A seeming error in a heavily redacted transcript from a Guantanamo Bay Naval Base court has revealed that CIA Director Gina Haspel was the chief of base there in the early 2000s, during the heart of the CIA’s torture program. The revelation fills in a part of Haspel’s career the director was reluctant to speak about during her 2018 confirmation.
The document in question is a massive, partially redacted transcript of a secret hearing held at Guantanamo on November 16, 2018, via the Office of Military Commissions, a site concerning war courts. On page 22,088, lawyer Rita Radostitz invokes Haspel’s name, arguing that she is needed to testify in a case regarding Radostitz’s client, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, because the classification rules have changed so much under Haspel’s purview that her testimony as chief of base at the CIA’s Guantanamo black site, where Mohammed was tortured in the early 2000s, is necessary.
In the court transcript, Radostitz notes that prosecutors claim they are «not trying to cover up the torture… But the one thing that they’re not willing to talk about is the names of the people involved in the torture.» A large redacted section follows, and then Radostitz says, «it makes it impossible for people at Guantanamo, who may have seen her when she was here as chief of base, to identify her and talk about it.»
The title «chief of base» is one used by the CIA to refer to officers in charge of secret foreign outposts, including the spy agency’s network of secret overseas prisons, called «black sites.» The US Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2014 torture report notes two such sites in Guantanamo, code named «Maroon» and «Indigo.» These were separate from the Pentagon’s «Camp Delta,» the better known prison inside the naval base.
Haspel’s record of supervising and approving of torture is well known. Her role as chief of base of a CIA black site in Thailand in 2002 played a major role in the debate about her confirmation as CIA director in May, Sputnik reported. During her time at the Thailand site, Haspel oversaw the torture of detainees, which helped Haspel perfect the formula for future «enhanced interrogation techniques» such as waterboarding. Haspel herself oversaw the destruction of recordings of that torture, Sputnik reported.
Mohammed, who was captured in Pakistan in 2003 by Pakistani intelligence and delivered to the CIA, was subjected to torture at various CIA sites in Pakistan, Poland and Guantanamo, including 183 episodes of waterboarding, according to US Department of Defense documents. He confessed during those so-called «enhanced interrogations» to being the principal architect of the September 11, 2001, attacks, among numerous other acts.
Because of these forced confessions, Mohammed’s lawyers, including Radostitz, have sought to have his case thrown out or removed from consideration for the death penalty, as the transcript above demonstrates.
Former CIA officer and torture whistleblower John Kiriakou noted that the court document doesn’t contradict anything Haspel has claimed so far, mostly because she’s kept mum about most of her time with the agency.
«What we don’t know is whether or not she confirmed to the Senate Intelligence Committee in her closed, classified session that she had been the chief of base there. The CIA has been very, very careful, either to mask or just deny most of her career. If you go into the CIA website, and you look at her bio, her bio simply says that she’s been at the CIA for 32 years, most of that was overseas, she likes movies and ice hockey, and that’s it.»
Kiriakou told Sputnik it appears that Haspel was trying to cover up her long history with the torture program by changing the agency’s rules regarding classification, making it basically impossible, as Radostitz laments in the document, for lawyers defending detained clients to do their jobs effectively.
«See, we didn’t know that the classification guidelines had changed,» Kiriakou told Sputnik. «We further didn’t know that it was Gina Haspel who changed them. And so it’s literally impossible for a Guantanamo defense attorney to even ask for the name of a torturer for the purpose of the deposition; you just have to stumble on the information, and Gina Haspel made that even harder to do.»
Kiriakou said he believed the revelation that Haspel at been chief of base at Guantanamo was a mistake. He described the surprise shown by the CIA publications review board when he submitted an op-ed for RSN containing the information.
On the eve of Haspel’s nomination vote, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed asked a military judge at Guantanamo for permission to share six paragraphs of information about Haspel with the Senate Intelligence Committee, the New York Times reported. That information was never passed on.
On May 4, during Haspel’s confirmation process, Democratic Senators Kamala Harris, Dianne Feinstein, Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich wrote a letter to Daniel Coats, US director of national intelligence, seeking information about Haspel’s past in preparation for her hearing, writing that «the American people deserve transparency regarding the background of a nominee who will be asked to represent them, and their values, around the world. Without making this information available to the American people, Ms. Haspel’s nomination cannot be fully and properly considered by the Senate.»
However, while they never got that information, later that month the Senate nonetheless voted to confirm her, and Haspel was sworn in as CIA Director on May 21.
This, Kiriakou said, points to a real weakness in the congressional oversight process.
«[Her background] should’ve been public when Gina Haspel was first nominated,» he said. «I’m disappointed especially in the Democrats, because the Democrats, when it came time for a vote, for the most part just fell into line and voted for Gina Haspel. They should’ve been pursuing this until the bitter end. They should not have even voted on Haspel’s nomination until she came clean about her background. She never did; she told them she wasn’t going to cooperate any more, and they still made her CIA director.»
«President [Donald] Trump said, when he was president-elect, that he would bring back waterboarding and a hell of a lot worse. Those were his words. That is an impeachable act. Waterboarding, and any other form of torture, is illegal in the United States, and it always has been. The Bush administration stood on its head to pretend that it was not illegal, but it is, and Congress reaffirmed that with the McCain-Feinstein amendment in 2015,» Kiriakou said.
«Still, we have an administration where many of its senior-most officials are supporters of the torture program. And we have a CIA whose leadership is also supportive of a torture program and indeed was instrumental in implementing that torture program. It’s a very dangerous thing, it’s a dangerous time, and the only thing that’s standing between us and a return to torture is the Army Field Manual. Only because the law says that CIA interrogators may only use the techniques that are outlined in the Army Field Manual. To return to the torture program, because the Army Field Manual is an executive branch document, all it would take would be for the president to change that document. So this is a very dangerous thing.»
However, torture was never in the manual, leading to what Kiriakou called «novel» arguments to excuse practices like waterboarding.
«John Yoo and Jay Bybee, two senior officials in the Justice Department’s office of legal counsel, wrote a very controversial series of memos, the Yoo-Bybee memos, in which they said that waterboarding and the CIA’s other techniques were not torture, because they didn’t leave any lasting effect. But they’re clearly banned in earlier law. We executed Japanese soldiers who waterboarded American POWs. And the law never changed. So that was an executable offense in 1946, and then in 2002, you’re perfectly free to go do it. So, the Bush administration relied on these novel interpretations of the law to institute this torture program. Most everybody by now acknowledges that that was wrong. Gina Haspel does not acknowledge that.»