When Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by Twitter on Tuesday, it opened up a vacancy that was promptly filled by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, which in turn opened a vacancy for his position. Pending confirmation, it will be filled by current CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel, making her the first woman to occupy the position. But before we shout “Yasss Kween” to the broken glass ceilings, let’s examine just who Haspel is. First off, here’s the basic resume, courtesy of CNN:
During her time at the agency, Haspel has held several senior leadership positions, including directorial roles in the National Clandestine Service and in the Counterterrorism Center, as well as several Chief of Station roles, a news release from the CIA said. Haspel has received several awards in her career, including the Presidential Rank Award, the most prestigious award in the federal civil service.
According to The New York Times, Haspel has spent most of her career undercover.
And it’s during that undercover period where we get the accounts of her enthusiastic endorsement and use of torture, and her possible subsequent efforts to destroy the video evidence in order to protect her career:
While running a CIA prison in Thailand, dubbed a “black site,” Haspel oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and her name was on a cable giving instructions to destroy video evidence documenting their interrogations, according to the Times. One of the suspects was reportedly waterboarded 83 times in one month.
Here’s more on that Thailand incident, from the aforementioned Times story:
The C.I.A.’s first overseas detention site was in Thailand. It was run by Ms. Haspel, who oversaw the brutal interrogations of two detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
Mr. Zubaydah alone was waterboarded 83 times in a single month, had his head repeatedly slammed into walls and endured other harsh methods before interrogators decided he had no useful information to provide.
The sessions were videotaped and the recordings stored in a safe at the C.I.A. station in Thailand until 2005, when they were ordered destroyed. By then, Ms. Haspel was serving at C.I.A. headquarters, and it was her name that was on the cable carrying the destruction orders.
The agency maintains that the decision to destroy the recordings was made by Ms. Haspel’s boss at the time, Jose Rodriguez, who was the head of the C.I.A.’s clandestine service.
The video tape destruction was serious enough to merit a grand jury and special prosecutor (no charges were filed), but it’s the history of torture—a practice in disfavor even in Pompeo’s CIA—that has Haspel in the crosshairs today.
As it turned out, Abu Zubaydah was not who the CIA thought he was, and in 2014 the European Court of Human Rights ordered the U.S. to pay him €100,000 in restitution. However, he is still being held at Guantanamo under the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists. Over the course of his detainment, he lost his left eye, and waterboarding was only the start of the tortures he faced. Here’s ProPublica on Haspel’s role in one such session:
As the CIA’s video cameras rolled, security guards shackled Abu Zubaydah to a gurney and interrogators poured water over his mouth and nose until he began to suffocate. They slammed him against a wall, confined him for hours in a coffin-like box, and deprived him of sleep.
The 31-year-old Zubaydah begged for mercy, saying that he knew nothing about the terror group’s future plans. The CIA official in charge, known in agency lingo as the “chief of base,” mocked his complaints, accusing Zubaydah of faking symptoms of psychological breakdown. The torture continued.
That borderline sadistic “chief of base” was none other than Gina Haspel. For more on Zubaydah, it’s worth reading his lawyer’s piece in the Los Angeles Times from 2009.
As for Haspel, Sarah Jones at the New Republic summed it up best: