30+ Years of Freedom of Information Action

Gina Haspel’s CIA Torture File

The Haspel torture cables.

Published: Apr 26, 2018
Briefing Book #625

By Tom Blanton and John Prados

For more information, contact:
202-994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu

CIA nominee supervised detainee torture at Thailand black site,

Drafted cable to destroy videotape evidence,

Helped feed repeated lies about effectiveness of torture to CIA superiors, Congress, two Presidents

Gina Haspel’s CIA Torture File

Washington, D.C., April 26, 2018 – The Trump administration’s nominee to be CIA director, Gina Haspel, personally supervised the torture of a CIA detainee in 2002 leading to at least three waterboard sessions, subsequently drafted the cable that ordered destruction of the videotape evidence of torture, and served as a senior CIA official while the Agency was lying to itself, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the Congress, and the public about the effectiveness of torture in eliciting useful intelligence, according to declassified documents posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

The documents include a new and less-redacted version of the CIA Inspector General’s report from 2004, repeated references in the declassified Senate Intelligence Committee torture report to Ms. Haspel’s tenure as chief of base of the CIA black site (“Detention Site Green” in Thailand) in 2002, and other CIA documents on the contract psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, whose torture program Ms. Haspel supervised in November 2002 and supported through multiple senior CIA positions until President Obama ended the torture program in 2009.

As a senior officer in the CIA Counterterrorism Center and then at the National Clandestine Services (where she was chief of staff in 2005), Ms. Haspel played a leading role in the creation and perpetuation of the CIA’s false claims that torture uniquely produced actionable intelligence that saved lives. The exhaustive Senate Intelligence Committee torture report reviewed over 6 million pages of the CIA’s own documents and proved these justifications “rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness” and were “wrong in fundamental respects.”[1]

For the 20 major and minor claims CIA has put forward for its torture having thwarted terrorist plots or led to the capture of terrorists, the Senate Intelligence Committee report documents that in every case the actionable intelligence actually did not come from torture, but CIA officials – including Ms. Haspel – deluded themselves into believing so.[2] 

In each of the 20 cases, the Senate report shows, the key intelligence came from either non-coercive interrogation (as in the FBI’s interviews of Abu Zubaydah prior to his 83 waterboard sessions, or Dubai’s interrogation of Al-Nashiri before Mitchell and Jessen put him on the waterboard), or from other sources that the CIA quickly and secretly appropriated to claim credit for the torture sessions (as in the false claim that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s torture led to the identity of the “courier” who then led the U.S. to Osama Bin Laden – in fact it was a combination of signals intelligence, a separate CIA source, and a law enforcement investigation, not torture).[3]

The CIA’s rebuttals, including multiple published books co-authored by former CIA propaganda chief Bill Harlow,[4] continue to rely on false CIA talking points dating back to the psychologists’ evaluations of their own work, along with the CYA memos written by the CIA counterterrorism officials who hired the shrinks and covered for them. Yet the CIA’s refusal to declassify Ms. Haspel’s name in CIA documents, much less her specific role in producing the false claims, means that outsiders – including the U.S. Senate – cannot understand or assess her willingness to forward false intelligence to the highest levels of the U.S. government.

The documents include a listing of 12 specific cables Ms. Haspel authored or authorized as chief of base at Detention Site Green in Thailand that, according to the CIA Inspector General report, accurately describe the torture sessions that were documented on the now-destroyed videotapes. The National Security Archive has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the CIA for the Gina Haspel torture cables, under the FOIA provisions that call for expedited review in conditions of urgent public interest. 

Using the waterboard on prisoners is torture. So are most of the Mitchell/Jessen techniques, such as sleep deprivation, forced nudity, wall-slamming, and facial slap. Torture is a crime under both international conventions and the U.S. Constitution prohibiting “cruel and unusual punishments.” For example, the U.S. prosecuted multiple Japanese military personnel after World War II for waterboarding American prisoners of war. The Yokohama B and C War Crimes Trials in 1947 sentenced four Japanese to hard labor sentences of between 15 and 25 years apiece for waterboarding American prisoners whom the Japanese considered to be terrorists since the U.S. Army Air Corps was at that time firebombing Japanese cities, killing tens of thousands of civilians.[5]

Ms. Haspel herself may or may not have appeared on the waterboarding videotapes that she helped order destroyed, since an October 25, 2002 cable from CIA headquarters commanded the re-use of a single videotape, thus overwriting the previous day’s torture session.[6]

The new instructions against keeping videotapes, issued at about the same time that Ms. Haspel took over command of the black site, may or may not have been drafted by Ms. Haspel herself – the CIA’s redactions to date prevent any independent assessment of her role in this matter as well as in most of the rest of the torture program.

According to the documents, the CIA established Detention Site Green on March 31, 2002 to house Abu Zubaydah, the first “high value detainee” captured by the CIA, which mistakenly assumed Zubaydah was a high-ranking Al-Qaeda operative. Zubaydah did provide extensive information not under torture, including the identification of Khalid Sheikh Muhammed as the mastermind of 9/11 during rapport-building interrogation led by FBI agent Ali Soufan, who subsequently withdrew from the black site after the CIA contract shrinks Mitchell and Jessen took over.[7] 

The Zubaydah case provides the most explicit repudiation of the purported “ticking time bomb” argument CIA has made in support of torture, since Mitchell and Jessen’s first move in Zubaydah’s torture was to place him in solitary confinement – with no questioning whatsoever – for 47 days. Mitchell and Jessen would waterboard Zubaydah 83 times in August 2002, before finally concluding he had no imminent threat information.[8]

According to “senior intelligence officials” quoted in The New York Times and by ProPublica,[9] Ms. Haspel did not arrive at Detention Site Green as chief of base until “late October” 2002 – after numerous complaints from CIA personnel there about the torture.[10]

The CIA has not released any specific dates of Ms. Haspel’s assignments at the black sites or at the Counterterrorism Center, so the record is not clear whether she was sent to rein in those complaints and enforce her boss Jose Rodriguez’s admonition not to include such language in the cable traffic, but accepting assignment (or even volunteering) to the black site after such complaints appeared in the cable traffic strongly suggests this was the case.

Ms. Haspel became chief of base at Detention Site Green just in time to welcome Al Nashiri on November 15, 2002. The alleged “mastermind” of the USS Cole bombing in 2000 that killed 17 U.S. sailors had been captured in Dubai in October and interrogated there, during which time he gave up significant intelligence, according to the Senate report.[11] Haspel’s subsequent boss and head of CIA’s Clandestine Service, Jose Rodriguez, in his memoirs characterized Nashiri as hardly a mastermind and echoed another interrogator’s description of him as “the dumbest terrorist I have ever met.”[12]

According to both the CIA IG report and the Senate Intelligence report, upon arrival at the black site in Thailand that at that moment was commanded by Ms. Haspel, Nashiri immediately underwent torture supervised by Mitchell and Jessen. Some 12 days after his arrival (ie. circa November 27, 2002), Nashiri survived at least three waterboard sessions administered by Mitchell and Jessen. Ms. Haspel was their superior, as chief of base, and according to the CIA’s own description of the chief’s duties, would have authored or authorized the cables to headquarters describing the torture sessions.[13]

According to the documents, the CIA closed the Green site on December 4, 2002 because of the risk of media exposure and ongoing tensions with the host Thai government, in which numerous officials knew of the black site. CIA headquarters ordered the Green site staff to sanitize the base but to preserve the torture videotapes. According to flight records gathered and analyzed by the Rendition Project and the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, the two detainees at the Green site, Nashiri and Zubaydah, were rendered from Thailand to Detention Site Blue, located at Stare Kiejkuty in Poland.[14]

CIA documents cited by the Senate report express a “real concern” on the part of then-CIA general counsel Scott Muller that circa December 2002, “cable traffic reporting was becoming thinner” thus preventing CIA from monitoring the situation.[15]

Classification and redaction still cover key facts in the Gina Haspel torture story.

* Was she still the chief of base when the Green site closed on December 4, 2002?

* Did she supervise the November 27, 2002 waterboarding sessions of Nashiri?

* What was her specific role in perpetuating the false claim that Nashiri’s information had come from torture (what the CIA euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques”) rather than the Dubai interrogations? 

* Did she ever ask any questions about the qualifications and motivations of the contract psychologists, Mitchell and Jessen, to whom the CIA outsourced the entire torture program to the tune of $81 million in contracts? (Apparently not, because they still had their sole source contracts when Ms. Haspel served as chief of staff to the head of the CIA National Clandestine Service in 2005.)

* Did she volunteer, or just accept assignment, to command the Green site starting in October 2002?

* Did she review the cable traffic from the Green site in August 2002 before she took command, in which CIA officers complained about the brutality of the torture of Zubaydah and raised questions about the legality? Was she aware of the complaints?

* Did she ever object to the torture, or express any qualms?

* Did she ever review the CIA cables reporting on the torture sessions, compared to the CIA’s disseminated intelligence and the timing of information collected, to judge whether the claims of torture’s effectiveness were true or false – as the Senate Intelligence Committee did?

* What was her role in reducing the amount of information in cables from the black sites circa December 2002?

 

Read the Documents:

 

Document 1: CIA IG report on torture of Al-Nashiri

CIA Inspector General, Special Review, Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (September 2001 – October 2003) (2003-7123-IG), 7 May 2004, pp. 33-37.

The IG report, which has reached the public in three different versions (with less and less redacted each time) in 2008, 2009, and 2016, details the detention of Al-Nashiri, his arrival date at the Thailand black site (November 15, 2002, a date that CIA redacted from the Senate Intelligence report), and the duties of the chief of base. Gina Haspel arrived at the site as chief of base in late October 2002. “The COB oversaw interrogations and released operational and intelligence cables and situation reports. The COB coordinated activities with the Station and Headquarters and reported to the CTC Chief of Renditions Group.” The IG report says torture began immediately upon Nashiri’s arrival at the site, and on his 12th day there, Mitchell and Jessen administered the waterboard twice. (The Senate report says three times.) The IG also concludes that Mitchell and Jessen’s use of the waterboard was different from that approved by the Justice Department’s torture memos. This section of the IG report was withheld in full by the George W. Bush administration in 2008, released with significant redactions by the Obama administration in 2009, and released with fewer redactions in 2016.

 

Document 2: CIA establishes DETENTION SITE GREEN

U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “Committee Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” Approved December 13, 2012, Updated for Release April 3, 2014, Declassification Revisions December 3, 2014, pp. 23-24.

This section of the Senate report describes the tensions with host country Thailand, the many Thai officials who knew of the black site, and the ultimate decision in November 2002 – when Gina Haspel was chief of base – to close the site because “a major U.S. newspaper knew that Abu Zubaydah was in” Thailand.

 

Document 3: Detention and torture of Al-Nashiri under Gina Haspel’s supervision

U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “Committee Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” Approved December 13, 2012, Updated for Release April 3, 2014, Declassification Revisions December 3, 2014, pp. 66-67.

This section of the Senate report describes the capture of Al-Nashiri in Dubai, the extensive intelligence he provided before being tortured, and the triple waterboarding of Nashiri at Detention Site Green. Footnotes 336 and 337 provide the cable numbers of 12 specific cables likely authored or authorized by Gina Haspel. Note that the CIA compelled the Senate report to use the pseudonyms Swigert and Dunbar instead of the real names James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen.

 

Document 4: Pressure from CIA Headquarters to use torture

U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “Committee Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” Approved December 13, 2012, Updated for Release April 3, 2014, Declassification Revisions December 3, 2014, pp. 121-122.

This section of the Senate report describes significant deficiencies in the CIA’s detention program, the lack of screening for black site personnel, and the continuing pressure from CIA headquarters to use torture on detainees despite on-site personnel concluding the detainee had no more information to offer.

 

 Document 5: CIA complaints before Haspel arrives as chief of base

U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “Committee Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” Approved December 13, 2012, Updated for Release April 3, 2014, Declassification Revisions December 3, 2014, pp. 473-475.

This section of the Senate report quotes directly from CIA emails during the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah in August 2002 complaining of “futility (and legality)” and that personnel were “likely to elect transfer” if the torture continued. Their boss Jose Rodriguez promptly admonished them not to use “speculative language as to the legality of given activities” in CIA cable traffic. These complaints on the record raise the question of whether Haspel was sent to Detention Site Green as an enforcer against such complaints. As the incoming chief of base in October 2002, she would likely have been briefed on the complaints.

 

Document 6: Destruction of the torture videotapes

U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “Committee Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” Approved December 13, 2012, Updated for Release April 3, 2014, Declassification Revisions December 3, 2014, pp. 443-444.

This section of the Senate report describes the CIA decision to destroy the waterboarding videotapes, and refers to specific cables and emails, including one reportedly drafted by Ms. Haspel (see footnote 2490). CIA destroyed the videotapes just after Senator Carl Levin proposed an independent commission to investigate detentions and torture.

 

Document 7: CIA orders overwriting videotapes of interrogations

CIA cable, “Eyes Only – Disposition of videotapes,” 251945Z OCT 02.

This cable from October 25, 2002 apparently came to the Thailand black site just as Ms. Haspel was arriving as the new chief of base. The cable orders the destruction of the previous videotapes of the Zubaydah waterboarding (an order overridden by Headquarters)[16] and the re-use of a single videotape to record future torture sessions, thus overwriting the previous day’s record. The cable makes the CIA’s claim that the tapes were a security risk for CIA officers present, and for all Americans.

 

Document 8: CIA email says videotapes "devastating" but no mention of security risk

CIA email from [redacted] to Dusty Foggo, “Subject: short backgrounder,” 11/10/2005 05:48 PM

This CIA email lets the Agency’s executive director Foggo know that clandestine services chief Jose Rodriguez ordered destruction of the torture videotapes and “if there was any heat he would take it.” Then CIA-director Porter Goss “laughed and said that actually, it would be he, PG, who would take the heat.” Rodriguez commented, “the heat from destoying [sic] is nothing compared to what it would be if the tapes ever got into public domain – he said that out of context, they would make us look terrible, it would be ‘devastating’ to us.” The ACLU obtained this email through its FOIA litigation in federal court in New York.

 

Document 9: CIA report on how much was paid to Mitchell and Jessen repeats false claims about “key captures” and “major plots disrupted”

 CIA memo, circa 23 January 2009, “1. How much has the CIA paid Mitchell and Jessen since 2002?” Salim v. Mitchell – United States Bates Stamp #001906, 12/20/2016

This two-page memo was obtained by the plaintiffs in the civil litigation Salim v. Mitchell, brought by the ACLU representing victims of torture against the psychologist James Mitchell who with his partner Bruce Jessen, sold the CIA on the torture program. The document seems to have been produced by the CIA in response to questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee about payments and any current contracts held by Mitchell and Jessen. As of 23 January 2009, the memo reports $1.4 million paid to Mitchell individually, $1.2 million paid to Jessen individually, and nearly $72 million paid to their company. The second page lists five “key captures” and four “major plots disrupted” as a result of Mitchell and Jessen’s interrogations – none of which stood up to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s review of the underlying CIA documentation.[17]

 

[This is the first in a series of Web publications on the Gina Haspel CIA torture record. Part two will cover the CIA’s successful effort, each time President George W. Bush claimed the U.S. was treating detainees “humanely,” to get a White House meeting to correct that statement, and gain approval for the torture program from senior officials ranging from national security adviser Condi Rice to attorney general John Ashcroft – a form of the “get out of jail free” card in the board game Monopoly.]

 

Notes

[1] U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “Committee Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” Findings and Conclusions, pp. 2-3, released December 2014. For the full text, click here.

[2] The Senate report finds that the CIA never conducted a credible comprehensive analysis of effectiveness, and instead, CIA’s “internal assessments” of the torture program “were conducted by CIA personnel who participated in the development and management of the program, as well as by CIA contractors who had a financial interest in its continuation and expansion.” Senate report p. 13 of Findings and Conclusions.

[3] The Senate report details each of the 20 cases and the evidence that contradicts CIA’s claims of torture’s effectiveness on pages 172 through 400 of the final report.

[4] CIA torture supervisors who have employed Harlow to paper over their torture with lucrative book advances include George Tenet, Michael Morell, Jose Rodriguez, and James Mitchell. For a sample of Harlow’s misrepresentations, click here

[5] See Glenn Kessler, “Cheney’s claim that the U.S. did not prosecute Japanese soldiers for waterboarding,” Fact-Checker column, Washington Post, December 16, 2014. Kessler gave former vice president Cheney three Pinocchio’s for the falsehood. Kessler cites an authoritative law review article, by Judge Evan Wallach, “Drop by Drop: Forgetting the History of Water Torture in U.S. Courts,” Columbia Journal of Transnational Law (2007).

[6] CIA cable 251945Z Oct 02. The same cable urged destruction of the previous videotapes, but CIA headquarters overrode that action at least temporarily.

[7] See Ali H. Soufan, The Black Banners (2011), pp. 373-426. Soufan reports that CIA director George Tenet was “furious” that FBI was obtaining good information from Zubaydah and insisted that CIA “take over” the interrogation (p. 378).

[8] See Senate report, p. 31. “Zubaydah’s inability to provide information on the next attack in the United States…. served as the basis for CIA representations that Abu Zubaydah was ‘uncooperative’” and needed to be tortured. “CIA officers later concluded this was information Abu Zubaydah did not possess.”

[9] See ProPublica, “Correction: Trump’s Pick to Head CIA Did Not Oversee Waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah,” March 15, 2018.

[10] See Senate report pp. 473-474 for quotations from CIA emails in August 2002 including “strong feelings of futility (and legality) of escalating or even maintaining the pressure.” Counterrorism chief Jose Rodriguez quickly emailed back to warn against using “speculative language as to the legality of given activities.”

[11] See Senate report pp. 66-67.

[12] See Jose Rodriguez with Bill Harlow, Hard Measures (2013), p. 83.

[13] See Senate report, p. 67.

[14] See Matt Apuzzo, Sheri Fink, James Risen, “U.S. Torture Leaves a Legacy of Detainees With Damaged Minds,” The New York Times, October 9, 2016, p. A1, pp. 18-20; see also The Rendition Project, Nashiri profile.

[15] See Senate report p. 474.

[16] See for example, CIA cable 032345Z DEC 02.

[17] For the “key captures,” on Hambali see Senate report pp. 301-310; on Barot see Senate report pp. 258-275; on Badat see Senate report pp. 284-293; on Padilla see Senate report pp. 225-238; on Faris see Senate report pp. 276-283. On “major plots disrupted,” on West Coast airliner plot see Senate report pp. 246-257; on Heathrow plot see Senate report pp. 294-300; and on Karachi plots see Senate report pp. 239-245.