After 9/11, when the CIA needed a someone to run its first secret overseas prison, it turned to a 16-year veteran of the clandestine service to oversee the waterboarding of suspected terrorists. Years later, after she’d allegedly acquired the nickname “Bloody Gina,” the same woman would oversee the destruction of video evidence of the “enhanced interrogations” conducted under her watch. On Tuesday, President Trump announced his intention to nominate that woman, Gina Haspel, as director of the CIA.
In a single tweet Tuesday morning, President Trump announced the departure of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as well as his plans to replace Tillerson with sitting CIA director Mike Pompeo and install deputy director Haspel in Pompeo’s position. If confirmed by the Senate, Haspel will be the first woman to run the C.I.A.
Haspel, who spent most of her 33 year career with the agency as an undercover agent, was appointed deputy director in early February.
Two decades ago, Haspel ran the CIA’s first black site – a secret prison where detainees were tortured for information in the early days of the War on Terror – in Thailand, which was code-named Cat’s Eye. There, she oversaw the violent interrogations of alleged Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who was accused of orchestrating the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. Both were subject to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding. The legality of their methods were even at that time in such serious doubt that officials discussed whether, in the event of Zubaydah’s death, his body would need to be cremated to hide the evidence.
Zubaydah, who was waterboarded a total 83 times and who lost his eye while in custody, yielded no valuable intelligence on future attacks on the United States. The government has dropped its case against Zubaydah, who it no longer believes was a high-ranking member of Al Qaeda, but he remains in Guantanamo Bay prison to this day.
According to a book later written by one of the psychologists who helped devise the interrogation techniques, the black site’s chief of base came to Zubaydah’s holding cell at one point to compliment him on his “performance.” “Good job!,” that person, now identified as Haspel, reportedly said. “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.” The European Center for Constitutional and Human, a Berlin-based NGO, has called for Haspel’s arrest for her role in the torture of detainees.
In 2005, 92 videos of Zubaydah and al-Nashiri’s interrogations were destroyed, and though the order was directed by Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then head of the clandestine service, it was signed by Haspel herself.
Haspel’s nomination could face resistance in the Senate; in 2013, Sen. Dianne Feinstein blocked Haspel’s proposed elevation to Rodriguez’s old job over her involvement in the tapes’ destruction. When she was promoted to deputy director earlier this year, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) sent a letter declaring “Her background makes her unsuitable for the position,” and calling for the immediate declassification of documents concerning her role in the torture and destruction of evidence. The ACLU has also raised concerns, saying the Haspel was “up to her eyeballs in torture.”
Veterans of the intelligence community, however, were broadly supportive of her elevation last month to the role of deputy director. At the time, James Clapper, director of national intelligence under President Barack Obama, said he was “very pleased” with the choice; Michael Morell, former deputy director and acting director at CIA, characterized her as “widely respected throughout the agency;” former CIA Director Michael Hayden said she was a “wonderful” pick who would handle the job with “dignity, professionalism and honor.”
That’s not to say praise for Haspel was universal. John Kiriakou, the CIA operative-turned-whistleblower who knew Haspel when he worked under her in Thailand, wrote her appointment was evidence that you can “engage in war crimes”; and “still make it to the top.” He was also the one to introduce the public to the nickname “Bloody Gina.”
On Tuesday morning, as he left for a trip to view prototypes for his proposed wall on the Mexican border, President Trump said of Haspel, “She’s an outstanding person who I’ve gotten to know very well.” He added, “I’ve gotten to know a lot of people very well over the last year. I’m really at a point where I’m close to having the cabinet and other things that I want.”
In her own statement, Haspel said she was “grateful to President Trump for the opportunity, and humbled by his confidence in me, to be nominated to be the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.”