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John Kiriakou: The Triumph of “Bloody Gina,” the CIA’s Torture Queen

Court filing reveals CIA director Gina Haspel participated directly in the spy agency’s black site illegal torture program while fellow officer Kiriakou was imprisoned for exposing it.
CIA Director nominee Gina Haspel is sworn in during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence May 9, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

By John Kiriakou / Original to ScheerPost

The New York Times last week revealed that former CIA Director Gina Haspel was present to watch a torture session of alleged al-Qaeda terrorist Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri when she was the head of a secret CIA black site where two contract psychologists and CIA officers tortured prisoners. During her 2018 confirmation hearings, Haspel was evasive when asked directly by Senator Dianne Feinstein if she had overseen al-Nashiri’s interrogations. She said that to answer might expose a part of her classified career.  The CIA refused to comment on anything that Haspel may or may not have done in the past.

The Times’ revelation was reported as a part of the newspaper’s coverage of a lawsuit that al-Nashiri’s attorneys have brought against the CIA.  Psychologist James Mitchell, one of the torturers, testified in the suit that the black site’s chief was “Z9A,” code for Haspel, and that she personally sat in on one of the torture sessions.  There was no explanation for what Haspel was doing there.  It was certainly not normal procedure for a senior CIA officer to simply sit in on a torture session, unless she did it because she wanted to,  Regardless of the reason, the truth is now out.  That’s certainly a good thing.  But it doesn’t mean that Haspel or anybody else will be punished for the CIA’s torture program.  In many cases, the statute of limitations has expired.  And Haspel has moved on.  She’s now in a senior position in the A-list Washington, DC law firm of King & Spaulding, although she doesn’t appear on the firm’s website, and a spokesperson wouldn’t tell the Times what she does there.  Still, it’s worth taking another look at who, exactly, Gina Haspel is.

My CIA superiors asked me in 2002 if I wanted to be “certified in the use of enhanced interrogation techniques,” the popular CIA euphemism for torture.  I was one of 14 people asked.  I regret to say that I was the only one who declined.  I said that I had a moral and ethical problem with torture, and I believed it to be patently illegal.  But as I rejected torture, Haspel welcomed it.  And the decision certainly didn’t hold her back.  She went on to become CIA director.  She and other torturers and torture supporters went on to prosper, despite–or was it because of–this grisly work experience.  I went to prison for 23 months after blowing the whistle on the torture program.  I’m sure Haspel has no regrets for her decisions. Neither do I.

Haspel’s nomination as CIA director sent the country back, in the blink of an eye, to the bad old days of torture, secret prisons, and international renditions.  Haspel was a protégé of Jose Rodriguez, the CIA’s notorious former deputy director for operations and former director of the Counterterrorism Center (CTC).  Haspel served as Rodriguez’s chief of staff at CTC.

Described in the media as a “seasoned intelligence veteran,” Haspel had been at the CIA for more than 30 years, both at Headquarters and in senior positions overseas.  And throughout that entire period, she tried hard to stay out of the public eye.  Then-outgoing CIA director and Mike Pompeo at the time lauded her “uncanny ability to get things done” and said that she “inspires those around her.”  I’m sure that was true for some,  but many of the rest of us who knew and worked with Gina Haspel at the CIA called her “Bloody Gina.”

The New York Times and Washington Post have written extensively about Haspel’s background, especially overseas.  The CIA will not let me repeat her resume here, calling it “currently and properly classified.”  I won’t go down that road.  But I will say that it was Haspel who carried out her master’s instructions to destroy videotaped evidence of the torture of Abu Zubaydah, mistakenly thought to have been the third-ranking person al-Qaeda.  And that was after the White House Counsel specifically told her to not destroy it.  She made no apologies.  I would call that “obstruction of justice,” a felony.

At the same time, the American people have a right to know what their CIA director does—or did—in their name.  They have a right to know if she committed crimes and, if so, what those crimes were. They have a right to transparency.  And they have a right to know that when a law is violated, no matter how important the transgressor, justice will be served.

Haspel should never have been named CIA director in the first place.  First, just imagine the message this sent to the CIA workforce:  Engage in war crimes, in crimes against humanity, and you’ll still get ahead.  Don’t worry about the law.  Don’t worry about ethics.  Don’t worry about morality.  Don’t worry about the fact that the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the FBI, and military interrogators all agree that torture doesn’t work, besides the fact that it’s ethically and morally reprehensible.  Go ahead and do it anyway.  We’ll cover for you.  And you can destroy the evidence, too.

And what message did it send to our friends and allies?  What would we tell our allies, the same ones that we criticize every year in the State Department’s annual Human Rights Report?  The message was this:  You know how we always say that we’re a shining city on a hill, a beacon of respect for human rights, civil rights, civil liberties, and the rule of law?  Well, that’s nonsense.  We only say those things when it’s expedient.  We say it to make ourselves feel good.  But when push comes to shove, we do what we want, international law be damned.

Our actions are also not lost on our enemies.  The torture program is the greatest recruitment tool that al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other bad actors ever had.  It was the torture program that energized them.  It gave them something to rally against.  It sowed an even deeper hatred of the United States among them.  It swelled their ranks.  It was no coincidence that ISIS paraded its prisoners in front of cameras wearing orange jumpsuits before beheading them.  Gina Haspel was partly responsible for that.

And now that we know what we know about Gina Haspel, we should also ask ourselves who we want to be as Americans.  Do we want to be the country that tortures people, like North Korea, China, and Iran?  Do we want to be the country that snatches people from one country and sends them to another to be tortured and interrogated?  Do we want to be the country that cynically preaches human rights and then violates those same rights when we think nobody else is looking?  Aren’t we better than that?  Don’t we want to be that shining beacon, the country that every other one looks up to and tries to emulate?  Or do we want to emulate the likes of Gina Haspel?

I’m glad the truth is finally out.  But I’m not sanguine that we have learned a lesson from torture.  Gina Haspel and those like her are monsters.  They should be prosecuted, imprisoned, and shunned.  None of them ever has been.  Instead, they’re celebrated.  But it’s not too late.  There is still time for our children to learn the lessons that my generation didn’t.  The CIA likes to train its officers to believe that everything in life is a shade of gray.  But that’s just not true.  Some things are black-and-white, right or wrong.  Torture is wrong.  It’s illegal, immoral, and unethical.  We shouldn’t do it under any circumstances.  And those who do should be punished.

John Kiriakou

John Kiriakou is a former C.I.A. analyst and case officer, former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and former counterterrorism consultant. While employed by the C.I.A., he was involved in critical counterterrorism missions following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but refused to be trained in so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” After leaving the C.I.A., Kiriakou appeared on ABC News in an interview with Brian Ross, during which he became the first former C.I.A. officer to confirm that the agency waterboarded detainees and label waterboarding as torture. Kiriakou’s interview revealed that this practice was not just the result of a few rogue agents, but was official U.S. policy approved at the highest levels of the government.

28 comments

  1. That the “truth” is finally out is reassuring, but doesn’t the US still maintain “black sites” around the globe? Are they simply longstanding holding tanks or does torture occasionally go on there?

  2. Come on. What about the municipal and county pigs and their hit squads and torture teams?

    A virtual archive launched this week dives deep into the abuse of more than 100 Black men led by Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his “Midnight Crew” from the 1970s–1990s.

    The Chicago Police Torture Archive, led by Woodlawn-based journalism nonprofit Invisible Institute, went live Wednesday. It features a timeline of the abuse and fallout, interviews with survivors and more than 100,000 documents outlining the officers’ “racist pattern and practice of torture.”

    Just one of the numerous survivors featured in the archive is Darrell Cannon, who spent 24 years in prison before being exonerated and released. Before “confessing,” he was subjected to three mock executions and shocked with an electric cattle prod until he screamed repeatedly.

    Officers “kept questioning me while [one of them held] that shotgun with the barrel in my mouth,” Cannon said in a video interview. “Then all of the sudden, one of them said, ‘Go ahead, shoot the n—,’ and he pulled the trigger … I told them that I would say anything they wanted me to say.”

    https://blockclubchicago.org/2021/02/05/chicago-police-torture-archive-documents-decades-of-abuse-from-jon-burge-and-his-midnight-crew/

    Gina? Vietnam, anyone?

    In 1966 the CIA launched the Phoenix Project, a program designed to destroy the South Vietnamese Communists, better known as the Viet Cong. Specially designed torture chambers were constructed in all 44 provinces and rape of women suspects, electric shock, water torture, and hanging from ceilings were standard methods during interrogations. Of the tens of thousands of South Vietnamese detained, at least 20,000 were summarily executed. Copying a Viet Cong practice, the severed heads of those executed were frequently displayed in the villages. Even more common was collecting the ears of dead Communist troops.

    The principal incentive the CIA used for arresting suspects was money, and it was said that paid informants “often lied and set-up innocent people.” Many detainees at Guantanamo were turned in by Afghan bounty hunters who were paid off by coalition officers. In night raids on Iraqi homes all males were routinely detained, but only 10-15 percent, admits intelligence officer Jose Garcia, are of any intelligence value.

    In his book “A Question of Torture, ” Alfred McCoy demonstrates that the CIA developed “no touch torture, based on sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain.” These techniques were “field-tested . . . in Vietnam . . . and then imported to Latin American and Asia under the guise of police training.” First Lt. Michael Uhl appeared before a congressional committee on April 14, 1971. As an intelligence officer he testified to incidents of beating, rape, electric shock, and waterboarding. He also said that he witnessed many summary executions.

    John Negroponte, former ambassador to Iraq and now U. S. intelligence czar, is a key person linking torture in Central America with Vietnam and Iraq. In his Senate confirmation hearings to become ambassador to Honduras (1981-85), Negroponte, speaking as a former political officer in Saigon, said that the U. S. could not afford to lose Central America to the Communists as it did in Vietnam.

    In 1975 CIA director of George Bush, Sr. had already set up the Latin American equivalent of the Phoenix Project. Called “Plan Condor” the CIA enlisted the services of Cuban exiles and the deadly Chilean DINA to orchestrate the torture and assassination of leftist leaders. Under this program Latin American military rulers tortured and “disappeared” thousands of their opponents.

    1. @Paul+Haeder

      Right, right, right . . . But that does not nullify the still-important question as to whether the multiple–more than multiple–black sites that routinely snatched Muslim-looking children from the streets, are still functioning. We know that Guantanamo still maintains a vastly diminished torture site, with, however, certain “prisoners” snatched during the Bush-Rumsfeld still in place. What about the hundreds of other innocent Muslims who were arrested and tortured without the fundamental privilege of counsel? (If you respond to this post, no patronizing, please).

      1. No nullification intended. Of course, internment prisons for japanese in AmeriKKKa and Klanada, reservations for First Nations. Boarding schools for children. And, the sickness of what this country’s crimes are against innocent Muslims. Just adding to the hell this country has unleashed.

    2. Burge was an extreme, brutal Police Officer who the Guardian (the British newspaper) claimed was involved in the torture of over 100 suspects, during the 70s and 80s, particularly the Wilson brothers, for shooting police officers. His methods were derailed by civil suits and investigations in the mid 80s, and even by the Chicago mayoral primary in 1991. He never admitted to torturing anyone during his time in Korea, Vietnam or Chicago (would guess he watched).
      Interestingly, a NYT article this Morning shows that Chicago’s homicide rate fell from 60 per 100,000 to about 40 per 100,000 during Burge’s brutal reign. Once under investigation, homicide rates in Chicago spiked to 70 per 100,000 in the early 1990s. Nationally homicide rates remained relatively flat at about 10 per 100,000 from the early 1970s to early 1990s (when it dropped nationally, probably due to an increasing median age of Americans). Possibly a coincidence, but Burge’s brutality may have kept the Chicago homicide rate down. The rebound to 70 per 100,000 was almost entirely Black men killing Black men.
      Today, Chicago’s homicide rate is 85.2 per 100,000 (according to the NYT).

      1. Oh, those stats? And, of course, they are wrong, manipulated, used to make messed up racist points, et al, and I see you are thinking that a private hit squad that is the norm for countless sheriff’s departments and municipal pig shops.

        The pigs need to be reined in, and, yes, defund the pigs is a righteous formula. Can you imagine pigs living in the neighborhoods they run through like thugs and gangs? Ha.

        Sure, Serpico was messed with by a super super minority of NY Pigs. Wrong.

        So, CIA, FBI, PD, NSA, DoD, ATF, BP, all of the Pigs thrive in a pig landia. Now we can give them the shit we gave to Ukraine, now that it is on the black market.

        From, “Poisoning Our Police/Pigs : How the Militarization Mindset Threatens Constitutional Rights and Public Safety”

        […]

        Over the last three decades, the militarization of policing in America has grown exponentially, transforming an already troubled culture in many parts of law enforcement for the far worse. The result of this militarization—where local police take on the appearance, armament, and behavior of soldiers at war—is that the public is both less safe and less free. And those who encounter militarized police, whether in their daily lives or at a demonstration, are far more likely to end up dead or injured as a consequence of an officer’s militarized mindset.

        The streets of America are not some far-off battlefield, and our police are not an occupying force.

        Militarization did not kill George Floyd, the unarmed Black man killed by Minneapolis police officers late last month, but it undoubtedly contributed to the mindset that has seemingly overcome many American policing organizations. And as the American public reacts to police violence, a vicious cycle unfolds: The police use more violence to quell protests of police brutality, which results in more death. This dynamic has played out dramatically across the country in recent weeks. But it is not new.

        As police officers drape themselves in the trappings of a military force, they increasingly look like members of an army prepared to go to war against unarmed civilians, escalating tensions between the police and peaceful protestors. And as a 2017 study showed, in law enforcement agencies that use military equipment, officers are more likely to display violent behavior and are more likely to kill the civilians they are supposed to protect and serve.

        The numbers are jarring: In 2019, police killed over 1,000 people in the United States. That number has consistently been over 1,000 in each of the last seven years. Nearly 24% of the victims last year were Black, even though Black Americans make up just 13% of the population. Many of the victims were unarmed, some were experiencing a mental health crisis, and some were children. America’s rate of police violence far outstrips that of any other western democracy.

      2. @michael888
        I was born & raised in Chicago. Burge was not extreme, he was just better at being a pig. Chicago cops are the worst I’ve ever dealt with, including being the most brutal. A Chicago Tribune study in the 1970s found that half the white Chicago cops were KKK. All that on top of being the most corrupt city in the country — corruption is such a way of life in Chicago that people barely notice it — makes for a very bad situation.

        To some extent, cops are cops everywhere. But some are clearly worse, and Chicago takes the award for the worst of them.

      3. @Michael888,

        “The rebound to 70 per 100,000 was almost entirely Black men killing Black men.”

        Is this a variation on the extremely racist trope that most Black victims of crime are victimized by other Black people? I think it is.

        What exactly was the percentage increase in crime among Black Chicagoans versus non-Black Chicagoans? I think if you’re going to put supposed facts like that out there, you need to provide specifics and citations. In fact, I’m certain of it.

        It appears that you either might not be aware or that you don’t care that a large majority of all victims of crimes are victimized by people of their own ethnicity. Black people who are victims of crimes are victimized by other Black people most of the time. White victims of crimes are victimized by other White people the vast majority of the time. Most Asian victims of crimes are victimized by other Asians the majority of the time. Etc.

        Not to mention that you look like an apologist for torture.

        I see a disturbing pattern in your comments.

      4. @Tupe
        In addition to your comment, I’d add this: Poverty causes street crime, including the violence that comes with it. Black people are far more likely to be poor than white people. So even if Blacks commit more murders, that’s only because they’re poorer.

    3. That’s a valuable insight — that “our” government”and its henchmen have been visiting torture and brutal suppression on the domestic occupied/colonized areas and populations — since time immemorial.

  3. Thank you for your honesty, morality, and courage. If only more of us shared those virtues.

  4. Look no further than the picture. of our White House leaders watching our assassination of Osama Bin Laden, We never cared about learning the truths of 9/11, we never believed in the merits of torture. We believe in imperial power, period.
    I feel miserably for Guys like Kiriakou, Assange, Snowden, Manning. They’re men of a moral fabric, of a different time.
    Our time was best described in 1933 by Ernst Toller (on the rise of the Nazis): “people are tired of reason, tired of thought and reflection. They ask, what has reason done, what good have insights and knowledge done.” The objective of our leaders for decades has been to emasculate any who’ve dared challenge its use of power.

  5. most recent IPSOS study, only 15% of USA adults moral enough to believe torture never justified; 2/3 support the use of torture, exceeded only in 1 African nation in the midst of a civil war. apparently the peculiar amerikan cult—sensitivity training, has failed to train few Americans how to feel

    1. Those are some interesting findings. During the lead up to the Iraq war, about 20% of the American public was consistently against war.

      In the Milgram experiment, which has been repeated numerous times with identical or even more terrifying findings, as many as two out of three people went all the way to a “fatal” level of electrocution. That basically says that under the right circumstances, two out of three people will kill a total stranger just because another total stranger tells them to.

      That makes sense of a great deal.

      I think people exist on a bell curve in a lot of ways.

  6. most recent IPSOS study, only 15% of USA adults moral enough to believe torture never justified; 2/3 support the use of torture, exceeded only in 1 African nation in the midst of a civil war. apparently the peculiar amerikan cult—sensitivity training, has failed to train few Americans how to feel….as Diderot , levinas etc observed all morality derives from feeling

  7. “Man’s inhumanity to man” . At least John you put your Flag in the sand. You paid a big price but without courageous people ,the World
    desends into barbarism. No system or person can exist without a moral compass.lt will come at a cost, but a cost we cannot avoid to pay if we wish not to descend into the abyss.
    How any human could “sit in “on a torture session is troubling.
    With respect, Ed

  8. I thank you for this gutsy gesture of naming the unamable. It was for me a sobering read.

  9. And she–Haskell–looks like such a kindly person. No, she is not appealing to the eye–rather the opposite in truth. But we’ve had out trust in the CIA betrayed since that torturer without affect, Allen Dulles. Why not Gina Haskell?

  10. A well known truism is that power is an aphrodisiac. Seems that mere authoritarian domination is not enough of a thrill for Chicago cops or CIA agents, though. Their preference is for outright sadism.

    In organizations that do nothing to control them, those most desirous of unlimited power end up in charge. Thus sociopaths like Pharma bro Shkreli and the bizarros who ran the S & Ls into the ground are common in corporate culture.

    As for the CIA, plain old vanilla deprivation type torture is just not enough. It doesn’t matter what actually works. These friendly folks, acting in the name of protecting us, the American people, have invented horrors the Nazis would have to nod at in deep respect. Hell, Satan himself would fist bump Gina & Co.–props to the Queen.

    1. “invented horrors the Nazis would have to nod at in deep respect. ”

      From whom do you think these invented horrors came? People like Klaus Barbie, Reinhard Gehlen, and all the other boys from Operation Paperclip.

  11. The problem is that the CIA and other similar organizations exist. How they operate, such as whether they torture people, is a minor detail in comparison. There is no moral or ethical way to operate an intelligence agency.

  12. John Kiriakou’s principled courage is proof yet again that no good deed does unpunished.

    Shame on Bloody Gina and those who celebrate her and on those who tolerate her in their midst.

  13. I respect and has always respected John K for his insight and courage. This article is also very good. But one sentence was disturbing. ”Do we want to be the country that tortures people, like North Korea, China, and Iran? ” This generalisation and demonisation of US enemies is just enforcing the narrative that they are bad countries where torture is everyday routine.

  14. @Jeff,

    Thank you for adding the socio-economic aspect. I had it in mind, also, but chose not to address it. It would take pages to address everything wrong with Michael888’s comments.

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