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CIA Director Gina Haspel, confirmed by the Senate last year amid accusations of involvement in torture, may have run a so-called ‘black site’ at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Haspel did not mention this role in her confirmation hearing.
Haspel’s apparent involvement in the site was revealed in the partially redacted transcript of a secret hearing held at Guantánamo last November. Haspel’s name was mentioned in court by a terror suspect’s defense lawyer, who argued that the CIA Director must testify before the court on classification guidelines for reports from the apparent black site.
Torture allegedly took place at the site, and the defense lawyer noted that the prosecution was “not trying to cover up the torture… But the one thing that they’re not willing to talk about is the names of the people involved in the torture,” thanks to Haspel’s classification guidelines.
Haspel’s guidelines, the lawyer continued, “make it impossible for people at Guantánamo, who may have seen her when she was here as chief of base, to identify her and talk about it.”
‘Chief of base’ is CIA-speak for the officer in charge of one of the agency’s secret foreign outposts, including the clandestine prisons known as ‘black sites.’ The site in question here could refer to one of two such prisons at Guantánamo, code named ‘Maroon’ and ‘Indigo.’ The existence of these sites – separate from the main ‘Camp Delta’ naval base and prison – was revealed by the 2014 Senate torture report.
Both sites were operated by the CIA between September 2003 and April 2004, and captives there were ‘interrogated’ before being passed into US military custody at the main prison. While the names of the officers in charge of the main prison are public, the names of the CIA spooks running the ‘Maroon’ and ‘Delta’ sites are not.
If Haspel was indeed in charge of one of these sites, the position would fill one of the many blank spots in her 30 year career at the CIA. She was reticent to talk about these blank spots during her confirmation process last year, and her official CIA resumé notes that these assignments were short-term, covert assignments that remain classified.
Her time at the helm in Guantánamo would have most likely been short, former CIA counterterrorism officer-turned-whistleblower John Kiriakou told McClatchy.“Nobody wanted the job,” he said. “So they resorted to sending people on temporary duty assignments ranging from six weeks to nine months.”
Haspel was ‘intimately involved in torture’
The revelation could leave another black mark on Haspel’s career with the agency. Her confirmation last summer was met with intense opposition from former military and intelligence personnel, who accused her of being “intimately involved in torture;” and from some Democratic lawmakers, who pressed her on whether or not she would continue the CIA’s post-9/11 shady practices of torture and detention.
California Senator Dianne Feinstein (D) asked the CIA to declassify documents relating to Haspel’s involvement in the agency’s torture program, which was described by Kiriakou as “the greatest recruiting mechanism for our enemies.” The CIA agreed to declassify some of Haspel’s history, but kept the bulk of her covert assignments under wraps to protect its agents.
Haspel had managed a secret prison in Thailand, codenamed ‘Cat’s Eye,’ one year before the court documents put her in Guantánamo. Months before Haspel took over the reins in Thailand, a suspect was tortured almost to death at the facility. Abu Zubadayah, incorrectly believed to have been an Al-Qaeda operative, was waterboarded to unconsciousness, physically assaulted by CIA officers, and forced to spend over 11 days in a coffin-sized “confinement box.”
Other detainees at the facility were subjected to similar treatment, in a facility that one officer likened to “a dungeon.”
After finishing her stint in Thailand, Haspel returned to the US, where she drafted an order authorizing the destruction of 92 videotapes of interrogations that took place at the site, including those of Abu Zubadayah. A subsequent CIA review found that Haspel acted appropriately when she ordered the tapes shredded, with the agency’s Deputy Director Michael Morell calling Haspel a “good soldier” for doing so.
Some former agents have cast doubt on whether Haspel actually ran either of the sites at Guantánamo. Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who also conducted interrogations at Guantánamo told McClatchy that the chief of base at that time was a man, but that Haspel may have visited briefly, while managing another black site.
Meanwhile, in the court case outlined in the transcript, the suspect, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, is facing the death penalty for allegedly plotting the 9/11 attacks. Mohammed has been in detention since he was captured in Pakistan in 2003, and after three years in CIA detention and over 180 rounds of waterboarding, confessed to being “responsible for the 9/11 operation — from A to Z.” Four other men have been charged in the same case.