By TOM LEONARD in New York
for The Daily Mail
She looks like a favourite aunt. But is ‘Bloody Gina’, the woman who could be the next CIA boss, up to her eyeballs in TORTURE?
Is Trump’s prospective new CIA Chief a “sadistic monster”,
as many Washington insiders believe her to be?
Her name has been excised from file after file, but insiders insist there is no mistaking the identity of the CIA chief whom they dubbed ‘Bloody Gina’.
As ‘chief of base’ of a secret ‘black site’ CIA prison in Thailand, she oversaw a brutal regime in which suspected terrorists were subjected to ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques, including being waterboarded, hurled against walls and squeezed for hours into coffin-like boxes.
It is claimed she even went to a prisoner’s cell to goad him after he had been tortured, and there is speculation that she once joined in an interrogation.
But while she had the power to stop the interrogation of suspects as they vomited, urinated on themselves in their shackles, or lost consciousness, official records show that she never did.
Those records also show that she was instrumental in the destruction of video tapes that documented the use of techniques now almost universally regarded as torture.
The CIA agent in question is Gina Haspel and, to widespread horror, she may soon be the West’s most powerful spy.
While President Donald Trump has been keen to highlight his wish to appoint the first female boss of the CIA, a growing outcry in Washington has greeted his announcement that, having promoted CIA director Mike Pompeo to Secretary of State, he wants Haspel — Pompeo’s deputy — to take his place.
Republican Senator John McCain, who was himself tortured while a prisoner of war in Vietnam, has described the enhanced interrogations carried out under the George W. Bush administration as ‘one of the darkest chapters in American history’. He was one of the first to demand that Haspel be made to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in it when she faces approval hearings in the Senate.
That dark chapter mentioned by McCain began with the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001, after which the CIA came under intense pressure to find out more about Al Qaeda and any other planned attacks on the U.S.
In 2002, the agency thought they had captured the third-highest ranking Al Qaeda official, a Saudi named Abu Zubaydah, who was a personal aide to Osama Bin Laden.
It was specifically to break down this ‘high-value’ captive that the CIA employed its controversial enhanced interrogation techniques.
He was taken to the first of America’s black sites, an off-the-books CIA prison in Thailand whose existence was never officially acknowledged. Codenamed Cat’s Eye, it became a laboratory for U.S. techniques that the Obama administration later admitted were torture by another name.
Under Bush, however, Haspel was reassured that these interrogation methods were not only legal, but essential in the battle against Islamic extremism.
Haspel, a senior member of the CIA’s counter-terrorism centre, was rapidly appointed Cat’s Eye’s chief of base (or COB) and personally supervised the interrogation of Zubaydah and another important prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a fellow Saudi accused of numerous acts of terrorism, including helping to plot the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden in 2000.
Government memos reveal Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002 alone, far exceeding the number the U.S. Justice Department had approved. Astonishingly, the process — which simulates drowning — continued even after he started to co-operate.
He had no information to give but was tortured all the same
With the CIA’s video cameras switched on to record any evidence he gave, guards shackled Zubaydah to a gurney and interrogators poured water over his mouth and nose until he began to suffocate.
He told his lawyers: ‘They kept pouring water and concentrating on my nose and my mouth until I really felt I was drowning and my chest was about to explode from lack of oxygen.’
He also said his interrogators repeatedly slammed him against walls, a technique called walling, and kept him confined in a coffin-like box for hours, meaning he was agonisingly unable to move. A 2014 Senate report confirmed he wasn’t exaggerating his torment, noting that he was once waterboarded until he ‘became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth’.
Medical staff had to revive him. The report added: ‘Interrogation techniques such as slaps and wallings were used in combination, frequently concurrent with sleep deprivation and nudity.’
The then 31-year-old Zubaydah pleaded for mercy, saying — correctly, as it transpired — that he knew nothing about the terror group’s plans.
LD offers this relevant block quote from The Atlantic:
“The use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques—including walling, attention grasps, slapping, facial hold, stress positions, cramped confinement, white noise and sleep deprivation—continued “in varying combinations, 24 hours a day, for 17 straight days,” through August 20, 2002. When Abu Zubaydah was left alone during this period, he was placed in a stress position, left on the waterboard with a cloth over his face, or locked in one of two confinement boxes. According to the cables, Abu Zubaydah was also subjected to the waterboard “2-4 times a day … with multiple iterations of the watering cycle during each application.”
The “aggressive phase of interrogation” continued until August 23, 2002. Over the course of the entire 20-day “aggressive phase of interrogation,” Abu Zubaydah spent a total of 266 hours (11 days, 2 hours) in the large (coffin size) confinement box and 29 hours in a small confinement box, which had a width of 21 inches, at depth of 2.5 feet, and a height of 2.5 feet. The CIA interrogators told Abu Zubaydah that the only way he would leave the facility was in the coffin-shaped confinement box.
According to the daily cables from DETENTION SITE GREEN, Abu Zubaydah frequently “cried,” “begged,” “pleaded,” and “whimpered,” but continued to deny that he had any additional information on current threats to, or operatives in, the United States.”
So all during this time, Gina Haspel showed no moral qualms about subjecting an innocent man to a wide variety of torture techniques over an extended period. And this is the sadistic monster our president is about to appoint as his new CIA chief. It beggars belief. (LD)
In a scene described in a book written by one of the two psychologists who interrogated him, the COB went to his cell and ‘congratulated him on the fine quality of his acting’, telling the prisoner: ‘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.’
Although the COB is identified in the book as a ‘he’, investigators believe it was actually Haspel.
The CIA has rejected the most damning reports of Haspel’s behaviour at Cat’s Eye as inaccurate, but hasn’t specified in what way.
Some dozen video tapes were made of the interrogations and stored at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok.
As concern grew in Washington over the Bush administration’s use of black sites and enhanced interrogation, Haspel reportedly pushed for the tapes to be destroyed, say ex-colleagues.
Declassified CIA cables show her name was on the order to shred them in 2005, although nobody was ever charged with the offence of destroying the tapes, despite the chief lawyers of the CIA and the White House having insisted that they be preserved.
It later emerged that Zubaydah — who is held in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre to this day — was nowhere near as important an Al Qaeda figure as had initially been thought.
And the reason he had provided no useful information while being waterboarded was because he didn’t have any. A debate is now raging in Washington over whether Haspel is a sadistic monster, or a patriot who was simply following orders and acted out of duty.
Her critics say the defence that she was only following orders isn’t a good enough excuse because Haspel zealously went far beyond her interrogation remit.
While a former CIA agent who knew Haspel described her to me as ‘a sociopath’, John Kiriakou — another CIA man who arrested Zubaydah and worked with Haspel in counter-terrorism before blowing the whistle on the waterboarding scandal — said she was ‘always very quick and very willing to use force’.
He described her as one of a group of officers in the agency’s counter-terrorism centre who used torture ‘because they enjoyed doing it’.
He went on: ‘Everybody knew that torture didn’t work…they tortured just for the sake of torture, not for the sake of gathering information. She didn’t have any moral qualms about what she did.’
Zubaydah mentioned in his testimony that a woman whose name he didn’t know once joined in his brutal interrogation. Some believe this could have been Haspel, although Mr Kiriakou, who wasn’t posted to Cat’s Eye, believes it was another female CIA officer.
Ironically, 61-year-old Haspel certainly doesn’t look like the thuggish stereotype of a sadistic torturer. Nor, for that matter, does she remotely resemble TV’s favourite female CIA agent, the glamorous if unstable Carrie Mathison, played by Claire Danes in Homeland.
Rather, she has the appearance of a fresh-faced executive, well-groomed and with a pleasant, open smile. Like members of MI5 and MI6, Haspel — a member of the CIA’s ‘clandestine’ arm — has spent her career under cover.
Such agents are never publicly identified and if they die in service, they are merely honoured with a star that is added to a memorial inside the agency’s Virginia headquarters.
Unsurprisingly, little is known about her personal life. She joined the CIA in 1985 and was reportedly posted successively to Turkey, Ethiopia and central Asia.
Although critics say she should have been jailed for her role at the Thailand black site, she was instead rewarded by being made CIA chief in London — widely regarded in the agency as the most plum foreign post it has to offer.
In Washington, she held a string of senior roles before being appointed deputy director in 2017.
Former colleagues believe she is single and has no children. ‘She was married to her job, a workaholic like the rest of us,’ Mr Kiriakou told me.
While former CIA bosses have praised her ‘uncanny ability to get things done’ and her leadership skills, Mr Kiriakou remembers her somewhat less positively.
‘Many of us called her “Bloody Gina” and we kept our distance,’ he said. He recalled how a CIA psychiatrist had once warned him that women in their line of work would be far more ruthless with him than men if he were ever captured abroad. ‘He told me: “Women who are true believers, they’re the psychopaths.” ’
Haspel ‘had a reputation as someone who was not afraid to make tough decisions and to do things many of the rest of us would never have done’.
Like other critics of Haspel, he believes she should have been prosecuted rather than promoted. ‘Gina Haspel should be in the dock at The Hague, not in the director’s office at the CIA. She has blood on her hands,’ he said.
He added that at least two — and possibly as many as five — prisoners reportedly died at Cat’s Eye and another black site (one from hypothermia and another from suffocation). Haspel and other senior CIA officers, Mr Kiriakou said, had effectively ‘covered up for murderers’.
If nothing else, he added, her destruction of the interrogation tapes amounts to the criminal offences of obstruction of justice and destroying evidence.
However, Haspel clearly has the approval of Donald Trump, who likes hard-headed military and intelligence types and who has expressed his support for using waterboarding and ‘a lot worse’ to counter terrorism. ‘She’s an outstanding person who I’ve also got to know very well,’ he said this week.