Editor’s Note: The New York Times report on Haspel’s role in the torture program, cited in the TPM story below, has been corrected. The Times now reports that Haspel didn’t begin supervising the Thailand facility until after the water-boarding of Abu Zubaydah had ended.
The correction does not affect reporting on Haspel’s role in the torture of al-Nashiri, or in the later destruction of tapes showing the torture.
President Trump’s nominee to replace outgoing CIA director Mike Pompeo had a key role in the agency’s clandestine torture program, running the US’ first overseas detention center.
Gina Haspel was nominated to lead the CIA on Tuesday morning after Trump abruptly fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, reassigning Pompeo to serve as as the country’s top diplomat.
As the New York Times reported last year when Haspel was named CIA deputy director, the post she currently holds, she oversaw the torture of two high-profile terrorist suspects at the agency’s secret prison in Thailand in 2002, and helped destroy videotapes documenting their gruesome interrogations.
One of the suspects, Abu Zubaydah, was subjected to waterboarding 83 times in one month and had his head repeatedly slammed into walls. The other, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, had a handgun loaded and a power drill revved next to his hooded head in order to frighten him into talking.
Haspel was also instrumental to the coverup of these brutal sessions, which were recorded on tapes that were stored in a safe at the Thailand facility until 2005. At that time, Haspel was working at CIA headquarters, and her name was on a cable carrying the order to destroy the tapes. The agency has said Haspel’s then-boss Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA’s clandestine service, was behind the decision to destroy the recordings.
In brief remarks to the press pool on Tuesday, Trump praised Haspel, emphasizing that she was the first woman picked to lead the agency.
“She’s an outstanding person who also I have gotten to know very well,” the President told reporters, as he prepared to embark to California to review prototypes for his signature border wall.
Trump has repeatedly expressed his approval for torture, saying it “absolutely works” and that he’d like to “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
His nomination of Haspel, who will need to be confirmed by the Senate, will revive debates over the CIA’s secretive interrogation program. The 2012 Senate Intelligence Committee report on the program determined that so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” were not an effective means of acquiring intelligence, and detailed shocking instances of abuse including forced rectal feedings, “mock executions,” and days-long sessions of standing sleep deprivation.
In 2013, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who led the committee at the time, blocked Haspel’s promotion to run the CIA’s clandestine operations over her role in the torture program.
Democrats were quick to condemn Trump’s decision.
Noting her opposition to Pompeo’s nomination for his failure to condone the torture program, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) said Haspel has “done much worse.”
“Her reprehensible actions should disqualify her from having the privilege of serving the American people in government ever again, but apparently this President believes they merit a promotion,” Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran, said in a statement. “I could not disagree more.”
Senate Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden (D-OR) told the Daily Beast that Haspel’s “background makes her unsuitable to serve as CIA director.”