President Donald Trump selected Gina Haspel, a career intelligence officer who has been linked to the CIA’s controversial operation of secret prisons and harsh interrogation program, as the new deputy director for the spy agency, recently sworn in CIA chief Mike Pompeo announced Thursday.
Haspel, the first female career CIA officer to be named to the position, brings more than three decades of CIA experience to the role. Over the course of her career, she’s held numerous senior leadership positions at the agency, has served as station chief in several assignments overseas, and was also the first woman to lead the Clandestine Service, the branch of the CIA responsible for overseeing the agency’s spying operations around the world.
“Ms. Haspel is an outstanding career intelligence officer,” CIA spokesman Jonathan Liu said in an emailed statement to The Huffington Post, adding that she’s “strong and effective” and held in high esteem by her colleagues.
Former intelligence officials also praised Haspel’s selection. James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, said she has “broad-gauged experience” in both foreign and domestic assignments. And former CIA deputy director Stephen Kappes who served under President George W. Bush said Haspel is a “person of great honesty and integrity” who “leads actively and never shies away from the difficult tasks.”
One of those difficult tasks may be the revival of the agency’s torture program at so-called “black site” prisons overseas. The Trump administration appears ready to reopen the controversial prisons where the U.S. government detained and tortured countless inmates suspected of terrorism, according to a draft executive order first published by The New York Times and The Washington Post. In 2009, just days after his inauguration, President Barack Obama signed executive orders seeking the end of secret CIA prisons and a ban on the use of harsh interrogation tactics at these sites. Then in 2005, Congress went further and banned torture of detainees in custody of the Department of Defense under the Detainee Treatment Act.
The draft order directs national security officials to “recommend to the president whether to reinitiate a program of interrogation of high-value alien terrorists to be operated outside the United States.”
Last month, Buzzfeed reported that the draft order is a revised, but “nearly verbatim” match to a 2012 executive order proposed for the first 100 days of a Mitt Romney White House. Following the publication of the draft order, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said it was “not a White House document” and that he had “no idea where it came from.”
Trump has long been a vocal proponent of torture. As a candidate and now as president he’s continued to advocate for harsh tactics, saying during a recent interview that waterboarding and other forms of torture “work.” Trump has also said he would defer to his Cabinet to determine the appropriate policy on torture. And while the draft order does not directly call for the reopening of secret CIA prisons or the resurrection of the agency’s torture program, Haspel’s selection may signal that Trump is prepared to move more aggressively back to the harsh treatment of detainees.
That’s because Haspel has been linked to the CIA’s controversial interrogation program on numerous occasions. She’s reportedly named in a 6,700-page report from the Senate Intelligence Committee that details the systemic and individual failures of the CIA’s post-9/11 “enhanced interrogation program” — the government’s euphemism for systematic torture. The full report remains classified, but in 2014, Democrats on the committee released a 525-page executive summary of the larger report’s findings. It concluded that the CIA’s interrogation program used techniques far more brutal than it had previously disclosed and misled the public about the efficacy of the program in producing intelligence.
Haspel is also believed to be the female officer described in news reports who ran a secret prison in Thailand where two al Qaeda detainees were subjected to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques. She was also allegedly involved in the later destruction of videotapes of those interrogation sessions. The FBI and Department of Justice launched a criminal investigation into the tape destruction incident, but no charges were ever filed against any CIA officials. CIA officer Jose Rodriguez, then-head of the Clandestine Service, was later said to have ordered the destruction of the tapes. Liu told HuffPost on Thursday that Rodriguez has publicly said the decision to destroy the videotapes was “his and his alone.”
But The New York Times reported in 2013 that Haspel and Rodriguez “were the two main drivers for years” in having the tapes destroyed.