What the Senate Needs to Ask Gina Haspel

A confirmation hearing for President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the CIA, Gina Haspel, is likely to be scheduled soon. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), and a coalition of civil society groups have called on the CIA to declassify Haspel’s role in the rendition, detention, and interrogation program before her confirmation hearing. So far, the CIA has disregarded these calls. Instead, it has disclosed the fact that Haspel is a fan of the Kentucky Wildcats and that her office contains “a five-foot-tall poster of Johnny Cash as a symbol of American individualism,” along with some vague details about her CIA career.

Without full declassification of her involvement in American torture and rendition programs during the George W. Bush administration, Haspel’s confirmation hearing will be a farce. The public record about her role is as disturbing as it is limited—and without official acknowledgement by the CIA, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) will not even be able to meaningfully question her about what’s been reported in the press.

Here’s the Little We Know About Haspel’s Involvement in Torture

When Haspel was promoted to deputy director of the CIA last year, multiple press accounts stated that she had been the CIA’s chief of base at the secret prison (or “black site”) in Thailand where Abu Zubaydah and Abd al Rahim al Nashiri were tortured. These reports were apparently incorrect as to Abu Zubaydah. As first reported by the New York Times, Haspel became chief of base at the black site in late October 2002, after the most brutal treatment of Abu Zubaydah had already ended.

But while Haspel was not chief of base during Zubaydah’s worst torture, she likely had detailed knowledge of it, and may have played some supervisory role. Spencer Ackerman of The Daily Beast recently wrote that based on his reporting, “Haspel was in a position of responsibility over the black site during the Abu Zubaydah interrogation, though she was not physically present.”

There seems to be no dispute that she was chief of base at the prison when Abd al Rahim al Nashiri was waterboarded there.

The Times reported that after the Thai black site closed, Haspel “returned to the Counterterrorism Center outside Washington as an operations officer.” After that she was repeatedly promoted to positions that likely involved an extensive role in the rendition, detention, and interrogation program, but the precise details remain classified.

The CIA contract psychologists who designed and applied “enhanced interrogation techniques,” James Elmer Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen, recently sought to compel Haspel’s testimony in a civil suit brought against them by victims of the CIA program. “Gina Doe,” later confirmed to be Haspel, is the first CIA employee on a witness list that Mitchell and Jessen submitted to the court in December 2016. Mitchell and Jessen sought her testimony about the following subjects:

  • “her role as former Chief of Staff to Jose Rodriguez when he served as the Chief of the CIA’s Clandestine Service and former Deputy to Jose Rodriguez when he served as the Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (“CTC”).”
  • “the scope and structure of the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program”
  • “the alleged use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (or other interrogation techniques) on detainees, the training and instruction provided to interrogators, [and] the CIA’s control over the rendition and interrogation program”

In his memoir, former CIA General Counsel John Rizzo described Rodriguez’s chief of staff as “an officer from the Counterterrorist Center who had previously run the interrogation program.” Later interviews with Rizzo make it clear that this is a reference to Haspel, though he did not name her at the time.

Robert Eatinger, formerly the head attorney for CTC, described Haspel as “intimately involved in the [detention and interrogation] program.”

Haspel was also directly involved in Rodriguez’s destruction of video tapes from the first black site. Rizzo described Rodriguez and his chief of staff as “the staunchest advocates inside the building for destroying the tapes.” He wrote that throughout 2004 and 2005, “Jose and his chief of staff… would raise the subject almost every week,” until Rizzo informed them that the Director of National Intelligence and White House Counsel’s office strongly opposed the tapes’ destruction.

Rodriguez’s memoir also describes Haspel—whom he identifies by the pseudonym “Jane” or by referring to his “chief of staff”—as being centrally involved in the tape destruction:

My chief of staff held a meeting with CTC lawyers and other parties and asked two questions: (1) Is the destruction of the tapes legal? and (2) Did I, as director of the National Clandestine Service, have the authority to make that decision on my own? The answer she got to both questions was: Yes.

According to multiple news accounts, the two CTC attorneys were Eatinger and Steven Hermes.

In his book, Rizzo wrote that the attorneys did not realize that Rodriguez had any immediate plans to destroy the tapes. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report on the CIA program raises questions about that claim. According to the report, on October 31, 2005, Rizzo raised concerns that a congressional proposal for an independent commission to investigate detainee abuse “would serve to surface the tapes’ existence,” and suggested trying to get permission from the CIA director to destroy them. A CTC attorney responded, in support of this idea, that “commissions tend to make very broad document production demands, which might call for these videotapes that should have been destroyed in the normal course of business 2 years ago.”

Rodriguez wrote that after receiving assurances from the CTC lawyers, he asked his chief of staff to draft a cable authorizing destruction of the videos:

My chief of staff drafted a cable approving the action that we had been trying to accomplish for so long. The cable left nothing to chance. It even told them how to get rid of the tapes. They were to use an industrial-strength shredder to do the deed…. The next day, November 9, the field sent in a cable reporting that the shredder had done its work.

Rizzo recently confirmed that Haspel sent the cable to the prison in Thailand with instructions to destroy the tapes, though it was Rodriguez who was responsible for the decision.

A CIA email from November 10, 2005, appears to refer to Haspel’s role in the tape destruction, though her name is blacked out of the document, which was released under the Freedom of Information Act years ago:

Cable was apparently drafted by [redacted] and released by Jose; they are only two names on it, so I am told by Rizzo…. (It is not without relevance that [redacted] figured prominently in the tapes, as [redacted] was in charge of [redacted] at the time and clearly would want the tapes destroyed.)

The acknowledgments section of Rodriguez’s book strongly imply that Haspel was a subject of the Justice Department’s investigation into the destruction of the videos. Rodriguez wrote,

A very special thanks to my chief of staff and loyal friend “Jane.” She endured intense scrutiny by federal agents and the special prosecutor because of her close working relationship with me. I will forever by grateful to her for her wise counsel and dedicated service.

John Durham, the special prosecutor who investigated the CIA tape destruction as well as two detainee deaths that happened in CIA custody, did not recommend charges against Rodriguez, Haspel, or anyone else. The files from Durham’s investigations have never been released to the public or provided to Congress. According to former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell, Durham decided against bringing charges “as Rodriguez had been told he had the legal authority to destroy the tapes. Durham concluded, however, that such legal authority had not existed and that Agency lawyers had erred in their legal judgment.”

If that is correct, Haspel’s consultations with Eatinger and Hermes would have been central to Durham’s investigation. Morell later wrote, “I personally led an accountability exercise that cleared Haspel of any wrongdoing” in the tape destruction.

Unanswered Questions

Members and staff of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence have access to more information than the public about Haspel’s role. Last year Wyden and Heinrich sent a classified letter to President Trump containing relevant information, but the public letter that accompanied it was limited to stating that “her background makes her unsuitable for the position.”  Feinstein has referred to Haspel as being “heavily involved in the torture program” but has not provided further details.

To date, the CIA has refused to officially confirm or deny that Haspel had any role whatsoever in the detention and interrogation program. Last year, the government successfully invoked the state secrets privilege in order to prevent Mitchell and Jessen from calling her as a witness. A declaration by CIA Director Mike Pompeo asserts that official acknowledgment of Haspel’s or any other CIA employee’s role in the detention and interrogation program “would likely jeopardize the safety of these officers and their families, and human intelligence sources who have met with these officers.” The declaration states that beyond safety risks,

the Agency also has a particularly heightened duty to protect the identities of those dedicated civil servants who, at great personal sacrifice and risk, accepted difficult and dangerous job assignments in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Their country owes it to them to, at a minimum, continue to protect their identities and, if their names somehow surface in the public domain in a manner that links them to the program and where there has been no declassification and official acknowledgement, refuse to confirm or deny the accuracy of the allegation….the absence of official confirmation from the CIA leaves an important element of doubt about the veracity of the information, and thus, carries with it an additional layer of protection and confidentiality.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has indicated that the CIA might release at least some information about Haspel’s role in the detention and interrogation program. He told reporters, “We want to declassify as much as possible without jeopardizing what we call sources and methods. Every effort will be made to fully explain exactly what her role was and what it wasn’t.” But the CIA defines “sources and methods” very broadly, particularly in the context of the torture program, and has at times declassified information in a selective and misleading way.

Without extensive declassification it will be difficult for senators to even ask detailed questions like the ones suggested below. That’s because while these are entirely based on open sources, in some cases, senators could be accused of confirming classified information just by asking them. But if senators confirm Haspel to head the CIA without demanding answers, it will be a strong signal to CIA agents that there is no professional downside to taking part in grave human rights violations or the destruction of evidence. That is a dangerous signal to send, particularly under a president who has at times openly endorsed war crimes.

CIA Detention and Interrogation

  1. Describe in detail your participation, supervision, approval, and knowledge regarding the CIA’s interrogation and torture program after September 11, 2001.
  2. When were you read into the rendition, detention, and interrogation program? Did you express any hesitation about participating in the program at the time? Could you have declined the assignment? What would have been the consequence?
  3. Please give a chronology of your positions at the CIA Counterterrorism Center over time, and describe your responsibilities relevant to the rendition, detention and interrogation program in each position.
  4. Did you receive the cables describing Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation? Did you view any of the videotapes of it, either in 2002 or later? Were you among the CTC officials who advocated for Zubaydah’s waterboarding to continue after interrogators wanted to stop? Did you travel to “DETENTION SITE GREEN” to view Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation in person in August 2002?
  5. Did you personally observe Abd al Rahim al Nashiri’s waterboarding at DETENTION SITE GREEN?
  6. According to court documents, in addition to being waterboarded and subjected to unauthorized techniques, including mock execution and sexual assault, Nashiri was “deprived of sleep for days on end,” subjected to painful stress positions, “stored for days in a coffin between interrogations,” locked into a “box the size of an office safe,” and repeatedly slammed into a plywood wall. Were any of these techniques used under your supervision in DETENTION SITE GREEN?
  7. Based either on your direct observations (whether in person or on video) or reading descriptions of the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” did any of the detainees in the CIA detention and interrogation program experience severe pain or suffering, or prolonged physical or mental harm as a result of their treatment in CIA custody?
  8. With respect to Nashiri in particular, court documents state that in 2012 a military competency board found that he suffered from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder, with symptoms including nightmares “of being chained, naked, and waterboarded.” In 2015, a physician who specializes in treating torture victims, Dr. Sondra Crosby, found that “Mr. Al-Nashiri suffers from complex posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of extreme physical, psychological, and sexual torture inflicted upon him by the United States,” adding that “Mr. Al-Nashiri presents as one of the most severely traumatized individuals I have ever seen.” Do you have any basis for disagreeing with those assessments?
  9. Did you ever travel to DETENTION SITE COBALT, where 64 detainees were held over the course of the detention and interrogation program? If so, how often, in what months and years did you travel there? Were you aware of the conditions of confinement and interrogation techniques in use at DETENTION SITE COBALT, which CIA employees compared to a dog kennel and to a dungeon? Did you ever have supervisory authority over DETENTION SITE COBALT, or other detention facilities in the same country?
  10. Did you ever travel to DETENTION SITE BLUE, DETENTION SITE BLACK, or DETENTION SITE PURPLE? Did you have supervisory authority over CIA operations at any of those sites? During what time period? What level of knowledge did you have about what happened at those sites?
  11. Were you aware of the means by which the CIA deprived detainees of sleep during the interrogation program—including shackling, nudity, and the use of diapers for prolonged periods? Did you ever intervene to limit the length of time a detainee was subject to sleep deprivation?
  12. The Office of Legal Counsel’s (OLC’s) authorization for the torture program was based in part on the assertion that it would be unconstitutional for Congress to outlaw torture in situations where the president, as commander-in-chief, determined it was needed to protect national security. Would you follow an order from President Trump to violate a statute based on a secret OLC determination that Congress could not limit the commander-in-chief power? Would you follow an order or authorization to violate the Geneva Conventions or the Convention Against Torture?

Rendition to Foreign Custody

  1. Describe in detail your participation, supervision, approval and knowledge regarding the CIA’s rendition of suspects to foreign governments.
  2. Did you participate in, approve, know of, or have any role in the CIA’s transfer of the following individuals to foreign custody?
  • Ibn Sheikh Al Libi?
  • Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his pregnant wife Fatima Bouchar?
  • Sami al Saadi, his wife Karima Al Saadi, and their four children, then 12, 11, 9 and 6 years old?
  • Maher Arar?
  • Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, more commonly known as Abu Omar?
  • Abou El Kassim Britel?
  1. Do you consider detainees’ allegations of torture and ill treatment after rendition by the CIA to foreign custody to be credible?
  2. In your view, did the CIA ever render or detain suspects who were innocent, or conduct renditions based on insufficient evidence?
  3. The President of Syria, Basher al-Assad, has acknowledged that he participated in the CIA’s rendition program after September 11, 2001. Given the Assad’s government extensive, well-documented record of torturing prisoners, was it lawful or justified for the United States to rely on diplomatic assurances about humane treatment from Syria?
  4. Would it be lawful or justified to transfer detainees to Assad’s government today? Would you disobey an order from President Trump to transfer a detainee to the Syrian security services?
  5. Was it lawful or justified to rely on diplomatic assurances from Moammar Gaddafi’s Libya, or from the Egyptian security services after September 11, 2001? Would it be lawful to transfer prisoners to Libya or Egypt today despite both countries’ widespread use of torture?
  6. How do you understand the laws limiting detainee transfers by the CIA to have changed since your time at the Counterterrorism Center?

The Torture Tapes and Preservation of Evidence

  1. Were you interviewed by special prosecutor John Durham regarding the destruction of the tapes? Would you support a request for this committee to access records from that interview, and any other materials from Durham’s investigations relevant to your nomination?
  2. Did you advocate for the destruction of the tapes, as John Rizzo appears to allege in his memoir?
  3. Were you visible in any of the destroyed tapes?
  4. Do you have any knowledge of why 21 hours of footage of Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation, including two waterboarding sessions, were missing from the catalog of videos viewed by the CIA inspector general?
  5. Do you agree with Jose Rodriguez’s recent statement in a deposition last year that the tapes were destroyed partly because they would “make the CIA look bad,” and “almost destroy the clandestine service”?
  6. At the time of the tapes’ destruction, were you aware of the request from Representative Jane Harman that the videos be preserved? Were you aware of CIA attorneys’ concerns that congressional investigators or a congressionally authorized commission might seek access to them? Were you aware of the White House Counsel’s and Director of National Intelligence’s instructions that they not be destroyed?
  7. Why did you pose the questions about the legality of the tapes’ destruction, and Jose Rodriguez’s authority to order it, to attorneys in the Counterterrorism Center rather than the CIA General Counsel? Were you aware that Rodriguez was considering ordering the tapes’ destruction without getting approval from the CIA director or general counsel? Were the CTC attorneys aware of that possibility?
  8. The CIA continues to defend the legality of the tape destruction in correspondence with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), citing previous NARA guidance regarding records of formal government meetings that “transcripts or memorandums are adequate and proper documentation of taped meetings.” Do you agree with the argument that cables describing waterboarding sessions are an adequate substitute for videotaped evidence, comparable to transcripts of formal meetings? If the videos did not contain unique information, why did CIA personnel consider their existence a threat to the clandestine service?

Human Rights Violations by Allied Intelligence Services

  1. Former CIA intelligence officer Emile Nakhleh wrote regarding your nomination that “What is worrisome about Haspel’s nomination is that Arab dictators will perceive her previous experience as license to practice the same methods today.” Do you think your confirmation will be perceived this way?
  2. How would you respond to evidence that an allied intelligence service, which is funded by the United States or participates in joint detention or capture operations with the United States, was using techniques similar to those you oversaw after September 11, 2001?
  3. How has the CIA responded in cases where there is credible evidence of torture by foreign intelligence services who participate in joint detention and capture operations with, or are funded by, the CIA?
  4. Under what circumstances does the CIA notify the International Committee of the Red Cross of individuals’ capture and detention? Does it encourage allies to provide the ICRC with notice and access to detainees?
  5. CIA Director Pompeo has said that the CIA needs to become “much more vicious.” Do you agree with that statement, and could you elaborate on what you think that means?

Exercise of Classification Authority

  1. The director of the CIA has original classification authority for CIA information. Does your personal involvement in the rendition, detention and interrogation program create a conflict of interest with regard to the exercise of classification and declassification authority about that program? Does it create the appearance of a conflict of interest?
  2. Section 1.7 of Executive Order 13526 states that “in no case shall information be classified, continue to be maintained as classified, or fail to be declassified in order to…conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error” or “prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency.” Do you agree with those prohibitions? Do you think the CIA has consistently complied with them in its classification and declassification of information about the rendition, detention and interrogation program?
  3. Why did the agency disregard requests to declassify information about your role in the rendition, detention and interrogation program when you became deputy director?
  4. What is the basis, other than concealing illegality and preventing embarrassment, for classifying former CIA detainees’ medical conditions or their memories of their treatment in CIA custody?
  5. What is the basis, other than concealing illegality and preventing embarrassment, for refusing to acknowledge the names of individuals whom the CIA rendered into foreign custody?
  6. What is the basis for classifying other countries’ role in the rendition, detention and interrogation program when those countries have themselves acknowledged it?
  7. The ongoing classification of information regarding the defendants’ torture in CIA custody, and classified allegations of intrusions into defense counsels’ communication with their clients, are a continuing source of delay in the Guantanamo military commissions. The CIA, including the director as Original Classification Authority, plays a major role in determining what information can be shared with the defense counsel or declassified. Would you be willing to declassify relevant information so that these cases can finally move forward?
Image: Alex Wong/Getty

 

About the Author(s)

Katherine Hawkins

Investigator for the Project On Government Oversight, Former Investigator for the Constitution Project's Task Force on Detainee Treatment, Former Policy Advocate for the Constitution Project and Open the Government Follow her on Twitter (@krhawkins5).