March 15, 2018

What the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on CIA Torture teaches us about soon-to-be CIA Director Gina Haspel


You’ve seen the news: CIA Director Mike Pompeo will be sliding over to serve as Secretary of State, and his deputy Gina Haspel will take the reins at the Agency.

This is a fucking terrible idea. It implicitly frames the past fifteen years of US extraordinary rendition and torture as deserving of praise and promotion.

During Haspel’s leadership, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was taken into custody. Implicated in the bombing of the USS Cole, al-Nashiri was believed to hold actionable intelligence on future attacks.

From the Senate Intelligence Report on CIA Torturewhich we published in book form in 2014—we know the full extent of what was done to al-Nashiri on Haspel’s watch.

“At DETENTION SITE GREEN, al-Nashiri was interrogated using the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, including being subjected to the waterboard at least three times.”

Beyond waterboarding, those enhanced interrogation techniques included beating, binding the hands and feet in stress positions, hooding, blasting loud music, sleep deprivation, walling, and sexual humiliation. Al-Nashiri went on to be tortured for another two years at various facilities. When he went on hunger strike, he was force-fed through his anus.

A cable sent to CIA headquarters on July 15, 2002 by the chief of base clarifies that the person in that position retained authority over the methods and the ability to stop the torture. Although the exact date when she assumed that position has been redacted, it is clear that Haspel became the chief of that base some time in 2002, which gave her the unique opportunity to put an end to the brutal treatment of Al-Nashiri and other prisoners. She did not.

Despite all of this horrendous torture—which, not for nothing, almost certainly violated Article 3 of the Geneva Convention—Al-Nashiri never turned over actionable information. Numerous times, interrogators notified CIA Headquarters that they believed he was cooperating and that future torture would be counterproductive. The response from CIA Headquarters was simply that al-Nashiri’s ignorance was “inconceivable.”

Haspel also oversaw DETENTION SITE GREEN during the period it held Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian arrested in connection with Al-Qaeda. At the time, the FBI and CIA claimed Zubaydah was a top-ranking Al-Qaeda leader and had knowledge of 9/11 and future attacks.

While Haspel’s specific role in Zubaydah’s torture is unknown, we do know that he was waterboarded eighty-three times and beaten so badly that he lost an eye.

In one episode, following more than a month of complete isolation, Zubaydah was beaten by interrogators and forced to watch as a coffin was prepared for him. After being unable to answer the interrogator’s questions, Zubaydah was slapped. He was then alternatively placed in the coffin and waterboarded.

The medical officer on hand wrote, “So it begins… The sessions accelerated rapidly, progressing quickly to the water board after large box, walling, and small box periods.” They went on to say that Zubaydah had provided no useful information. Nevertheless, he was “subjected to the waterboard ‘2–4 times a day … with multiple iterations of the watering cycle during each application.’”

Like al-Nashiri, Zubaydah turned over no actionable information to the CIA. It turned out that he wasn”t a top-ranking Al-Qaeda official.

For all his ignorance, Zubaydah is now permanently injured. As his lawyer wrote in Time yesterday, “Zubaydah suffers from frequent seizures, the origin of which cannot be determined… Because his condition is classified, there is much about his welfare that the United States will not let me say. They have authorized me to report, however, that I am ‘very concerned’ about his health.”

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Gina Haspel, via wikipedia commons

In 2005, while working at CIA Headquarters in Virginia, Haspel ordered the destruction of videotapes documenting the torture at DETENTION SITE GREEN. These tapes, which we know revealed the procedures to which Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri were subjected, would have proved Haspel’s and others’ involvement.

In 2008, the Department of Justice began an inquiry regarding the destruction of the tapes, which eventually led to the full Senate investigation.

The Senate Report states: “This and future Administrations should use this Study to guide future programs, correct past mistakes, increase oversight of CIA representations to policymakers, and ensure coercive interrogation practices are not used by our government again.”

Trump’s nomination of Haspel, who helped develop, authorize, and oversee what became one of the worst and most inhumane programs in US government history, suggests that the opposite lesson is being taken. This is unconscionable. The CIA’s torture program remains one of the darkest chapters in our history. It tarnished the reputation of America and disgusted sensible people everywhere. It was evil and wrong. And it didn’t work.

Senators Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich have already opposed Haspel’s appointment as deputy director of the CIA, the position she currently holds. Senator Dianne Feinstein blocked a 2013 promotion for Haspel over concerns about her involvement in CIA torture.

Considering that Trump was contemplating an executive order to reinstate enhanced interrogation methods and re-open black sites, Haspel’s confirmation is even more dangerous now.

Gina Haspel should not be confirmed by the Senate as CIA Director. The Torture Report provides more than enough evidence that she is unsuitable for the position.


UPDATE: This story has been has been revised to exclude information gleaned from ProPublica reporting that was subsequently retracted.



Peter Clark is a former Melville House sales manager.