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Haspel, Gina

Central Intelligence Agency (1985- )

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Gina Haspel, Donald Trump’s nominee to replace Mike Pompeo as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), is best known because of allegations that she oversaw the torture of prisoners in clandestine CIA sites during an early phase of the “war on terror” and later destroyed video evidence of that torture. A CIA employee since 1985, her agency bio states: “[Haspel] has extensive overseas experience and served as Chief of Station in several of her assignments. In Washington, she has held numerous senior leadership positions, including as Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service, Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service for Foreign Intelligence and Covert Action, and Chief of Staff for the Director of the National Clandestine Service.”[1]

Haspel would be the first woman named director of the CIA.

Torture allegations

Haspel served as chief of base of a CIA black site—a secret prison in Thailand where detainees were subjected to torture and other unlawful abuse according to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. There, she directly oversaw the interrogation of a prisoner named Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri’s using so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, according to Rob Berschinski,

the senior vice president for policy at Human Rights First and the former deputy assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor.

Berschinski wrote, “According to a May 2004 report from the CIA’s Inspector General, Haspel may have had involvement in the application of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ that ‘went beyond the projected use of the technique as originally described by [the Justice Department (DOJ)]’ (which, it should be added, DOJ later opined ‘[were] not significant for purposes of DOJ legal opinions’).”[2]

After her nomination to head the CIA, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), himself a victim of torture when he was a prisoner of war, expressed strong reservations. “The torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history,” McCain said. “Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process.”[3]

McCain was not alone in expressing reservations. Sen. Angus King (I-ME) said, “I do have some concerns because of her involvement, back early in the 2000s with the extraordinary rendition and detention program and I want to understand what her role was.” Raha Wala of Human Rights First said, “No one who had a hand in torturing individuals deserves to ever hold public office again, let alone lead an agency.”[4]

But Republican leadership expressed support for Haspel. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called Haspel “perfectly qualified,” while Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) said, “I do not have any concerns—she’s fully addressed those with the committee.”[5] Likewise, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), Dick Cheney’s daughter, responding to Sen. Rand Paul’s criticism of Haspel, tweeted that “Gina Haspel has spent her career defending the American people and homeland” and accused Paul of “defending and sympathizing with terrorists.”

Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) sent a letter to President Trump opposing Haspel’s nomination. Publicly, they said, “Her background makes her unsuitable for the position.”[6]

In June 2017, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) filed a “legal intervention” with the German federal prosecutor requesting that charges be brought against Haspel for the crime of torture. “Those who commit, order or allow torture should be brought before a court—this is especially true for senior officials from powerful nations,” said ECCHR’s General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck. “The prosecutor must, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, open investigations, secure evidence and seek an arrest warrant. If the deputy director travels to Germany or Europe, she must be arrested.”[7] At the time of her nomination, German authorities were still investigating the charges.[8]

The incidents of torture at the CIA facility under Haspel’s authority were videotaped; in 2005, Haspel wrote the order directing the destruction of those tapes.[9]

CIA Career

Haspel spent much of her CIA career in the “Clandestine Services.” Thus, much of her record is not public. Her CIA bio states that “She has extensive overseas experience and served as Chief of Station in several of her assignments.”[10]

In 2013, then-CIA Director John Brennan named Haspel interim director of the National Clandestine Service, but opposition in the Senate stemming from her involvement in torture led Brennan to nominate someone else for the permanent position.[11]

Haspel is the recipient of the George H. W. Bush Award for excellence in counterterrorism; the Donovan Award; the Intelligence Medal of Merit; and the Presidential Rank Award.[12]

 

SOURCES

[1] Central Intelligence Agency, “Gina Haspel,” About CIA, March 2, 2017, https://www.cia.gov/about-cia/leadership/gina-haspel.html

[2] Rob Berschinski, “Gina Haspel, Torture, and the ProPublica Correction,” Just Security, March 19, 2018, https://www.justsecurity.org/54068/gina-haspel-torture-propublica-correction/

[3] Morgan Gstalter, “McCain: Trump’s CIA pick was involved in ‘one of the darkest chapters in American history,’” The Hill, March 13, 2018, http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/378183-mccain-trumps-cia-pick-was-involved-in-one-of-the-darkest

[4] Nancy A. Youssef, “Gina Haspel, Nominee for CIA, to Face Questions Over Interrogation Techniques,” Wall Street Journal, March 13, 2018, http://wsj.com/articles/cia-nominee-to-face-questions-over-interrogation-techniques-1520966358

[5] Nancy A. Youssef, “Gina Haspel, Nominee for CIA, to Face Questions Over Interrogation Techniques,” Wall Street Journal, March 13, 2018, http://wsj.com/articles/cia-nominee-to-face-questions-over-interrogation-techniques-1520966358

[6] Nahal Toosi, “Trump taps former ‘black site’ prison operator for CIA deputy,” Politico, March 13, 2018, https://www.politico.com/story/2017/02/trump-cia-black-sites-gina-haspel-234565

[7] “Germany: CIA deputy Gina Haspel must face arrest on travelling to Europe,” June 2017, https://www.ecchr.eu/en/our_work/international-crimes-and-accountability/u-s-accountability/germany.html

[8] Colin Kalmbacher, “Prosecutors Reviewing Request to Issue Arrest Warrant for Trump’s New CIA Director,” Law and Crime, March 13, 2018, https://lawandcrime.com/high-profile/prosecutors-reviewing-request-to-issue-arrest-warrant-for-trumps-new-cia-director/

[9] Greg Miller, “CIA officer with ties to ‘black sites’ named deputy director,” Washington Post, February 2, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/cia-officer-with-ties-to-black-sites-named-deputy-director/2017/02/02/0fc991b6-e980-11e6-80c2-30e57e57e05d_story.html?utm_term=.a4b3d7fb9fbd

[10] Central Intelligence Agency, “Gina Haspel,” About CIA, March 2, 2017, https://www.cia.gov/about-cia/leadership/gina-haspel.html

[11] Greg Miller, “CIA selects new head of clandestine service, passing over female officer,” Washington Post, May 7, 2013, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/cia-selects-new-head-of-clandestine-service-passing-over-female-officer-tied-to-interrogation-program/2013/05/07/c43e5f94-b727-11e2-92f3-f291801936b8_story.html?utm_term=.62e113a2aa72

[12] Central Intelligence Agency, “Gina Haspel,” About CIA, March 2, 2017, https://www.cia.gov/about-cia/leadership/gina-haspel.html

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