CIA Nominee Who Covered Up Torture Promises She Definitely Won't Do That Again

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Gina Haspel, the acting assistant director of the Central Intelligence Agency, once oversaw a CIA black site prison in Thailand, and drafted a cable to CIA operatives (on behalf of her boss at the time) ordering them to destroy evidence of suspected terrorists being tortured.


Ahead of her Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, the agency released excerpts of Haspel’s prepared opening remarks, in which she pledges not to reinstate the “enhanced interrogation” program she helped oversee—a promise we can definitely trust coming from someone who once ordered the destruction of video evidence of her agency’s torture program. In those prepared remarks, reported by the Associated Press, Haspel says (emphasis added throughout):

“I understand that what many people around the country want to know about me are my views on CIA’s former detention and interrogation program,” Haspel says in the excerpts. “Having served in that tumultuous time, I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership, CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation program.”


A “tumultuous time” is one way to put it. In 2002, at a black site Haspel oversaw, CIA operatives tortured Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi Arabian citizen President George W. Bush claimed was “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations”—a claim that, like so many others, turned out to be false. CIA operatives waterboarded Zubaydah 83 times, beat him, and locked him in a coffin-like “confinement box” for hours, agency records reported by The Nation said.

While being waterboarded, Zubaydah “gagged, vomited and became hysterical while the interrogators poured water into his nostrils and throat as he lay strapped down on his back,” according to CIA documents obtained by ProPublica. He lost his left eye while in CIA custody, where he remains to this day.

In the excepts of her opening remarks before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, Haspel also touts her achievements as a woman in the boy’s club of international spy craft:

By any standard, my life at the Agency — and it has been my life — has exceeded all of my expectations, from that January day when I took my oath to today. There were few senior women leading at CIA in those days, and we are stronger now because that picture is changing. I did my part — quietly and through hard work — to break down those barriers. And I was proud to be the first woman to serve as the number-two in the Clandestine Service. It is not my way to trumpet the fact that I am a woman up for the top job, but I would be remiss in not remarking on it — not least because of the outpouring of support from young women at CIA who consider it a good sign for their own prospects.


In 2009, the Washington Post reported that no actionable intelligence was gathered as a result of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” of Zubaydah:

In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida’s tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida — chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates — was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.


Haspel also oversaw the torture of Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, who was waterboarded, deprived of food for days, and put in stress positions, his lawyers told the Supreme Court in 2017. In one of those stress positions, his lawyers said “they placed a broomstick behind [Nashiri’s] knees as he knelt and then placed his body backwards, pulling his knee joints apart ‘as he started to scream.’” Because of her record, CIA operatives called Haspel “Bloody Gina,” John Kiriakou, a former CIA counterterrorism officer, wrote in a March op-ed for the Post.

This is only what’s publicly known about the program that Haspel oversaw. Much, if not the vast majority, of her work with the CIA’s Clandestine Service program remains classified, well hidden from public view. Now, Haspel wants us to believe that, as CIA director, she won’t continue the work she’s built her decades-long career on.

Senior politics reporter at Splinter.

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