublica retracted and corrected a story from last year, saying that Haspel was in charge of the Thai CIA prison site while Zubaydah was tortured. That does suggest that some of the accusations against Haspel actually should be blamed on her predecessor. As the correction notes, she did not arrive to run the base until October of 2002, after Zubaydah’s torture had concluded. However the report quotes the NY Times saying that she did still oversee the torture of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and that she was still involved in the destruction of the video tapes of the torture sessions — both of which should be disqualifying from the job.
In addition, these kinds of mistakes wouldn’t be made if the government actually came clean over what it did and who did it. Revealing who ran that prison site and what they did would not harm national security. It would provide an accurate accounting of what really went down. I’m sure that some Haspel supporters will argue that this correction mean that all of the concerns about Haspel are “fake news” even though that’s clearly not true at all. Instead, this seems like even more evidence for why the details of her involvement needs to be declassified prior to facing confirmation hearings in the Senate. Our original article is below.
As you’ve probably heard, with the latest in the neverending rotating cast of characters that makes up the current Trump administration, a set of dominoes has been knocked over with the tweeted firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the nomination of CIA boss (and former Congressional Rep/longtime defender of surveillance and torture) Mike Pompeo to replace him. While Pompeo was a vocal supporter of the CIA’s torture program, he didn’t actually have any hand in running it. Instead, that distinction goes to Gina Haspel, whom Trump has nominated to take Pompeo’s place. Haspel not only oversaw parts of the CIA’s torture program, she was also directly involved with the destruction of the video tapes showing the torture procedures. The still classified 6,700 page Senate report on the program apparently contains a lot of details about the program that Haspel ran while running a CIA blacksite in Thailand. Annabelle Timsit has helpfully pulled together some details of what is currently known from the heavily redacted declassified executive summary (you may recall we spent years writing about the fight to just release that summary). What’s stunning is that the program so disgusted CIA employees that some were at the “point of tears and choking up” and multiple people on site asked to be moved to other locations if the CIA was going to continue these torture techniques. From the report (see the update above, noting that these quotes were from a couple months before Haspel took over):
CIA personnel at DETENTION SITE GREEN reported being disturbed by the use of the enhanced interrogation techniques against Abu Zubaydah. CIA records include the following reactions and comments by CIA personnel:
- August 5, 2002: “want to caution [medical officer] that this is almost certainly not a place he’s ever been before in his medical career. … It is visually and psychologically very uncomfortable.”
- August 8, 2002: “Today’s first session … had a profound effect on all staff members present … it seems the collective opinion that we should not go much further … everyone seems strong for now but if the group has to continue … we cannot guarantee how much longer.”
- August 8, 2002: “Several on the team profoundly affected … some to the point of tears and choking up.”
- August 9, 2002: “two, perhaps three [personnel] likely to elect transfer” away from the detention site if the decision is made to continue with the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.
- August 11, 2002: Viewing the pressures on Abu Zubaydah on video “has produced strong feelings of futility (and legality) of escalating or even maintaining the pressure.” Per viewing the tapes, “prepare for something not seen previously.”
In other words, for all the people out there who insist this was not torture, even the CIA people working on the program clearly felt that it went way beyond the line.
Perhaps even more incredible is that Ali Soufan, the former FBI agent who interrogated Abu Zubaydah before the CIA’s team of torturers took over, has written a damning article about that program:
I know firsthand how brutal these techniques were—and how counterproductive. In 2002, I interrogated an al-Qaeda associate named Abu Zubaydah. Using tried-and-true nonviolent interrogation methods, we extracted a great deal of valuable intelligence from Zubaydah—including the identities of the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the would-be “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla, both of whom would be arrested shortly after. Yet some officials later tried to manipulate the record to make it seem as if this intelligence was gained through torture, even going so far as to misstate the date of Padilla’s arrest, which in fact occurred before Zubaydah or any other al-Qaeda suspect was waterboarded.
Unsurprisingly, the CIA’s own inspector general concluded that the torture program failed to produce any significant actionable intelligence; and I testified to the same effect under oath in the Senate. What’s worse, the program has gotten in the way of justice: To this day, we cannot prosecute terrorists such as the masterminds behind the USS Cole and 9/11 attacks, in large part because the evidence against them is tainted by torture.
Soufan also calls out Haspel’s role in destroying the evidence of torture.
In 2005, Jose Rodriguez, the CIA’s counterterrorism chief, ordered the destruction of some 92 videotapes of the harsh methods being used on al-Qaeda suspects that the black site Haspel had once run. Rodriguez issued this order in defiance not only of the CIA’s own general counsel at the time, John Rizzo, but also of a federal court order. And to draft the cable ordering the tapes to be thrown into an “industrial-strength shredder,” Rodriguez turned to his then-chief of staff—Haspel.
Rodriguez was later criticized for his actions by the CIA’s inspector general; but true accountability—for the torture program itself, as well as for the destruction of evidence—has proved elusive. This gives rise to another set of questions that will need to be pressed in the Senate. Was Haspel pleased with the order she drafted, or troubled by it? Does she stand by Rodriguez’s public justification, that he was protecting the lives of his operatives, or his private one, documented in declassified emails, that the tapes would make him and his group “look terrible”? Above all, if the torture program was so valuable and necessary, why destroy the tapes at all?
Soufan also reiterates (as mentioned above) that “many professionals within the agency courageously chose to stand up against the enhanced techniques, walking away from black sites in protest and registering a large number of complaints.” Haspel was a willing participant and leader in the effort. Soufan also notes that the CIA used the intelligence he obtained, not via torture, and lied to Congress about it, pretending that it came about via its failed and morally repulsive torture program.
Plenty of information about Haspel’s involvement in both the torture program and the cover-up is still classified — leading at least some Senators to call for declassifying that information. Rand Paul has been the most vocal opponent to the appointment of Haspel:
Paul said he is opposing Haspel due to her involvement in the enhanced interrogation program during the George W. Bush administration. He said she showed “joyful glee at someone who is being tortured.”
“I find it just amazing that anyone would consider having this woman at the head of the CIA,” Paul said.
This is a principled stand. And yet, he is being attacked for it. The most incredible attack came from Rep. Liz Chaney (whose father helped set up and defend the torture program), who directly claimed that Rand Paul questioning whether or not we want a torturer to lead the CIA was “defending and sympathizing with terrorists.”
Let the insanity of that statement sink in for a moment. Here you have a member of Congress claiming that a Senator is “defending and sympathizing with terrorists” for merely suggesting that we shouldn’t support having someone who ran the CIA torture program as the next CIA director. Even if you believe — against all evidence, and against basic human decency — that torture is a good thing to use against anyone, how is it possibly “sympathizing with terrorists” to suggest that such a person is not qualified to be CIA director? Does Cheney also believe that Soufan, the former FBI agent who actually got intelligence out of terrorists without torturing them is also “defending and sympathizing with terrorists” in stating:
And yet today, the candidate for the top job at the agency is someone who willingly participated in both the program and the attempted cover-up. We need to consider what kind of message this sends to people in the intelligence community and the wider government. Do things right, stand up for American values, and you will be ignored. Flout them, and you will be rewarded.
What kind of sick mind is so supportive of torture that she would argue that merely questioning whether this person should head the CIA is somehow siding with the terrorists? Politicians make really stupid statements all the time, but Liz Cheney’s statement is positively jaw dropping in its blind obedience to what many have argued are war crimes by the US government. This kind of logic is the kind of logic that leads to very dangerous outcomes. It’s beyond Machiavellian. It is not even that the ends justify the means (which would be bad enough), because the ends did not justify the means with the CIA’s torture program. It’s that merely questioning the means somehow makes you sympathetic to the cause of terrorists. That’s a recipe for disaster. It allows no questioning. It allows no dissent. It allows no conscience. It is pure authoritarian evil.
Filed Under: ali soufan, cia, gina haspel, liz cheney, mike pomeo, rand paul, torture, torture report, war crimes