While the CIA has been trying to salvage Gina Haspel’s rocky nomination to lead the agency with a series of gushing tweets and by making public only flattering bits of her record, the American people have to reckon with a nominee whose role in torture and the destruction of torture evidence is still shrouded in secrecy.
The CIA wants us to know positive stories about Haspel, hailing her as a trailblazer, consummate professional, dedicated agent, and Johnny Cash fan. At the same time, the agency won’t release full information about the most important and contentious parts of Haspel’s record.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wrote to the CIA this week, protesting that it has continued to hide Haspel “behind a wall of secrecy” while suppressing “disturbing facts about her record.” Sen. Heinrich also said that the agency appeared to be “running a full-on propaganda campaign” in support of her nomination, while “withholding” key information.
While the CIA has said that it is “committed to transparency,” it has so far only granted senators—and not the public—access to some classified information about Haspel. Last week, the CIA disclosed a 2011 memo—written by a former CIA official with a record of excusing torture—which supposedly cleared Haspel of responsibility for the destruction of evidence documenting the brutal torture of a man in CIA custody in 2002. But the CIA shouldn’t get to cherry-pick which documents it will declassify—while hiding the most important torture records.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has also pushed back against the agency’s handling of Haspel’s nomination and requested a copy of a special prosecutor’s report that addressed the destruction of evidence of torture.
In fact, what we already know is disturbing enough: Haspel’s role in supervising the CIA’s torture program—and participating in the cover-up of torture videos—is not in question.
One former CIA official told The Daily Beast that Haspel “ran the interrogation program.” Haspel was also present for the torture of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri at a CIA black site in Thailand. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee torture report, al-Nashiri was “subjected to the waterboard at least three times.” Furthermore, The Daily Beast confirmed that Haspel “was in a position of responsibility”—even if not physically present—during the earlier interrogations of Abu Zubaydah.
The horrific details of what took place in the CIA prison in Thailand can—and should—be read by everyone. They are detailed in a lengthy Senate report of the CIA torture program that can be found here. Page after page describes the sadistic crimes perpetrated by the CIA on Abu Zubaydah, using the CIA’s own emails and cables, including this from a CIA email:
In at least one waterboarding session, Abu Zubaydah ‘became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth. According to CIA records, Abu Zubaydah remained unresponsive until medical intervention, when he regained consciousness and expelled ‘copious amounts of liquid.’
In all, Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times over the course of a month. That was in addition to being regularly stripped naked, slammed face first into a wall, denied sleep, and stuffed into a coffin-like box for hours on end. In a program in which Haspel reportedly was a supervisor, Abu Zubaydah’s torture became a template for the torture program going forward.
When the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the two psychologists who designed the torture program, the defense asked the judge to order Haspel “to provide a deposition discussing her allegedly pivotal involvement in an episode the CIA has tried repeatedly to put behind it.” The federal government, supported by a statement from then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, stepped in to assert “state secrets” and blocked Haspel from being deposed.
Even the internal CIA memo released by the CIA last week, which excuses Haspel for her role in the destruction of 93 videotapes documenting Abu Zubaydah’s torture, confirms that she drafted the cable ordering the destruction of the tapes. According to then-acting CIA general counsel John Rizzo, Haspel was one of the “staunchest advocates inside the building for destroying the tapes,” lobbying Rizzo on a near weekly basis for their disposal.
This is the history that the CIA needs to tell us more about. Rather than selectively picking documents and anecdotes, the agency must declassify and come clean about Haspel’s complete role in the torture program—and its cover-up.