Trump’s CIA pick stokes fears of return to dark days of ‘torture’
Trump’s CIA pick stokes fears of return to dark days of ‘torture’
The US president chose Gina Haspel, a veteran undercover CIA officer, for the role this week despite a checkered past in which she has been accused of overseeing a notorious secret prison in Thailand. Senators and ex-CIA members have said that under her watch detainees at the site were subjected to waterboarding, a technique that involves water being poured into the mouth to simulate the effect of drowning.
Former CIA staffers told Arab News that Haspel’s rise could herald a return to the kind of detention methods that were a feature of the post-9/11 era, when suspected militants were held indefinitely at clandestine “black sites” and forced to endure everything from “rectal rehydration” and sexual humiliation to punching, slapping and prolonged isolation.
“She didn’t just follow orders, she was a cheerleader who ran a secret prison in Thailand where people were water-boarded,” Melvin Goodman, a former CIA agent-turned- whistleblower, told Arab News. “It was a terrible period in American history that we should put behind us.”
Trump courted controversy when campaigning for the presidency in 2016 by announcing plans to “load up” Guantanamo Bay detention center with “bad dudes” and reintroduce waterboarding. His decision to pick Haspel has inevitably led to speculation that he may now follow through on some of these pledges.
Haspel joined the CIA in 1985 and has previously served as chief of the CIA’s station in London and New York. She has many admirers among colleagues at the CIA, where she has been working as deputy director under Mike Pompeo, whom Trump nominated to be the next secretary of state on Tuesday after sacking Rex Tillerson.
But agents who served alongside her, and congressional officials, say that in 2002 during President George W. Bush’s administration she was responsible for a secret CIA prison in Thailand, code-named “Cat’s Eye.”
Two suspected Al-Qaeda militants — Saudi citizen Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian who grew up in Riyadh — endured waterboarding and other harsh “enhanced interrogation techniques” at the facility in Southeast Asia, which was better known as Detention Site Green.
In 2005, also during Bush’s presidency, Haspel drafted a cable ordering the destruction of video footage showing Al-Nashiri’s and Zubaydah’s interrogations at the Thai site. The outcry over this eventually helped lead to a landmark investigation into US detentions and interrogations by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
In 2014 the select committee reported that waterboarding was “physically harmful, inducing convulsions and vomiting.” Zubaydah and Al-Nashiri are now being held at Guantanamo Bay.
Ivan Eland, a defense analyst who spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues and for NATO and the CIA, told Arab News that Haspel was “unsuitable” for the role of CIA chief and warned that her appointment could mark a return to the “lawlessness of the Bush administration.”
He said that Trump and Haspel could work without oversight to relaunch Bush-era black sites and the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques" that were outlawed under President Barack Obama, who also described waterboarding as “torture.”
“They could do that under Trump’s unilateral power as commander-in-chief,” Eland said.
Other former CIA agents are less anxious about Haspel’s appointment. Paul Pillar, who had a 28-year career in US intelligence with postings in the Middle East and South Asia, said America was not heading back to the anti-terror hysteria that followed the 9/11 attacks.
“We didn’t use torture because we had a particular person in the job, we had torture because of an angry, scared national mood after 9/11 and different standards about how to properly handle suspected terrorists,” he told Arab News.
“Years have passed. There hasn’t been another big terrorist attack in the US. Our standards have changed, our laws have changed.”
Others noted that Trump has toned down his torture talk and done little to expand the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.
Jeffrey Kaye, a psychologist and writer, remains concerned. Hagel and other Bush-era agents were never prosecuted and US forces still use “isolation and sleep and sensory deprivation in interrogation,” which amounts to torture, Kaye told Arab News.
Haspel does not have the job yet. She must be confirmed by the US Senate, where she will doubtless be grilled by Democratic lawmakers about her role at the black sites.
Her nomination faces an uncertain fate in the chamber, which Trump’s fellow Republicans control 51-49. She could be opposed by all the Democrats, including their top man on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, who spoke of “a lot of questions” for Haspel.
Some Republicans object, too, including Rand Paul and John McCain, who was himself tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and has said that Haspel must “explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program.”
UK warns dual nationals over travel to Iran, as France holds on envoy nomination
- Britain is seeking the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation who was arrested in April 2016
- France will not name a new ambassador to Tehran before getting information from Iran following a foiled plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris in June
LONDON: Britain on Wednesday advised British-Iranian dual nationals against all but essential travel to Iran, tightening up its existing travel advice and warning it has only limited powers to support them if detained.
The advisory came in tandem with France’s decision to hold off on appointing a new ambassador to Iran, as it seeks clarification over an attempt to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris in June
“The Foreign Secretary (Jeremy Hunt) has taken the decision to advise against all but essential travel by UK-Iranian dual nationals to Iran,” a foreign office spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
“British citizens who also hold Iranian nationality face risks if they travel to Iran, as we have seen all too sadly in a number of cases. The Iranian government does not recognize dual nationality, so if a dual national is detained our ability to provide support is extremely limited.”
Earlier this month Britain’s Middle East minister Alistair Burt used a visit to Iran to discuss cases of detained dual nationals, alongside other diplomatic issues.
Britain is seeking the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation who was arrested in April 2016 at a Tehran airport as she headed back to Britain with her daughter, now aged four, after a family visit.
She was convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran’s clerical establishment, a charge denied by her family and the Foundation, a charity organization that is independent of Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.
Meanwhile, France will not name a new ambassador to Tehran before getting information from Iran following a foiled plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris last June, French officials said on Wednesday.
An Iranian diplomat based in Austria and three other people were arrested on suspicion of plotting the attack on a meeting of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
Iran has said it had nothing to do with the plot, which it called a “false flag” operation staged by figures within the opposition group itself.
The incident has hit relations just as France and its European partners are seeking to salvage a 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers.
France’s ambassador to Iran departed in the summer. Iran has also yet to replace its departed ambassador to Paris.
“We have a charge d’affaires today in Tehran and there is a high-level dialogue between French and Iranian authorities,” said a French presidential source.
“We are working together to bring to light what happened around this event ... I wouldn’t say there is a direct link (in not appointing an ambassador), but Iran has promised to give us objective facts in the coming weeks that would allow us to pursue our diplomatic relationship as it is today.”
A French diplomatic source said the nomination had indeed been suspended as a result of the alleged plot.
France’s Foreign Ministry in August told its diplomats and officials to postpone non-essential travel to Iran indefinitely, citing the plot and a hardening of Tehran’s attitude toward France, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.
President Emmanuel Macron is likely to discuss the issue with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani when they meet on Sept. 25 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the source said.
Along with Britain and Germany, France is trying save a 2015 agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, which was thrown into disarray when US President Donald Trump pulled out of the accord in May and re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran.
Even so, tensions between Paris and Tehran have grown in recent months as Macron and his government have become increasingly frustrated with Iran’s activities in the Middle East region, in particular its ballistic missile program.