In what critics are calling a bald attempt to help Trump’s controversial pick to lead the CIA get through a very difficult confirmation process, the CIA on Friday released a previously classified memo in which Gina Haspel was “cleared” of any wrongdoing when she destroyed more than 90 videotapes of agency operatives torturing human beings.
According to the Associated Press, which first reported the story, the CIA on Friday “gave lawmakers a declassified memo Friday showing [Haspel] was cleared years ago of wrongdoing in the destruction of videotapes showing terror suspects being waterboarded after 9/11.”
Written by then-acting deputy director of the CIA Mike Morrell, the eight-page memo, as the Washington Post reports, “does not weigh in on questions about Haspel’s involvement in the use of brutal interrogation methods at a black-site facility she supervised in Thailand. The memo does suggest, however, that there was general CIA support for the destruction of the tapes at the time Haspel drafted the 2005 memo, as officials were still heavily influenced by the experience of fallout from the 2004 scandal involving the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.”
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Sen. Diane Feinstein, Democrat of California and member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, responded by saying that the CIA’s memo should be seen for what it is: an attempt by the agency to release information that makes Haspel look good while continuing to block the release of information that might serve to incriminate her or hurt her chances for confirmation.
“It’s completely unacceptable for the CIA to declassify only material that’s favorable to Gina Haspel while at the same time stonewalling our efforts to declassify all documents related her involvement in the torture program,” Feinstein stated.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) indicated the memo will do nothing to lessen his concerns and actually raises new ones.
“Unfortunately, the Morell report is highly incomplete, raising far more questions about Ms. Haspel than it answers,” Wyden said in a statement. “My concerns about Ms. Haspel are far broader than this episode or anything else that has appeared in the press.”
Staff attorneys for the ACLU — which for years has been fighting for the CIA, the White House, and Congress to come clean about the government’s torture program — said the agency’s memo on Haspel is the very least of what should be disclosed:
Internal CIA probe by former acting CIA director clears CIA official of wrongdoing.
Amazing, the things that get declassified!
— Hina Shamsi (@HinaShamsi) April 20, 2018
— Ben Wizner (@benwizner) April 20, 2018
Pointing to the Washington Post’s version of the CIA memo regarding Haspel, journalist Glenn Greenwald responded by saying: “One of the most damaging aspects of the Trump presidency is how it’s trained millions of newly politically engaged people to view the CIA and its leaders as noble and heroic. It’s one of the most evil agencies on the planet.”
This week, The Daily Beast’s Spencer Ackerman reported on how former CIA lawyer John Rizzo says that Haspel did, in fact, run the agency’s black site in Thailand.
Rizzo’s 2014 book, reports Ackerman, “indicated that Haspel was responsible for the incommunicado detention and torture not of two men, but of dozens, potentially. Former intelligence officials interviewed by The Daily Beast have portrayed Haspel’s experience similarly.”
Gina Haspel’s nomination as CIA Director is no typical nomination. This is whether or not your senator chooses to reward someone who oversaw a torture program in one of America’s darkest chapters. #BlockHaspel https://t.co/qQYPgV49ix pic.twitter.com/OBhndEjPlW
— Win Without War (@WinWithoutWar) April 20, 2018
While human rights groups and progressives have been unified in the urgent effort to make sure Haspel’s confirmation is defeated, even members of the national security establishment have been raising enormous concerns about Haspel.
“Try to get a job in a Fortune 500 company when you’re known to have destroyed evidence,” General Charles Krulak, a retired Marine Corps commandant and former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told AP. “We can’t have a public or private sector where we just say ‘Well, I was just following orders.’ Golly day! Do you want that person to be director of the CIA?”
And despite the best efforts by Trump allies and the CIA itself to get Haspel approved by the Senate, one unidentified former intelligence official critical of the CIA’s torture program told Ackerman it would be a disaster.
“If Ms. Haspel is confirmed, it will send a terrible message to the world broadly, and to the officers of the CIA more superficially,” the former official said. “The CIA, and its former officers, are pushing so hard for Ms. Haspel to be director because if she’s confirmed, it essentially exonerates her, the CIA and all of these former senior CIA officials from their involvement in or their defense of the torture program.”
But the advocacy group Win Without War made a succinct moral argument by putting it this way: “Torture was illegal and immoral after 9/11, and it still is now. Haspel should never be allowed to work for the American people again.”