A BRIEF HISTORY OF CIA director nominee Gina Haspel’s role in interrogation programs
BY W.J. Hennigan
EVER SINCE PRESIDENT TRUMP TAPPED Gina Haspel to lead the CIA nearly two months ago,
fierce debate has engulfed Washington over her suitability to run the agency.
Haspel, a 33-year intelligence operative who would become the first woman to lead the CIA,
remains embroiled in controversy because of her role in the agency’s interrogation and detention program in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
During a May 9 confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, it was her turn to speak.
“I want to be clear: Having served in that tumultuous time, I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation,
that under my leadership, on my watch, CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation program,” Haspel said.
Still, she evaded answering questions on her role in the program, branded as “torture” by critics,
and refused to say whether she felt it was immoral in hindsight.
“We’ll be able to go over any of my classified assignments in classified session,” she told inquiring Senators.
In fact, because Haspel was an undercover agent, much of her career remains shrouded in secrecy—but not all of it.
It’s widely known that she oversaw an agency “black site” in Thailand
where al-Qaeda suspects were subject to an array of harsh techniques, including waterboarding, which simulates drowning.
Much of this information comes from a tranche of heavily redacted documents on the interrogation program, which was publicly released in December 2014.
It revealed that before Haspel’s arrival in Thailand,
Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times during a three-week period in August 2002.
According to his lawyer, he was “suspended from hooks in the ceiling,
forced into a coffin for hours at a time in a gathering pool of his own urine and feces,
crammed into a tiny box that would’ve been small even for a child,
bombarded with screaming noise and cold air,
compelled to stay awake for days on end, and ‘rectally rehydrated.’”
Another man, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was waterboarded three times while Haspel was at the site.
Retired military leaders, antitorture groups and others have fought her nomination.
She faces a challenging path in a full Senate vote.
The CIA has refused to say whether Haspel had direct involvement in the use of controversial techniques
or what her role was in drawing up orders to destroy videotapes that documented their use.
But in a move that has rankled some of its former rank and file,
the agency has engaged in an unprecedented public relations campaign supporting her appointment.
A brief biography states that she was a globe-trotting officer whose career was “right out of a spy novel.”
Indeed, Haspel served on the front lines during the Cold War and fight against al-Qaeda.
The period pertaining to the Thailand black site, however, remains cast in darkness.