Gina Haspel’s connection to waterboarding and other torture methods used to attempt to extract information from detainees were a subject of contention prior to her confirmation as CIA Director. At the time, Haspel said that in hindsight, she recognized the torture techniques should never have been used. Now, with the declassification of redacted versions of cables Haspel herself sent in 2002, we have more details on the punishments used, and of her knowledge of them.
The National Security Archives obtained redacted copies of the reports from Gina Haspel to the CIA, laying out details of the torture of a suspect. Justification is given by the CIA as the suspect, Abd Al-Nahid Al-Rashiri, withholding “perishable threat information.” After two months, they concluded that Rashiri didn’t have such information after all.
The 16 documents include the CIA’s orders, and a dozen reports from Haspel describing the torture. This includes locking Rashiri into a coffin-sized box, beginning with a 12-hour session in the box the first day after he arrived at the facility. A prisoner in this confinement box can only stand, with no room to sit or lie down or significantly shift position. An additional confinement box was smaller, forcing the prisoner to curl up to fit inside.
Some of the most shocking details in the redacted documents are what they don’t say. For instance, the Day Seven report mentions giving Rashiri a towel to wear — indicating that until then, he had been kept in forced nudity during all these proceedings. He’s promised the same day that if he complies, he’ll be given a pair of pants and that the chain connecting his leg shackles to his handcuffs will be removed.
On Day Eight, Haspel’s memo documents the detainee being promised solid food if he gives useful information, suggesting that even this basic commodity has been denied to him during his detainment.
Throughout, a torture method called ‘walling’ is mentioned. This consists of wrapping a collar or other object (the documents describe use of a rolled towel) around the victim’s neck and using it to slam him against a wall. Haspel’s reports also document this towel being grabbed and pulled upward to force the prisoner onto tiptoe. In the memo from Day 12 Haspel details the waterboarding method, including a twenty-minute period of being left strapped to the waterboard to “contemplate his fate,” after “multiple applications of the walling technique.” After this, “multiple applications of the waterboarding technique” were used on the man.
Gina Haspel’s letters detail all of this and more in dry terms. If she has any second thoughts about the methods used, it isn’t shown in the memos. The phrasing Haspel uses even suggests that the detainee earned or deserved this treatment.
Subject was told he had better pull himself together and talk. [Redacted] earning himself another application of the walling technique….Subject mumbled unintelligibly; interrogators had the security team bring in the waterboard.
According to the Washington Post, the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a 2014 report, quoted a CIA interrogator admitting that the torture had not provided any “actionable” information.
Gina Haspel has agreed that the methods used should not have been, but the reason she gives is that it affected how America is seen in the eyes of the world. She maintains that the techniques netted “valuable intelligence.”