April 21, 2024 / by 

 

One of Dianne Feinstein’s Greatest Legacies: Documenting CIA’s Torture

Over forty years ago, I voted to make Dianne Feinstein a Senator. Multiple news outlets report that she has passed away, a Senator to the end.

I was only her constituent for a matter of months before I left the state. But her influence on US policy — good and bad — has been national in scope.

Amid what are sure to be many tributes, one part of her legacy deserves close focus: the SSCI Torture Report.

The US has still not fully atoned for the crimes it committed as part of an effort to gin up war on terror scares. It was just over a month ago, after all, that a judge threw out the post-torture confession of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. It was just days ago that a different judge ruled Ramzi bin al-Shibh incompetent to stand trial. We’re still discovering that even after the torture, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was deprived of legal counsel.

America’s crimes of torture remain very much unresolved, much less punished.

Dianne Feinstein wasn’t always right. But she used her tenure as SSCI Chair to ensure there was a document of the torture done in our name. That legacy deserves respect.


“Piker:” Donald Trump Rants as if Robert Menendez’s 22 Ounces of Gold Were as Big as Jared’s $2 Billion

The former President went on one of his classic rants of projection last night, demanding that every Democratic Senator resign because of the alleged corruption of Robert Menendez.

“They all knew what was going on,” Trump said, “and the way [Menendez] lived.”

All Trump’s rants are, at their core, at least partly an attempt to use projection to cast attention away from his own similar or worse corruption.

This one is a doozy, though.

Start with the fact that Trump was suspected of getting $10 million from Egypt in September 2016, money he used to stay in the Presidential race. That suspected bribe was investigated for several years, with the Egyptian state-owned bank suspected of making the payment fighting a subpoena all the way to the Supreme Court. The investigation was then closed in summer 2020, without ever subpoenaing Trump Organization, during a period when Bill Barr was shutting down all Mueller-related investigations of Trump. The allegation that, like Menendez, Trump was on the take from Egypt — a key prong of the Mueller investigation — has been ignored by most outlets, so I may return to describe what we know of it.

Then consider that Trump told a comedian posing as Menendez, John Melenedez, that he believed Menendez had gotten a raw deal in his corruption prosecution. “Congratulations on everything,” Trump told the guy he thought was Menendez not long after DOJ dropped the first bribery prosecution. “We’re proud of you. Congratulations! Great job! You went through a tough, tough situation, and I don’t think a very fair situation. But congratulations!”

“They all knew what was going on, and the way [Menendez] lived,” Trump wailed. But so did Trump when he congratulated someone he thought was Menendez for getting away with accepting alleged bribes.

In fact, Trump even commuted the separate Medicare fraud sentence of Menendez’ first co-defendant, Salomon Melgen (like Menendez, the jury hung on bribery charges against Melgen). When Trump claims that Senate Democrats knew what was going on? Unlike Senate Democrats, Trump reviewed Melgen’s conduct closely enough to save him from most of a 204-month prison sentence. Trump specifically said that “the ends of justice do not require [Melgen] to remain confined until his currently projected release date of August 2, 2031.” There’s no question Trump doesn’t care about Menendez’ corruption because he used his presidential authority to eliminate most punishment against Menendez’ co-defendant.

Finally, the craziest part of Trump’s attempt to project his own corruption on Democrats: a key allegation in the Menendez indictment alleges that Menendez did exactly what Jared Kushner did, only for a tiny fraction of the payoff that Jared got.

As I noted in this post, most of Menendez’ Egypt-related corruption came before he and Nadine were married, and most of the payment was laundered through Wael Hana’s halal company, at which Nadine had a no-work job. That may make it hard to prove was a quid pro quo.

There’s one glaring exception to that: The 22 one-ounce bars of gold that, the indictment suggests, Menendez and Nadine received days after Menendez helped shield Egypt from repercussions tied to their role in the Jamal Khashoggi execution.

As the indictment explains, after Nadine’s relationship with Egyptian Official-4 had blossomed over time, the two of them set up a meeting between Menendez and a senior Egyptian intelligence official on June 21, 2021, before the same official would meet with other Senators.

On or about June 21, 2021, NADINE MENENDEZ and Egyptian Official-4 organized a private meeting between MENENDEZ and a senior Egyptian intelligence official (“Egyptian Official-5”) in a hotel in Washington, D.C. prior to a meeting between Egyptian Official-5 and other U.S. Senators the next day. On the day of the private meeting, MENENDEZ provided NADINE MENENDEZ with a copy of a news article reporting on questions that other U.S. Senators intended to ask Egyptian Official-5 regarding a human rights issue. NADINE MENENDEZ then sent that article to Egyptian Official-4, who responded, “Thanks you so much, chairman [i.e., MENENDEZ, the Chairman of the SFRC] also raised it today, we appreciate it.” The next day, NADINE MENENDEZ texted Egyptian Official-4 that she hoped the article she had sent was helpful, and stated, “I just thought it would be better to know ahead of time what is being talked about and this way you can prepare your rebuttals.”

A Michael Isiskoff story posted the same day explained what Egypt would need to “rebut:” Egypt’s Intelligence head, Abbas Kamel, was set to be grilled about Egypt’s role — providing training and drugs — in the execution of Jamal Khashoggi.

A just-released Yahoo News “Conspiracyland” podcast series about Khashoggi’s murder [] revealed that the Gulfstream jet carrying a so-called Tiger Team of Saudi assassins to Istanbul made a middle-of-the-night stopover in Cairo for the purpose of picking up a lethal dose of undetermined “illegal” narcotics.

The drugs were injected hours later by a Saudi Ministry of Interior doctor into Khashoggi’s left arm inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul — an operation that the CIA has concluded was authorized by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, often known as MBS.

Abbas Kamel, the chief of Egyptian intelligence, is visiting Washington this week to meet with U.S. intelligence officials as well as members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Staffers told Yahoo News that a number of senators are preparing to ask Kamel about the Cairo stopover — the subject of a Washington Post editorial on Sunday — and whether Egyptian intelligence officials delivered or helped facilitate the delivery of the drugs.

[snip]

There is also evidence that Egyptian intelligence may have provided training for the Tiger Team as well as previous support for Saudi abductions ordered by MBS. A Saudi source familiar with the matter told Yahoo News that the Egyptians assisted the Tiger Team with the 2015 abduction from Italy of Saudi Prince Saud bin Saif al-Nasr. An outspoken foe of MBS, the prince was tricked into boarding a plane he thought was flying to Rome but ended up in Riyadh. He has not been heard from since.

The indictment implies that whatever Menendez did to blunt the accusations of his fellow Senators, it had some tie to the 22 ounces of gold that Hana purchased two days later, at least some bars of which were found at the Menendez residence when it was searched a year later.

On or about June 23, 2021—i.e., two days after the private meeting between MENENDEZ and Egyptian Official-5—HANA purchased 22 one-ounce gold bars, each with a unique serial number. Two of these one-ounce gold bars were subsequently found during the court-authorized search in June 2022 of the residence of MENENDEZ and NADINE MENENDEZ. During the relevant time periods, the spot market price of gold was approximately $1,800 per ounce.

In his rant, Trump accused Menendez of being “piker” compared to others, but he got the comparison wrong.

After all, Menendez sold out cheap. If he received all 22 of those gold bars in 2021 in recognition of having laundered the reputation of Egypt, it would have been worth roughly $40,000.

That’s a miniscule amount compared to what Jared got — $2 billion — for whitewashing Saudi’s role in the Khashoggi execution.

Trump, who knows better than Senate Democrats what was going on, is right: Menendez was a piker. But he was a piker when you measure him against the corruption of Trump’s own son-in-law.


An Unknown Unknown Made Known Known

[NB: Check the byline, thanks./~Rayne]

Others have already “eulogized” former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who passed away today at age 88 — an age many victims of his war crimes and unlawful warfare will never attain. I really don’t think I can add something cogent at this time to others’ remarks on Rumsfeld’s passing.

Instead of a “eulogy,” I’ll note this site published at least 50 posts tagged “Donald Rumsfeld,” nine more related to “Hamdi v. Rumsfeld“, and an entire category with more than 1,000 posts labeled “Torture” through which you can revisit Rumsfeld’s legacy, not to mention hundreds of posts under “torture tapes” and “torture tape.” (Obviously Rumsfeld leaves behind a mess of tagging and categorizing cleanup.) Don’t forget the Torture Tape Timeline.

For once I will heed the adage about saying nothing if you can’t say anything nice.

But this is nice:

Formez la deuxième ligne. Add your “eulogy” in comments below.


The Chicks Are Owed An Apology

Once upon a time, back when the United States was under the leadership of another fairly incompetent Republican President (yes yes, Bush and Cheney look a little better now compared to Trump and Pence, but only because they were actually semi-competent in their evil, but they were still very evil), there was was sensationally good crossover country/pop group known as the Dixie Chicks.

They were country, but never of the “stars and bars” Dixie kind. It was simply an appellation. In fact, they were all pretty forward and progressive thinking and talking. And man did they get in trouble for it. I guess the new term of the day is “cancelled”, which is kind of an idiotic term, but the howlers really did try to obliterate Natalie Maines, Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire. From Wiki:

On March 10, 2003, nine days before the invasion of Iraq, the Dixie Chicks performed at the Shepherds Bush Empire theater in London, England. It was the first concert of their Top of the World tour in support of their sixth album, Home. Introducing their song “Travelin’ Soldier”, Maines told the audience the band they did not support the upcoming Allied invasion of Iraq and were “ashamed” that President George W. Bush was from Texas. Many American country music listeners supported the war, and Maines’s remark triggered a backlash in the United States. The Dixie Chicks were blacklisted by thousands of country radio stations, and the band members received death threats. Maines issued an apology, saying her remark had been disrespectful; in 2006 she rescinded the apology, saying she felt Bush deserved no respect. The backlash damaged sales of their music and sales of their next album and tour.

In a September 2003 interview, Maguire told the German magazine Der Spiegel: “We don’t feel a part of the country scene any longer, it can’t be our home anymore.” She noted a lack of support from country stars, and being shunned at the 2003 ACM Awards. “Instead, we won three Grammys against much stronger competition. So we now consider ourselves part of the big rock ‘n’ roll family.” Some fans were dismayed, but the group made no clear response.

If you have forgotten, which is awfully easy to do in these pandemic days of Trump, this was a huge deal at the time. The United States government under the Bush/Cheney regime, and the entire country music scene hated on them and ostracized them. It was one of those kind of fulcrum moments. It was not just the Iraq war, it was torture, the unitary executive, free speech, protest…..everything was wrapped up, in a cultural way, in the actions of the Dixie Chicks. It was symbolic of the divide.

But Natalie Maines, Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire were bad ass and stuck to their morals and thoughts. They got hammered at the time, but they hung in and are still here bigger and badder ass than ever. They are now just The Chicks, having dumped the Dixie part of their original name. The Chicks are owed a debt of gratitude and an apology for the idiocy and bigotry they faced from the howlers during the Bush/Cheney years, and they are here to let you know they are still on the good side of the cutting edge.

The Chicks have a new song and video out. “March March”, and it is truly awesome. A song for this time. I saw it last night at Atrios’ joint, and it is really superb. Take a look. Expand it and watch it full screen, it is worth it. This is the music of protest, and in the best way. Music was key in the 60’s and it is key now. It spreads far and wide what people feel, whether they are in the streets or at home. The “at home” part seems even more pertinent now in the time of unabated pandemic at the hands of yet another evil Administration. And that is our trash talk for this weekend, get on it!


Twenty Years of Continuity

Last night, the US killed Qassem Suleimani in a targeted killing on Iraqi soil. DOD claimed they killed him in a “defensive” move to stop his plotting against US diplomats. Nancy Pelosi already made clear that Trump did not properly brief Congress (though Lindsey Graham says he got briefed while golfing at Mar a Lago).

Most experts fear this will escalate (indeed, recent events resemble a Colin Kahl think piece about how the US and Iran could escalate into a war without meaning to).  That’d be bad enough under a sane president, with competent advisors. But Trump has fired most of the experts in his White House and has been pardoning war criminals (and is thinking of pardoning more). Which means we may well be mobilizing service members to fight for a Commander in Chief they can’t expect to think through the use of force, but who has already demanded that his subordinates violate norms and laws partly because he has a temper problem and partly because he doesn’t understand how slow negotiation and strategy works.

But I also feel like this moment has been coming for twenty years, enabled by people who disdain Trump but nevertheless get treated as sane.

There’s our response to 9/11, which people on both sides of the aisles believed was license to break all the rules the US had claimed to adhere to since World War II. We embraced torture because some of the most experienced policy makers ever claimed to be at a loss to know how to respond to a threat they had been warned about. Yet those policy makers knew how to work the system, to have in-house lawyers write up OLC memos excusing the crimes in advance.

Then there’s the Iraq War, the forever stain. Those same experienced policy makers used the opportunity of 9/11 to launch a war of a choice, and then bungle it, in part out of the same impatience and imperiousness policy elites now criticize Trump for, in part by putting incompetent ideologues in charge of cleaning up the mess.

Along the way, we used tools meant to fight terrorism as a way to villainize Iran, in part because the Neocons wanted to avoid political negotiation with Iran at all costs and in part because figuring out a way to deal with Iran’s willingness to use proxies was too difficult otherwise.

It didn’t really get better with Obama. When faced with the challenge of an American citizen inciting attacks, Anwar al-Awlaki, he carried out a sustained effort to kill him using the same kind of targeted kill that Trump just used, excused by yet more shoddy OLC memos.

It seemed so easy, he did it again to take out Osama bin Laden, in a made-for-campaign-season strike that didn’t do much to address terrorism but did expand our claims to operate on other countries’ sovereign territory.

Then there was Libya, where the US made certain agreements to limit the action against Qaddafi, only to violate them and leave the country in chaos.

The Republicans’ cynical sustained response to Benghazi, yet another made-for-campaign-season event, made it their party line stance that any attack on the US must be met by a show of dick-wagging and force, regardless of the efficacy. Trump even made that stance a key part of his nominating convention. Benghazi-palooza made a response like yesterday’s targeted killing inevitable, even though a bunch of the same Republicans recognize that Trump doesn’t understand the fire he’s playing with.

Behind it all is a belief that the most powerful nation in the world shouldn’t have to tolerate any resistance to its power, and may break rules and norms — to say nothing of causing untold chaos in other places — to quash it. Purportedly sane mainstream politicians set the precedent that it was okay to commit war crimes as a misguided shortcut in defending America. A Nobel Prize winner normalized assassination. And both parties have enabled events and legal arguments that leave Trump with few restraints.

And yet the chattering classes will pretend this is something new with Trump.


Brett Kavanaugh Called John Yoo His “Magic Bullet”

And Bill Burck thinks American citizens should not know that fact before Kavanaugh gets a lifetime appointment.


Gina Haspel Destroyed the Tapes in 2005 to Hide What She Destroyed in 2002

When Gina Haspel was testifying on Wednesday, she confused those of us who know the history of the torture tapes well. She made two claims that didn’t accord with the public record of the tapes that were destroyed. First, she said that only one detainee was depicted on the 92 tapes that got destroyed. Additionally, she said she, “didn’t appear on the tapes, as has been mischaracterized in the press.”

Yet as an inventory of the tapes shows, two of the tapes depicted Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, though those tapes were taped over every day.

So there should have been two tapes depicting Nashiri’s torture, and given that she oversaw his torture, there’s a good chance she’d appear on them.

When Charlie Savage asked CIA about the discrepancy, they pointed to a CIA IG review done of the tapes that showed a number of the tapes had been altered before the review.

“Gina Haspel supervised the torture of al-Nashiri, which raises the stakes on the question of whether there were or were not remaining tapes of his torture,” said Hina Shamsi, the director of the A.C.L.U.’s national security project.

Asked about the apparent discrepancy, the C.I.A. pointed without comment to several pages of another document previously released under the Freedom of Information Act that discussed how the agency logged the contents of the 92 tapes before destroying them. It said 11 were blank, two were blank “except for one or two minutes of recording,” and “two were broken and could not be reviewed.”

In 2010, I noted that John Durham was clearly investigating two rounds of torture tape destruction: the second round, in 2005, when Gina Haspel helped her boss Jose Rodriguez destroy all the undamaged tapes. And the first round, in 2002 or 2003, when someone destroyed the evidence on what must be the most damning tapes.

As you recall, when the CIA IG reviewed the torture tapes in May 2003 (that is, five months after McPherson’s review), there were 15 tapes in some state of damage or erasure.

OIG found 11 interrogation tapes to be blank. Two others were blank except for one or two minutes of recording. Two others were broken and could not be reviewed. OIG compared the videotapes to logs and cables and identified a 21-hour period of time” which included two waterboard sessions” that was not captured on the videotapes.

You see, John Durham is investigating two incidents of torture tape destruction: the first, when in 2002 or 2003 someone removed evidence of two sessions of waterboarding (and potentially, the use of mock burial that would be declared torture by John Yoo) from the videotapes. And the second one, on November 8, 2005, when someone destroyed all the tapes, which not only destroyed evidence of waterboarding that violated the terms of the Bybee Two memo, but also destroyed evidence of the first round of destruction.

And John McPherson is likely the only person who can pinpoint when the first round of destruction occurred, before or after November-December 2002.

Now, all that doesn’t tell us precisely what Durham is after or whom, though I’d suggest he’s at least as interested in the people in the loop of the first round of destruction as the second.

As I said, it was not clear who he was after, the names of the people who had destroyed the tapes in the second round or in the first round.

But it appears CIA has now confirmed that: Gina Haspel. The CIA appears to be saying that Gina Haspel was the culprit both of those times.

And when she testified under oath on Wednesday that she supported destroying the tapes because the faces off officers appeared on the tapes, she was only partly telling the truth. It appears virtually certain (particularly given the focus on declassifying the Durham report so people can read his conclusions), she also supported destroying the tapes to hide the first round of destruction she had carried out. If so, she may have done so to hide the fact that her own face didn’t appear on the tapes, if it once had.

One more point: This makes Haspel’s enthusiasm for keeping torture in 2005-2007 all the more damning. Over two years earlier, Haspel appears to have destroyed evidence of how bad torture was. But she was still pushing to keep it even after hiding what she had done.


Gina Haspel Seems to Admit Knowing Jane Harman Opposed Torture Tape Destruction — Just Not Caring

Gina Haspel provided two significantly different responses in questions for the record about her knowledge of Jane Harman’s opposition to torture tape destruction and Carl Levin’s proposal to launch a commission to investigate torture.

Here’s how she answered a Dianne Feinstein question about Harman, who first said CIA shouldn’t destroy the tape in 2003 while serving as Ranking Member.

Question: (U) At the time of the tapes’ destruction, were you aware of the request from Representative Jane Harman that the videos be preserved? Were you aware of CIA attorneys’ concerns that congressional investigators or a congressionally authorized commission might seek access to them? Were you aware of the White House Counsel’s and Director of National Intelligence’s instructions that they not be destroyed?

Response: (U) To the best of my recollection, at the time of the destruction of the videotapes, I was aware of concerns raised in several quarters about destroying the tapes, but I was told that there were no legal prohibitions to destroying the tapes. Ultimately, the decision to destroy the tapes was made by the former Deputy Director for Operations.

In response to a question about Harman, Haspel admits that she was aware of opposition to destroying the tapes (Harman’s opposition showed up in a number of internal reviews, so there was would have been a paper trail documenting her knowledge). Her response suggests Congressional opposition to destroying the tapes did not affect the legal question.

Compare that to her answer about Carl Levin’s initial efforts to conduct an inquiry into torture just days before the tapes were destroyed.

Question: (U) Were you aware that legislation had been introduced in the U.S. Congress to review detainee issues when you drafted the cable authorizing the destruction of detainee interrogation videotapes on November 8, 2005? Please describe all conversations you had regarding congressional oversight of this matter prior to the destruction of the videotapes.

Response: (U) To the best of my recollection, I was not aware of this proposed legislation and I do not recall any discussions pertaining to congressional oversight of detainee videotapes prior to the destruction in November 2005.

Here, she offers a “do not recall” answer, probably because she and Jose Rodriguez did not memorialize any discussions of the possibility that Congress might shortly demand that CIA retain the tapes, if they had any discussions, so there was no proof she knew of it. She’s also discounting Harman’s objection as something other than “congressional oversight of detainee videotapes.”

Ultimately, it all comes down to not giving a shit what Congress thinks, though, while carefully protecting herself against claims that they destroyed the tapes in response to Levin’s actions, as opposed to the public reporting on the torture program that also immediately preceded the tape destruction.


Ron Wyden Makes It Clear Gina Haspel Pushed for Torture to Continue in 2005

Among the many, many damning details of Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearing, one sticks out. Ron Wyden asked her whether, during the 2005 to 2007 period, whether she ever asked for the torture program to be continued or expanded. She didn’t answer. Instead, she dodged:

Haspel: Like all of us who were in the counterterrorism center and working at CIA in those years after 9/11, we all believed in our work, we were committed, we had been charged with making sure the country wasn’t attacked again. And we had been informed that the techniques in CIA’s program were legal and authorized by the highest legal authority in our country and also the President. So I believe, I and my colleagues in the counterterrorism center were working as hard as we could with the tools that we were given to make sure that we were successful in our mission.

Wyden: My time is short and that, respectfully, is not responsive to the question. That was a period where the agency was capturing fewer detainees, waterboarding was no longer approved, and especially in light of that Washington Post story, I would really like to have on the record whether you ever called for the program to be continued, which it sure sounds to me like your answer suggested. You said, well we were doing our job it ought to be continued.

This makes it clear that Haspel was involved in reauthorizing torture in 2005, in a process that was as rife with lies to DOJ as the original authorization process had been.

It also makes Haspel directly responsible for the torture of people like Abu Farj al-Lbi, which the torture report describes this way.

On May 2005, one day after al-Libi’s arrival at DETENTION SITE BLACK, CIA interrogators received CIA Headquarters approval for the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Faraj al-Libi. CIA interrogators began using the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Faraj al-Libi on May 28, 2005, two days before the OLC issued its memorandum analyzing whether the techniques violated U.S. obligations under the Convention Against Torture.891

The CIA interrogated Abu Faraj al-Libi for more than a month using tlie CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques. On a number of occasions, CIA interrogators applied the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques to Abu Faraj al-Libi when he complained of a loss of hearing,repeatedly telling him to stop pretending he could not hear well.892 Although the interrogators indicated that they believed al-Libi’s complaint was an interrogation resistance technique, Abu Faraj al-Libi was fitted for a hearing aid after his transfer to U.S. military custody at Guantanamo Bay in 2006.893 Despite the repeated and extensive use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques on AbuFaraj al-Libi, CIA Headquarters continued to insist throughout the summer and fall of 2005 that Abu Faraj al-Libi was withholding information and pressed for the renewed use of the techniques. The use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques against Abu Faraj al-Libi was eventually discontinued because CIA officers stated that they had no intelligence to demonstrate that Abu Faraj al-Libi continued to withhold information, and because CIA medical officers expressed concern that additional use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques “may come with unacceptable medical or psychological risks.894 After the discontinuation of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, the CIA asked Abu Faraj al-Libi about UBL facilitator Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti for the first time.895 Abu Faraj al-Libi denied knowledge of al-Kuwaiti.896

That Haspel appears to have pushed to use torture with al-Libi is significant for multiple reasons. First, as noted, the CIA tortured al-Libi immediately after taking him into custody. There was no show of seeing whether he would cooperate. The CIA used his claim of hearing problems — a claim that turned out to be true — as an excuse to do more torture. CIA apparently kept asking to resume torture with him, even though it didn’t work.

Really importantly for the legacy of the torture program, al-Libi not only didn’t reveal the identity of Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti while he was being tortured, he continued to lie about it after he was tortured.

But Haspel’s involvement in this might be most problematic given the timing of it. As noted, the CIA asked for custody of al-Libi while they were still getting torture reauthorized; the first two Bradbury memos, authorizing torture and then their use of them in combination, were approved on May 10. As further noted, however, CIA started torturing al-Libi before the last Bradbury memo was signed on May 30. We know from Jim Comey’s memos about that process that DOJ was pushed very hard to approve them. Critically important, however, is that Alberto Gonzales made a case against reapproving torture at the May 31 principals meeting. In spite of DOJ concerns, the principals committee reapproved all the techniques.

That’s because CIA had already started torturing al-Libi. Effectively, CIA (so, presumably, Haspel, among others), rushed to torture al-Libi so that the government would have no choice but to reauthorize it.


Gina Haspel’s Fluid Moral Compass

I expected to dislike Gina Haspel, but be impressed with her competence (the same view I always had about John Brennan). But she did not come off as competent in her confirmation hearing, in large part because the lies surrounding her career cannot be sustained.

Let’s start with the questions she didn’t answer (usually offering a non-responsive rehearsed answer instead). She refused to say:

  • Whether she believes, with the benefit of hindsight, torture was immoral.
  • If a terrorist tortured a CIA officer, whether that would be immoral.
  • Whether the torture program was consistent with American values.
  • Whether she oversaw the torture of Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri.
  • Whether she was in a role supervising torture before she became Jose Rodriguez’ Chief of Staff.
  • Whether she pushed to keep the torture program between 2005 and 2007 (see that question here).
  • Whether she would recuse from declassification decisions relating to her nomination.
  • Whether Dan Coats should oversee declassification decisions regarding her nomination.
  • Whether she has been alone with President Trump.
  • Whether she would tell Congress if he asked her for a loyalty oath.

She also answered that she didn’t think torture worked, but then hedged and said she couldn’t say that because we got evidence from it.

She did answer one question that went to the core of her abuse when she participated in the destruction of the torture tapes. She said she would consider it insubordination today if an officer bypassed her for something as substantive as destroying the tapes, as Jose Rodriguez did. But she as much as said she would have destroyed the tape much earlier, because of the security risk they posed to the officers who appeared in the videos.

Then there was the logical inconsistency of her presentation. Several Senators, including Mark Warner, Dianne Feinstein, Ron Wyden, and Kamala Harris, complained about the selective declassification of information surrounding her confirmation. Haspel explained that she had to abide by the rules of classification just like everyone else. Not only was that transparent bullshit on its face (as Harris noted, the CIA released a great deal of information that revealed details of her operations), during the course of the hearing she provided details about her first meeting with an asset, Jennifer Matthews’ life and assignments, and a counter-drug program that also must be classified, and yet she was willing to simply blurt them out.

Perhaps most remarkable, though, is a key claim she made to excuse the destruction of the torture tape.

She claimed she did not recall which of the long list of entities that opposed the destruction of the torture tape she knew about at the time. That includes a move by Carl Levin to form a congressional commission to investigate torture. But on several occasions, she said that because the torture was covered in cable traffic, no other evidence needed to be kept.

That assumes, of course, that both the specific CIA cable and CIA cables generally are a fair rendition of any event CIA does (it’s not; in this case, and some videos were destroyed before the reviews finding them to match).

But when the Senate Intelligence Committee did a 6.700 page report based on the cables CIA used to describe their own torture, CIA wailed because SSCI didn’t interview the individual officers. Haspel effectively suggested that cables, in the absence of the torture tapes, would be sufficient for a congressional commission. Yet when Congress used cables to do an investigation of torture, CIA then claimed that was invalid.

When asked whether torture was moral, Haspel instead repeatedly insisted she has a sound moral compass. Except what her testimony made clear is that her idea of moral compass has everything to do with what is good for the CIA and its officers. It has absolutely nothing to do with traditional moral values. That’s not actually surprising. That’s what we ask of clandestine CIA officers: to break the rules normal people adhere to, in the name of serving our country, and to remain absolutely loyal to those whose lives are exposed in doing so.

Except today, Haspel proved unable to move beyond the fluid moral compass of a CIA officer to adopt a more stringent moral code of an official serving a democracy.

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/torture/