The next director of the CIA might be one of the most controversial picks ever.
Gina Haspel not only helped to oversee the CIA’s torture program, but may have also destroyed evidence in an effort to hide torture techniques. And one CIA whistleblower says Haspel and those around her “tortured for the sake of torture.”
Is this really the person who should run the Central Intelligence Agency?
Let’s give it a Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.
Gina Haspel is making headlines as the newly nominated director of the Central Intelligence Agency. She’s been chosen to step in for outgoing CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who President Trump chose to become Secretary of State in place of outgoing Rex Tillerson.
Some of those headlines are for her being the first woman nominated to the top CIA post. But others are rightfully questioning her connections to the CIA’s failed torture program.
So who is Haspel?
Well, we know she’s been with the CIA since 1985 and was assigned to the Central European Division.
According to the New York Times, Haspel served “in Turkey and Central Asia, before ascending to station chief in New York, where she was posted when Osama bin Laden was killed and worked closely with the F.B.I. as the agencies combed through files taken from his compound.”
In her career, she’s also headed up the CIA station in London — twice — and served as the acting director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service in 2013.
But what’s troubling is her role in torture, and destruction of evidence of torture, dating back to 2002.
In October 2002, Haspel was placed in charge of the CIA “black site” prison named “Cat’s Eye” in Thailand. She arrived after Al Qaeda terror suspect Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded and tortured at the cite.
But, under her watch, another Al Qaeda suspect, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was waterboarded three times.
I’m sure you know what waterboarding is… it’s a torture technique that simulates a drowning sensation.
The CIA doesn’t like the word torture… instead, they call waterboarding one of 13 “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on detainees dating back to 2001.
Former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who blew the whistle on the agency’s torture practices and went to prison for it, knew Haspel personally. Kiriakou had this to say about her in an interview on Democracy Now.
After the “Cat’s Eye” black site was closed in December 2002, Haspel went to work in the CIA’s National Clandestine Service in Washington, D.C under former director Jose Rodriguez.
This is where Haspel’s background becomes even more troubling.
According to the New York Times, Haspel encouraged her bosses at the CIA in 2005 to destroy video recordings of “enhanced interrogation,” including the tapes of Zubaydah’s waterboarding. Her direct boss, the head of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center, ultimately signed the order to feed the 92 tapes into a shredder.
The videotapes were destroyed just as debates heated up around the globe as to whether these techniques were illegal under U.S. and international laws. And yet, no one was charged in the destruction of what may have been evidence of illegal activity.
At the time the public did not know the extent to which these techniques were being used by our government on suspected terrorists. Candidly, we still don’t, but we did get a glimpse of the CIA torture and rendition program, and its failures, in 2014.
Back in 2012, the Senate Committee on Intelligence voted 9-6 to approve a 6,000 page report on a study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.
Just 525 pages of the full report have been declassified since December 2014, but it’s enough to show how mismanaged and ineffective the enhanced interrogation or torture program was in protecting Americans.
Ultimately the report found that the CIA’s torture techniques conducted at black sites did not help the agency get the cooperation of detainees or result in any actionable intelligence.
We know from the report that these CIA black sites were hotbeds for torture. Torture, including stress positions to sleep deprivation to waterboarding.
So why would Trump appoint someone with extensive connections to a secret torture program that failed to protect Americans?
Because Trump believes that the torture program wasn’t “tough enough.” He explained on the campaign trail.
And in an interview with CBS News, Trump further explained that he would want waterboarding to be the “minimum” when fighting terrorism.
What you need to know is that President Trump’s effort to bring waterboarding back to the CIA —if it ever actually ended—might backfire, because he’s putting Gina Haspel in the hot seat.
You see, Haspel’s hearing presents the first time the Senate has had an opportunity to question, under oath, someone directly involved in the CIA torture program. But it’s not just the program the public needs to know more about.
It’s the decision to act and then to destroy evidence of those actions that Haspel and others must be held accountable for.
If no illegal acts were committed, why destroy the evidence?
Reality Check here: Among senior officials, Gina Haspel’s acts are likely not the most egregious in the CIA when it comes to torture. In fact, her actions to carry out the CIA’s torture program, and her actions to help hide evidence of that program, again, among senior officials, is likely not unique. What is unique, is that we know about it.