Call It Torture

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Gina Haspel, Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, is testifying in front of Congress today. Her nomination is seen as being on shaky ground thanks to her role in overseeing a CIA black site in Thailand during the Bush administration where prisoners were tortured. While her exact role is shrouded in secrecy by design—obfuscation of the exact details is the main thing that could propel her confirmation through—the fact that the interrogation tactics Haspel oversaw was torture is not.

Here is how ProPublica, citing partially declassified CIA documents, describes the ways in which Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a prisoner at the Thai black site run by Haspel, was treated:

Those records describe how Nashiri was slammed repeatedly against a wall, locked up in a tiny “confinement box” and told (inaccurately) that the black-clad security officers guarding him were Navy sailors who would pummel him if he did not divulge his secrets. One interrogator told Nashiri he needed to be “tenderized” like a piece of meat.

Under Haspel’s supervision, the interrogators immediately set to work. Naked but for his shackles and hood, Nashiri was locked into a coffin-like wooden box for hours at a time. When his answers were deemed evasive or inadequate, he was sometimes moved into the smaller box for up to two hours as additional punishment.

The Daily Beast’s Spencer Ackerman, also citing CIA documents, wrote on Wednesday that “Nashiri’s torture, which his attorneys say has left lasting mental damage, was controversial within the agency. But those documents provide no indication that Haspel opposed it, let alone stopped it—particularly when CIA headquarters pushed to intensify the torture at a subsequent black site.”


Nashiri was also waterboarded:

The guards, who were typically clad in black fatigues and balaclavas, tied him to a hospital gurney, an arrangement that turned out to be precarious. Nashiri was so slight that he nearly slid off as the gurney was tilted upward to let him clear the water from his sinuses. “We were concerned that he would fall off the gurney and get hurt,” Mitchell wrote. “We were all feeling uncomfortable.”

After three sessions, the waterboarding was stopped because “he gave us enough to convince us that the harshest of our approved tactics no longer were needed,” Mitchell wrote.

For years, the media has been strained to call this kind of barbarism what it is: torture. It took until 2014—more than a decade after 9/11—for The New York Times to finally decide to use the word when describing American interrogation techniques. But even today, at the possible cusp of confirming Haspel to the highest position at the CIA, media outlets are still doing their best to sidestep the word.

From The Washington Post (emphasis mine throughout):

Haspel’s hearing comes just days after the nominee offered to bow out, to avoid discussing in a public setting her role in the agency’s enhanced interrogation program, which many have likened to torture.


From CNN:

Her nomination was quickly opposed by human rights groups and many Democrats, as well as Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, over her role in the George W. Bush administration’s interrogation and detention program, in which critics say the CIA tortured terror detainees.


From the Associated Press, which fails to mention “torture” in this article even once:

Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, offered to withdraw her nomination, two senior administration officials said Sunday, amid concerns that a debate over a harsh interrogation program would tarnish her reputation and that of the CIA.


You don’t have to attribute the T-word to “critics.” Waterboarding is not “likened to torture.” It is torture. Adding “harsh” or “enhanced” or “brutal” to the words “interrogation program” is using three less accurate words when just one will do. Haspel’s advocates are already trying to keep the public record ambiguous. The media doesn’t have to follow suit.