CIA Director Gina Haspel
The New York Times last week revealed that former CIA Director Gina Haspel was present to watch a torture session of alleged al-Qaeda terrorist Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri when she was the head of a secret CIA black site where two contract psychologists and CIA officers tortured prisoners. During her 2018 confirmation hearings, Haspel was evasive when asked directly by Senator Dianne Feinstein if she had overseen al-Nashiri’s interrogations. She said that to answer might expose a part of her classified career. The CIA refused to comment on anything that Haspel may or may not have done in the past.
The Times’ revelation was reported as a part of the newspaper’s coverage of a lawsuit that al-Nashiri’s attorneys have brought against the CIA. Psychologist James Mitchell, one of the torturers, testified in the suit that the black site’s chief was “Z9A,” code for Haspel, and that she personally sat in on one of the torture sessions. There was no explanation for what Haspel was doing there. It was certainly not normal procedure for a senior CIA officer to simply sit in on a torture session, unless she did it because she wanted to, Regardless of the reason, the truth is now out. That’s certainly a good thing. But it doesn’t mean that Haspel or anybody else will be punished for the CIA’s torture program. In many cases, the statute of limitations has expired. And Haspel has moved on. She’s now in a senior position in the A-list Washington, DC law firm of King & Spaulding, although she doesn’t appear on the firm’s website, and a spokesperson wouldn’t tell the Times what she does there. Still, it’s worth taking another look at who, exactly, Gina Haspel is.
My CIA superiors asked me in 2002 if I wanted to be “certified in the use of enhanced interrogation techniques,” the popular CIA euphemism for torture. I was one of 14 people asked. I regret to say that I was the only one who declined. I said that I had a moral and ethical problem with torture, and I believed it to be patently illegal. But as I rejected torture, Haspel welcomed it. And the decision certainly didn’t hold her back. She went on to become CIA director. She and other torturers and torture supporters went on to prosper, despite–or was it because of–this grisly work experience. I went to prison for 23 months after blowing the whistle on the torture program. I’m sure Haspel has no regrets for her decisions. Neither do I.
Haspel’s nomination as CIA director sent the country back, in the blink of an eye, to the bad old days of torture, secret prisons, and international renditions. Haspel was a protégé of Jose Rodriguez, the CIA’s notorious former deputy director for operations and former director of the Counterterrorism Center (CTC). Haspel served as Rodriguez’s chief of staff at CTC.
Described in the media as a “seasoned intelligence veteran,” Haspel had been at the CIA for more than 30 years, both at Headquarters and in senior positions overseas. And throughout that entire period, she tried hard to stay out of the public eye. Then-outgoing CIA director and Mike Pompeo at the time lauded her “uncanny ability to get things done” and said that she “inspires those around her.” I’m sure that was true for some, but many of the rest of us who knew and worked with Gina Haspel at the CIA called her “Bloody Gina.”
The New York Times and Washington Post have written extensively about Haspel’s background, especially overseas. The CIA will not let me repeat her resume here, calling it “currently and properly classified.” I won’t go down that road. But I will say that it was Haspel who carried out her master’s instructions to destroy videotaped evidence of the torture of Abu Zubaydah, mistakenly thought to have been the third-ranking person al-Qaeda. And that was after the White House Counsel specifically told her to not destroy it. She made no apologies. I would call that “obstruction of justice,” a felony.
At the same time, the American people have a right to know what their CIA director does—or did—in their name. They have a right to know if she committed crimes and, if so, what those crimes were. They have a right to transparency. And they have a right to know that when a law is violated, no matter how important the transgressor, justice will be served.
Haspel should never have been named CIA director in the first place. First, just imagine the message this sent to the CIA workforce: Engage in war crimes, in crimes against humanity, and you’ll still get ahead. Don’t worry about the law. Don’t worry about ethics. Don’t worry about morality. Don’t worry about the fact that the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the FBI, and military interrogators all agree that torture doesn’t work, besides the fact that it’s ethically and morally reprehensible. Go ahead and do it anyway. We’ll cover for you. And you can destroy the evidence, too.
And what message did it send to our friends and allies? What would we tell our allies, the same ones that we criticize every year in the State Department’s annual Human Rights Report? The message was this: You know how we always say that we’re a shining city on a hill, a beacon of respect for human rights, civil rights, civil liberties, and the rule of law? Well, that’s nonsense. We only say those things when it’s expedient. We say it to make ourselves feel good. But when push comes to shove, we do what we want, international law be damned.
Our actions are also not lost on our enemies. The torture program is the greatest recruitment tool that al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other bad actors ever had. It was the torture program that energized them. It gave them something to rally against. It sowed an even deeper hatred of the United States among them. It swelled their ranks. It was no coincidence that ISIS paraded its prisoners in front of cameras wearing orange jumpsuits before beheading them. Gina Haspel was partly responsible for that.
And now that we know what we know about Gina Haspel, we should also ask ourselves who we want to be as Americans. Do we want to be the country that tortures people, like North Korea, China, and Iran? Do we want to be the country that snatches people from one country and sends them to another to be tortured and interrogated? Do we want to be the country that cynically preaches human rights and then violates those same rights when we think nobody else is looking? Aren’t we better than that? Don’t we want to be that shining beacon, the country that every other one looks up to and tries to emulate? Or do we want to emulate the likes of Gina Haspel?
I’m glad the truth is finally out. But I’m not sanguine that we have learned a lesson from torture. Gina Haspel and those like her are monsters. They should be prosecuted, imprisoned, and shunned. None of them ever has been. Instead, they’re celebrated. But it’s not too late. There is still time for our children to learn the lessons that my generation didn’t. The CIA likes to train its officers to believe that everything in life is a shade of gray. But that’s just not true. Some things are black-and-white, right or wrong. Torture is wrong. It’s illegal, immoral, and unethical. We shouldn’t do it under any circumstances. And those who do should be punished.
John Kiriakou is a former C.I.A. analyst and case officer, former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and former counterterrorism consultant. While employed by the C.I.A., he was involved in critical counterterrorism missions following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but refused to be trained in so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” After leaving the C.I.A., Kiriakou appeared on ABC News in an interview with Brian Ross, during which he became the first former C.I.A. officer to confirm that the agency waterboarded detainees and label waterboarding as torture. Kiriakou’s interview revealed that this practice was not just the result of a few rogue agents, but was official U.S. policy approved at the highest levels of the government.
Originally published in SCHEERPOST, June 6/14/2022, scheerpost.com