I would take anything John Kirakou says with a grain from the salt pit. I question his credibility.
What does anyone really know about Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee to be the next director of the CIA? Not a heck of a lot. So far what we have is media and ideology-driven hysteria: She mocked torture victim; oversaw Zubaydah’s interrogation; destroyed evidence tapes. None of it is true.
The torture alarmists’ fevered imaginations have painted her to be unfit for the job due to preconceived notions and the distorted narrative regarding the CIA RDI program; along with assumptions about her involvement with it.
Last week, ProPublica– cited by many media outlets- offered some major retractions to their attempt at filling in the many blanks regarding Gina Haspel’s history with CIA interrogations. 4 major news organizations had to make retractions (regardless, Rand Paul’s mind apparently is made up; at least John McCain is entertaining hearing her answer questions at her confirmation hearing).
So what do we know about her? Spin, thus far:
The role that President Donald Trump’s nominee for CIA director had in torturing detainees has become increasingly unclear after a series of influential news organizations backed off stories claiming she’d overseen one suspect’s torture in 2002.
The recent corrections may increase pressure on the CIA to declassify documents that would explain Gina Haspel’s role in the “rendition, detention and interrogation” program that the agency established after 9/11 to hold and brutally question terrorism suspects at secret prisons overseas.
Four senators, including Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky, have said they will vote against Haspel. A fifth, Republican John McCain of Arizona, has said Haspel must explain her involvement.
Paul stepped up his opposition Sunday, saying on CNN’s State of the Union that he would “do whatever it takes, and that includes a filibuster” to block Haspel’s confirmation. On CBS’s Face the Nation, Paul said, “My main concern about her is that she oversaw an illegal black ops operation in Thailand.”
But certainty about her role in the program has been shaken by an extraordinary series of corrections since Thursday; four news organizations, including the New York Times, have amended or retracted articles that said Haspel was in charge of the torture of the first terrorism suspect captured after the Sept. 11 attacks.
How were the black sites “illegal” operations when they were endorsed by the U.S. government with the cooperation of Thailand’s government?
Haspel’s defenders, including former CIA director John Brennan, a harsh critic of Trump, have made the point that the torture program had received legal approval from the Justice Department in mid-2002. Brennan told MSNBC last week that Haspel did her job “consistent with what CIA’s legal authorities were. And don’t forget that the detention interrogation program was authorized by the president of the United States [George W. Bush] and deemed lawful by the Department of Justice.”
Some of her other colleagues also have characterized her as a “consummate professional”.
“Now, with the benefit of time, I think the country would be well-served by a reasoned, non-emotional discussion about whether any kind of interrogation technique, beyond a standard Q&A, is ever justifiable — or effective, for that matter,” Rizzo told NPR’s Morning Edition.
However, Rizzo, who said he has known Haspel since the 1990s, remains a supporter of the tough interrogation methods.
“I have some regrets, but I still continue to believe the program was effective,” he said. “I have a strong feeling that the information in question — and there was a lot of it — would not have come nearly as quickly without resorting to aggressive measures.”
He does not think those measure amounted to torture.
“I do not believe that the word ‘torture’ was and is legally accurate,” he said. “There were very harsh, very brutal methods. But not torture.”
Many of the articles I’ve seen still perpetuate the misleading claim that Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times (that number refers to the amount of pours/splashes); and that he was shoved into a wall (look up the OLC Memo on what “walling’ entails).
Ali Soufan has long made claims regarding intelligence gathered prior to EITs applied to Zubaydah (I have his book, “The Black Banners” where he also writes about it); and most recently, penning an article for the Atlantic to voice his opposition to Haspel’s nomination. His claims and the timeline of events, however, are challenged by Marc Thiessen, Jose Rodriguez, and James Mitchell in their respective books. It’s a bit dated now, but I wrote about Zubaydah here and here.
I consider Ali Soufan a patriot and an expert in his field to be respected, even as I disagree with much of what he says about the CIA interrogation program.
Another “insider”, however, I deem a traitor. Former CIA officer John Kirakou is also attempting to redeem his reputation (how can he, when he once again stands on the wrong side of the fence on this one?), reiterating his persecuted sense of victimhood and martyr complex, writing a WaPo op-ed with an eye-catching headline blurb: I went to prison for disclosing the CIA’s torture. Gina Haspel helped cover it up.
many of the rest of us who knew and worked with Haspel at the CIA called her “Bloody Gina.”
The CIA will not let me repeat her résumé or the widely reported specifics of how her work fit into the agency’s torture program, calling such details “currently and properly classified.” But I can say that Haspel was a protege of and chief of staff for Jose Rodriguez, the CIA’s notorious former deputy director for operations and former director of the Counterterrorism Center. And that Rodriguez eventually assigned Haspel to order the destruction of videotaped evidence of the torture of Abu Zubaida. The Justice Department investigated, but no one was ever charged in connection with the incident.
Holder would have loved to have prosecuted someone- anyone- involved in the CIA “torture” program. Does Kirakou not understand that the reason Jose Rodriguez wasn’t charged was because he was fully within his legal and moral right to destroy those tapes?
The tapes, filmed in a secret CIA prison in Thailand, showed the waterboarding of terrorists Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Nashiri.
Especially after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, Rodriguez writes, if the CIA’s videos were to leak out, officers worldwide would be in danger.
“I wasn’t going to sit around another three years waiting for people to get up the courage,” to do what CIA lawyers said he had the authority to do himself, Rodriguez writes. He describes sending the order in November 2005 as “just getting rid of some ugly visuals.”
CIA officers and psychologists under contract to the agency began torturing Abu Zubaida on Aug. 1, 2002. The techniques were supposed to be incremental, starting with an open-palmed slap to the belly or the face. But the operatives where he was held decided to start with the toughest method. They waterboarded Abu Zubaida 83 times. They later subjected him to sleep deprivation; they kept him locked in a large dog cage for weeks at a time; they locked him in a coffin-size box and, knowing that he had an irrational fear of insects, put bugs in it with him.
I’m not surprised Kirakou parrots the “waterboarded 83 times” distortion myth. As I wrote about it here:
How exactly is he a whistleblower when the issue of waterboarding had already been leaked by the time he “spoke out”?
Kiriakou’s claims in 2007:
In the first public comment by any CIA officer involved in handling high-value al Qaeda targets, John Kiriakou, now retired, said the technique broke Zubaydah in less than 35 seconds.
“The next day, he told his interrogator that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate,” said Kiriakou in an interview to be broadcast tonight on ABC News’ “World News With Charles Gibson” and “Nightline.”
“From that day on, he answered every question,” Kiriakou said. “The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks.”
~~~Now retired, Kiriakou, who declined to use the enhanced interrogation techniques, says he has come to believe that water boarding is torture but that perhaps the circumstances warranted it.
“Like a lot of Americans, I’m involved in this internal, intellectual battle with myself weighing the idea that waterboarding may be torture versus the quality of information that we often get after using the waterboarding technique,” Kiriakou told ABC News. “And I struggle with it.”
And then of course, there was his self-serving 2010 book, Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror. After 190 pages into a 192 page book, we get this beautiful admission:
What I told Brian Ross in late 2007 was wrong on a couple of counts. I suggested that Abu Zubaydah had lasted only thirty or thirty-five seconds during his waterboarding before he begged his interrogators to stop; after that, I said he opened up and gave the agency actionable intelligence. I wasn’t there when the interrogation took place; instead, I relied on what I’d heard and read inside the agency at the time. Now, we know that Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded eighty-three times in a single month, raising questions about how much useful information he actually supplied. In retrospect, it was a valuable lesson in how the CIA uses the arts of deception even among its own.
The national debate on waterboarding and other forms of torture got a second wind early in Obama’s presidency, and I’m proud to have played a small part in it.
Get that? He never actually witnessed the act of waterboarding by CIA interrogators. He acted on hearsay. And now he wants to play the role of martyred, conscientious whistleblower.
Kirakou goes on in his piece to claim Ali Soufan is right and Jose Rodriguez is wrong in their narrative on Zubaydah’s interrogations. And then revisits his crime in an attempt to fool readers into seeing him as a patriot and not a traitor. In fact, he is harming his country once again by pushing the “torture” narrative, lending propaganda aide and comfort to our enemies:
The meaning of Haspel’s nomination won’t be lost on our enemies, either. The torture program and similar abuses at military-run prisons in Iraq were among the greatest recruitment tools that al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and other bad actors ever had, according to legal experts, U.S. lawmakers and even the militants themselves. It energized them and gave them something to rally against. It sowed an even deeper hatred of the United States among militant groups. It swelled their ranks. It was no coincidence that the Islamic State paraded its prisoners in front of cameras wearing orange jumpsuits (like those worn by Guantanamo Bay detainees) before beheading them. Haspel and the others at the CIA who engineered and oversaw the torture program are at least partially responsible for that, because they showed the world how the United States sometimes treats captives.
Do we Americans want to remain a nation that tortures people, like North Korea, China and Iran? Are we proud of the era when we snatched people from one country and sent them to another to be interrogated in secret prisons? Do we want to be the country that cynically preaches human rights and then violates those same rights when we think nobody is looking?
Our country cannot afford that. We cannot look the other way. We cannot reward the torturers. Gina Haspel has no business running the CIA.
I look forward to listening to the hearing confirmation of Gina Haspel; and will reserve judgment until then.
A former fetus, the “wordsmith from nantucket” was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1968. Adopted at birth, wordsmith grew up a military brat. He achieved his B.A. in English from the University of California, Los Angeles (graduating in the top 97% of his class), where he also competed rings for the UCLA mens gymnastics team. The events of 9/11 woke him from his political slumber and malaise. Currently a personal trainer and gymnastics coach.
The wordsmith has never been to Nantucket.