The Slatest

Publication Which Identified CIA Nominee as Supervisor of Abu Zubaydah Torture Retracts Report (Corrected Post)

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul with John McCain on Capitol Hill in 2011
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul with John McCain on Capitol Hill in 2011. Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Correction, 8:45 p.m.: ProPublica, which reported in 2017 that Gina Haspel supervised the torture of Abu Zubaydah, has retracted its report. From the site:

The story said that Haspel, a career CIA officer who President Trump has nominated to be the next director of central intelligence, oversaw the clandestine base where Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding and other coercive interrogation methods that are widely seen as torture. The story also said she mocked the prisoner’s suffering in a private conversation. Neither of these assertions is correct and we retract them. It is now clear that Haspel did not take charge of the base until after the interrogation of Zubaydah ended.

ProPublica writes that it made errors determining who was being referred to as “chief of base” in “declassified agency cables and CIA-reviewed books which referred to the official overseeing Zubaydah’s interrogation at a secret prison in Thailand.”

ProPublica says its original report that Haspel was involved in the destruction of video recordings depicting Zubaydah’s torture was correct, and that she did supervise the waterboarding of a suspect who was not Zubaydah.

Rand Paul spokesman Doug Stafford has issued the following statement:

“Senator Rand Paul was quoting a Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter. Regardless of the retraction of one anecdote, the fact remains that Gina Haspel was instrumental in running a place where people were tortured. According to multiple published, undisputed accounts, she oversaw a black site and she further destroyed evidence of torture. This should preclude her from ever running the CIA.”

Original post, 4:04 p.m.: On Tuesday, Donald Trump nominated CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel to replace agency Director Mike Pompeo. In 2002, Haspel supervised the torture of a man named Abu Zubaydah, who the CIA mistakenly believed to be a top Osama Bin Laden adviser with extensive knowledge of the terrorist leader’s methods and future plans. It turned out that Zubaydah didn’t have such knowledge because he was a “personnel clerk” at an insurgent training camp who wasn’t even a formal member of al-Qaida; Haspel, however, reportedly believed Zubaydah was merely playing dumb—and mocked his “acting” during torture in person. From ProPublica:

At one point, Haspel spoke directly with Zubaydah, accusing him of faking symptoms of physical distress and psychological breakdown. In a scene described in a book written by one of the interrogators, the chief of base came to his cell and “congratulated him on the fine quality of his acting.” According to the book, the chief of base, who was identified only by title, said: “Good job! I like the way you’re drooling; it adds realism. I’m almost buying it. You wouldn’t think a grown man would do that.”

Haspel, who later ordered the destruction of video recordings that documented Zubaydah’s treatment, can expect support for her nomination from the national security figures and Republican elected officials who either continue to support practices like waterboarding or believe she shouldn’t be punished for engaging in “enhanced interrogation” practices that were in widespread use at the time. (And what a time it was!) Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, however, has already announced that he won’t vote to confirm her; said the noted civil liberties advocate at a press conference:

I find it just amazing that anyone would consider having this woman at the head of the CIA. My opposition to her is over her direct participation in interrogation and her gleeful enjoyment at the suffering of someone who was being tortured.

Arizona Sen. John McCain did not outright say he won’t vote for Haspel but wrote in a statement that “[t]he torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history” and that Haspel “needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process.”

On the other side of the aisle, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer says he has not yet decided whether he will oppose Haspel’s confirmation or encourage others to do so, while California Sen. Diane Feinstein—the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee—made initial off-the-cuff comments about the nominee that were quite friendly. Via the Intercept:

“I have spent some time with her, we’ve had dinner together, we have talked. … Everything I know is that she has been a good deputy director of the CIA.”

Feinstein is currently facing a high-profile primary challenge from California Dem Kevin de León, who not surprisingly announced soon after Haspel’s nomination that he would vote against her confirmation if given the chance. Feinstein has perhaps not coincidentally now issued a tougher statement:

I look forward to speaking again with Gina Haspel about the role she would play and how she would run the CIA. It’s no secret I’ve had concerns in the past with her connection to the CIA torture program and have spent time with her discussing this.

Haspel’s confirmation hearing has not yet been scheduled.