Gina Haspel spent more than 30 years on serving in intelligence, but she is known around the world for only one episode whose roots go back to 2002.
US President Donald Trump surprised the world by deciding to change his Secretary of State. Suddenly, the head of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, will replace Rex Tillerson. Accordingly, a woman will get a vacant seat in the Central Intelligence Agency for the first time. Trump has appointed Gina Haspel as CIA chief hitherto serving as Deputy Head of this department. And it can be foreseen that this appointment will not go without any doubts in Congress. Haspel’s “dark” past has already revealed in the American media in February 2017, when Trump appointed her to Deputy Director of the CIA, and now this topic is in public eye again.
Gina Haspel is an American intelligence officer who started back in 1985. The Office considers her as an “exemplary” official.
“She has extensive overseas experience and served as Chief of Station in several of her assignments. In Washington, she has held numerous senior leadership positions at CIA, including as Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service, Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service for Foreign Intelligence and Covert Action, Chief of Staff for the Director of the National Clandestine Service, and in the Counterterrorist Center,” the CIA website reads.
Haspel is a recipient of numerous awards for her services to intelligence and her contribution to the fight against terrorism.
That is enough for good news, we are getting to the bad ones. Haspel’s career at the CIA is famous for scandals concerning the Office’s secret prisons. In 2002, Gina Haspel became one of the founders of the secret CIA program and ran such a prison in Thailand. Then, after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Americans started extensive activities against Islamists around the world. The Cat’s Eye Prison kept Al-Qaeda suspects. Former CIA officers later said that in the spring of 2002, so-called “advanced interrogation techniques,” in other words, torture, were sanctioned in such prisons. The prisoners were intimidated, deprived of sleep, drowned, kept in their cells naked, threatened with physical fights to the families of prisoners, including their children. Torture, then, turned out to be widely used, including against innocent people.
Haspel’s activities in Thailand was the subject of an investigation revealed by the US Senate Intelligence Committee. Suspects of having ties with al-Qaida Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah were voiced to have been staying in the Cat’s Eye for some time. The report of the Committee reads that Zubaydah was drowned in water 83 times a month, deprived of sleep, beaten against the wall, as a result of which, he has lost his left eye. The methods tested over those detainees were then actively used against other suspects.
Then, Haspel was promoted to chief of staff by the Director of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center. Jose Rodriguez, who chaired the Center in 2005, wrote in his memoirs that she had organized the destruction of numerous videotapes recorded in a prison in Thailand.
The US Department of Justice started its investigation into this case. Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell stood up for her. He stated that Haspel followed the order of her boss, Jose Rodriguez. As a result, the investigation finished without charge. Thailand eventually declared that it did not know about any secret prisons on its territory.
On January 23, 2009, new US President Barack Obama issued a decree to close all secret CIA prisons. In April 2009, CIA Director Leon Panetta reported on the closure of all prisons located abroad. Nevertheless, in 2010, the international human rights organization Physicians for Human Rights accused the CIA of conducting medical experiments on prison inmates.
In 2013, CIA Director John Brennan appointed Haspel as Acting Deputy Director of the National Secret Service which carries out secret operations around the world. However, she has not become a full-fledged leader yet because of criticism regarding her participation in torture. The Senate blocked the appointment.
When Trump made up his mind to appoint Haspel as Deputy Director of the CIA in February 2017, several members of the Senate Intelligence Committee called on the president to review his decision.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said: “I am especially concerned by reports that this individual was involved in the unauthorized destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes, which documented the CIA’s use of torture against two CIA detainees. My colleagues Senators [Ron] Wyden (D-Ore.) and [Martin] Heinrich (D-N.M.) have stated that classified information details why the newly appointed Deputy Director is ‘unsuitable’ for the position and have requested that this information be declassified. I join their request.”
In December 2014, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights started an investigation into unknown CIA operatives when the US Senate Committee published its report on torture by US intelligence agencies. On June 7, 2017, the Center urged the German Attorney General to issue an arrest warrant for Gina Haspel on charges of torture against terror suspects.
A senior Human Rights Watch, John Sifton, cautioned the US officials at the beginning of 2017 that they ” are putting a person in a leadership position who was centrally involved in an illegal program,” pointing out that the CIA programs allowed not only to torture suspects but also to kidnap them around the world, delivering them to third countries who then tortured them.
It is worth noting that during the presidency of Barack Obama, the CIA experienced political and public pressure due to violations of the rights of detainees. The CIA’s leadership defended agency employees whose names revealed in the media promising that torture and secret prisons were over. Moreover, then-President Obama himself said that he would not bring those to justice who participated in CIA interrogation programs, including senior officers. Obama, unlike Trump, did not quarrel with the security services. Having done otherwise, Haspel could have been in prison but not the Head of the CIA.
However, Donald Trump has repeatedly stated that he does not consider the use of torture against terror suspects to be shameful. In his words, he discussed this issue with senior intelligence officers, and they all assured him that torture really contributes to getting a result. Nevertheless, he noted that he had not decided yet whether the special services allow such interrogation methods, and asked Defense Minister James Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo for analyzing the admissibility of those actions according to international law.
As Haspel was appointed to the second post in the CIA, the American media and politicians started talking about Trump who allegedly gives the secret services green light for such activities. The mastodons of intelligence were also inspired. Senate Intelligence Committee Vice-Chairman Democrat Mark Warner highly commends Haspel’s service at the CIA. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that Haspel is “capable, smart, very experienced, well respected by the Agency rank and file, and a great person.” By the way, Mike Pompeo also praised Haspel, noting that she is a “proven leader with an uncanny ability to get things done and inspire those around her.”
Haspel’s current promotion does not promise the CIA global change. The Office, where the ideas of “hawks” prevail, is likely to continue to live the same life.
Natalia Veselnitskaya – official website