ProPublica's Reporting Error Shows Why The Government Must Declassify Details Of Gina Haspel's Role In CIA Torture

from the please-explain dept

Last week, we wrote a bit about Donald Trump’s nominee to head the CIA, Gina Haspel. That post highlighted a bunch of reporting about Haspel’s role in running a CIA blacksite in Thailand that was a key spot in the CIA’s torture program. Soon after we published it, ProPublica retracted and corrected an earlier piece — on which much of the reporting about Haspel’s connection to torture relied on. Apparently, ProPublica was wrong on the date at which Haspel started at the site, meaning that she took over soon after the most famous torture victim, Abu Zaubaydah, was no longer being tortured. Thus earlier claims that she oversaw his inhumane, brutal, and war crimes-violating torture were incorrect. To some, this error, has been used to toss out all of the concerns and complaints about Haspel, even though reporters now agree that she did oversee the torture of at least one other prisoner at a time when other CIA employees were seeking to transfer out of the site out of disgust for what the CIA was doing.

However, what this incident should do is make it clear that the Senate should not move forward with Haspel’s nomination unless the details of her involvement is declassified. As Trevor Timm notes, ProPublica’s error was not due to problematic reporting, but was the inevitable result of the CIA hiding important information from the public.

In its report, ProPublica was forced to use a combination of heavily censored CIA and court documents and anonymous sources to piece together what happened over a decade ago in the secret CIA prison Haspel ran. Many of the documents were made public only after years of Freedom of Information Act fights brought by public interest groups, while many other documents on Haspel?s CIA tenure remain classified.

These types of unintentional mistakes would be almost entirely avoidable if journalists did not have to read between the lines of ridiculous government redactions meant to cover up crimes.

The most obvious example of this is the Senate?s 500-page summary of the torture report it released in 2014. How many times is Haspel named in the torture report? We have no idea. The redactions on the report completely obscured the names of all participants in the torture program, including the CIA personnel involved, as well as their partners in crime from authoritarian dictatorships like Libya, Egypt, and Syria.

At the time of the report?s release, advocates proposed that CIA personnel should at least be identified by pseudonyms so that the public could understand how many people were involved and if a particular person was responsible for more than others. That proposal was rejected as well.

Because of that, mistakes like the one ProPublica made are inevitable — because the CIA (and those involved in declassifying what little was released from the Senate’s CIA torture report) made it inevitable. Conveniently, this allows the CIA to discredit journalists who are working to report on these important issues.

So this should give even more weight to the demands of various human rights groups to declassify the details of Haspel’s involvement. There can be no legitimate national security interest in continuing to keep this information secret. The program was ended long ago. It’s been confirmed that Haspel ran the site and was part of the process to destroy the tapes of what happened. But there are more details that must be revealed.

Indeed, the Daily Beast claims that it has separate confirmation that Haspel actually was “in a position of responsibility” during the Zubadaydah interrogation, though she wasn’t present at the site. So it’s possible that even ProPublica’s “correction” is at least somewhat misleading. Which, again, is all the more reason to reveal to the public what actual authority and responsibility she had over the torture program.

And, as a side note, it’s worth remembering that former CIA officer, John Kiriakou, was sent to jail for revealing the existence of the torture program. And now the woman who appears to have had authority over at least some of it (as well as the cover-up) may get to lead the CIA? Shouldn’t our Senators at least demand a full public understanding of her role in all of it first?

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Comments on “ProPublica's Reporting Error Shows Why The Government Must Declassify Details Of Gina Haspel's Role In CIA Torture”

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46 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That’s an interesting point. One argument that could be made is that becuse quite a few “unlawful combatants” died because they were not tortured “properly,” it would be a good idea to make sure that the lessons learned regarding torture should not be forgotten, just in case the US decides to go that route again anytime soon. In the interest of saving lives, of course.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Congrats, you're a disgusting individual

Would you similarly expect a counselor for sexual abuse victims to have themselves engaged in the practice? After all, who would know better what’s involved than someone who’s done it directly?

I give you points only for publicly admitting what a despicable person you are via defending torture and someone involved in it, and can only hope that you’re just playing the part of a poe.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Congrats, you're a disgusting individual

The CIA’s mission is not to aid and comfort people. It’s job is to deceive, spy, and backstab, just as the military’s job is to kill and destroy. Although their jobs are different, both are instruments of war, a very dirty business by any measure.

We are taught that its perfectly acceptable to kill millions of innocent people in war (even an undefined and open-ended “war against terror”) yet it’s considered a far worse crime to inflict non-lethal pain and suffering on a tiny fraction of that number.

Yet questioning these ethical conundrums can easily generate temper tantrums rather than rational debate.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: They hate us for our freedoms. The torture and drone strikes too

It’s job is to deceive, spy, and backstab, just as the military’s job is to kill and destroy.

Within limits, that is the important part. While the ‘limits’ have been stretched to the breaking point at times(if not outright broken), once you start employing the tactics of your enemies you are no better than them. Once you throw out the rules an already ugly business(war/military action) becomes vastly worse, and that is why those limits exist.

However, if ‘government agencies should have rules and not engage in gross violations of human rights’ isn’t a good enough justification to not engage in torture, you’ve also got the idea of ‘turnabout is fair play’.

The USG engaging in torture means they have zero grounds to object if an enemy does it to US soldiers(or hell, even non-combatants). Engaging in torture makes friendly forces far more at risk for the same thing, and provides a perfect tool that the enemy can use to recruit and get people against you.

Even ignoring the ethical concerns, the fact that it doesn’t work, the practical concerns should be plenty. If you don’t want US citizens and/or military personnel to be tortured, it kinda helps if the USG doesn’t engage in or at the very least appoint as head of the CIA someone who defends the practice.

There is no ‘rational debate’ to be had about torture if it involves defending it, you might as well have a ‘rational debate’ about rape. Sure you might be able to dream up a hypothetical scenario where raping someone, or threatening to rape them might prevent what you see as a ‘greater evil’, but at the point you’re defending torture or rape you’ve absolutely lost any moral high ground, and need to take a long look at the tattered remains of your ethical and moral systems and how you apply them to the world.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "Its perfectly acceptable to kill millions"

Evidently you do not understand war at all.

The point of war is to resolve the conflict and come to terms of peace using the least amount of force possible. Which is why it is abominable that the US resorts to massacring civilians by the hundreds just in the hopes of nailing a person of interest, or two.

But that is also to say you aren’t alone in misunderstanding war. Officials of the United States have leaned towards heavy-handedness in war, not realizing that it destroys the reputation of the United States and strips the US of our soft power (which John Oliver discussed and explained recently).

By torturing, and by massacring the United States has confirmed it is as monstrous as our enemies say we are. And it drives all the more survivors to their recruitment agents.

And what’s worse, the US doesn’t torture because it’s effective. The US doesn’t firebomb villages because it’s in US interests to do so. America’s officials don’t respect Afghanis or Pakistanis as human beings, so they just don’t care.

I wonder if it’s because they’re just not white or Christian enough.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 To make money

I’ll grant you that conflicts that lead to war typically occur when the fight can lead to a large amount of money, property or resources changing hands. We tend not to fight over ideologies, but to seize territory or control of resources.

But I think that’s one of multiple factors to start the proverbial fire. We don’t go to war without a lucrative cause. But the people won’t get behind a war unless it appears there is a difference worth fighting over. If the new boss already looks too much like the old boss, the people won’t rally.

That’s where the difference in ideologies, or the perceived wrongdoing or the threat or the promise come in. And yes, too often this difference is false or illusory.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 To make money

The making money part isn’t necessarily about seizing resources or gaining control of territory: when a sizeable chunk of the economy runs on the military-industrial complex you actually need war to keep people in jobs.

I’m not kidding when I say that if we all went “Kum ba Yah!” tomorrow, a lot of people would be looking for new jobs the day after. That’s the trouble with globalism: when you import stuff you could make yourselves because it’s cheaper you have to find other ways of employing the population, otherwise the economy suffers.

It’s not just about manufacturing weapons as such, it’s all the support industries that rely on this for business. Think about it: all the companies supplying materials, etc., would be scrambling to find new customers. That’s what makes the military-industrial complex so complex.

ToS says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "Its perfectly acceptable to kill millions"

Christian enough?

Honey, you have no idea what it means to be a true Christian!

Think of it in terms of family. Not a dysfunctional family but a real family where members love, support and nurture each other; and show tolerance, compassion and love for those who don’t understand/don’t want to understand. Now that’s Christianity.

Too bad even many who claim to be “Christian” don’t get it.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Sufficiently Christian (in the eyes of the US administration)

I was commenting about the administrations of the United States, who have in recent history been eager to dismiss proper rules of engagement against their brown-skinned, often Muslim enemies.

The George W. Bush administration not only tortured POWs in Iraqi Freedom but would use mercenaries for to sweep and clear regions (id est, massacring everyone, including civilians in a zone). The Bush administration even sought to justify dismissing the Geneva Convention entirely so as to ignore proper treatment of POWs and refugees

In contrast, the US was a bit more steadfast about clean rules of engagement when fighting Soviet forces during the cold war. But then the US military was fine with atrocity in Vietnam and in South America.

So this led me to wonder if our policy regarding one enemy versus another was due to the race or religion of the units we were encountering on the front line. (Technically, the USSR was atheist, as religion was forbidden, but much of the Soviet population practiced underground, and US officials liked to imagine we were rescuing the wretched Soviet peoples from their godless oppressors)

So I wasn’t talking about the debate over who is (or isn’t) a true Christian, or what it means to be one. Rather I was considering how US officials regard certain peoples, and if those people are not white or not Christian, do we regard them differently on the battlefield, or as captured POWs. If we had liberated, say, France or Italy (both are still largely Catholic nations) rather than Iraq, would we have tortured them? Would we have bombed out villages because a person of interest might have been there?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Sufficiently Christian to serve in the US Army

Wendy Cockroft I hadn’t seen those documents directly before, but I have encountered the sentiments in discussions with people genuinely afraid of an alleged implacable Islam menace. Curiously, they’d refer to Islamic scripture and I’d point out that the bible does not portray a gentle, civilized people either. See, but that’s different…

Chronologiclly this also correllates with the introduction of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness standard that was introduced into the US Military under the watch of Chief of Staff of the US Army George Casey. Solders had to show a quantifiable rating of Spiritual Fitness to which Evangelists got easy high scores, and atheists and non-Christians got conspicuously low scores, and were sent to indoctrination farms to receive guidance that looked an awful lot like military evangelization camp.

The CSF program is still part of US Army readiness preparation, though the spiritual fitness part has been adjusted to be milder to some degree. There are still complaints that it violates first-amendment rights.

But it all smacks as if our military was gearing up for a literal religious crusade against Islam. It would not surprise me, given George W. Bush really wanted to fight a righteous war, and although most religious consultants told him Iraqi Freedom was not a just war he was able to muster five ministers from his own church to tell him it was.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I expect my CIA Director to have some experience with real-life scenarios involving the need to use torture. I don’t want someone that hasn’t been there to take the lead in securing the U.S.

You expect your CIA director to be a war criminal with no morals?

I… think that’s a bad idea.

There is never a "need to use torture." Period. If you "need" to use torture, you’ve already failed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You expect your CIA director to be a war criminal with no morals?

That’s a bit of a reading comprehension fail. I said I expect the Director to have experience with such scenarios. I don’t want the director to be a suit with an online certificate demonstrating Stephen Covey skills in making friends.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Not a problem, and you don’t even need to go trawling through horrible examples of humanity to do it. Simply find someone competent, have them read the report written about the last time the CIA decided to ‘torture some folks’, quiz them on their retention to see how much of it they understood and remember, and then ask them a simple question:

‘Should the USG engage in, or support the practice of, torture?’

Anything other than ‘No’ is an instant disqualification, and would result in moving on to the next candidate until you find one that gets it right.

There, see, it’s easy to find someone who is knowledgeable on the subject and who isn’t a monstrous and disgusting human being.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Assume the worst

If they are so desperate to hide what went on, and the only person involved who’s been punished is the one who revealed the program, the default assumption should be that the agency and those involved were fully in support of the program, ended it only because they felt they had to, and would start it back up in a heartbeat.

This would include Haspel until and unless evidence was presented making clear exactly to what extent she was involved. Making one of those involved in the torture of prisoners head of the CIA is basically a public admission by the USG, even more so than the refusal to investigate or prosecute, that the USG fully supports the practice of torture.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Assume the worst

While USG is what it is and unapoligetically break the constitution if they could, CIA is another beast. The military complex in USA is a state within the state.

Some of CIAs leading people have made it clear that they don’t want those techniques back because it is incredibly bad for moral (potentially leading to leaks and resignations) and the ability to recruit is lowered (spies are their bread and butter and almost infinitely more valuable than a few words from a desperate mind). Forcing CIA to restart these activities would be tilting at windmills.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Assume the worst

Assuming the worst…With the positioning of Haspel as the new CIA director, I assume the Torture Program has already been restarted, if it actually ever stopped.

And just a note here;

Bad guys do not torture to gain intelligence – torture does not work that way.

They do it entirely for personal satisfaction.

Haspel simply loves to watch them twitch and hear them scream.

As to why she was chosen, even though she has a bad rep.

In much the same manner as a street gang will have a new member do a drive-by murder to give the gang leverage over that new member, Haspel already has a hidden dossier of her crimes, and has already proven she is willing to participate in the most heinous acts imaginable, so she can be trusted to do exactly as she is told.

She is the perfect leader for the T.Rump Torture Program.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I wonder

Has any viable information ever been extracted via torture? If it has, it has certainly not been broadcast. That it hasn’t been broadcast, then there is a reliable conjecture that torture is not a reliable source of viable information. That brings up the question of ‘why continue torture if nothing can be reliable learned from it’? The answer that we did learn something, but you are in the need to know is not an acceptable answer. We do need to know, or you need to stop. Any method is not acceptable methods, especially when they don’t work, or if you cannot prove that they work. You can only prove that by telling us what is going on, what you learned, and why what you learned is important and worth torturing a fellow human being, regardless of their ideology.

The answer to that is that there are terrible dark motivations in those that commit and those that oversee these acts (there are various psychological diagnoses, none of them good). Do we really want people with that kind of thinking actually representing our country? If not, then they should not be running our international investigative (aka spy) agencies. If the answer is yes, then we really need to take a serious look at ourselves.

If the answer is no, and we truly identify with the American ideal, and the Senate approves the appointment, then we really need to look at how we approve people to become Senators. Not to mention the wingnut that appointed them in the first place.

America, right or wrong, is not right, unless America is true to its basic concepts (read the Declaration of Independence for a begining of understanding that concept). Something I have a harder and harder time believing.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: I wonder

I’m not sure it’s a great idea to push for evidence of whether torture works or not. That tends to imply that the question of whether it’s effective is relevant. It should be a completely meaningless question, because we should never condone torture even if it’s extremely effective. Anyone in favor of torture should be producing evidence that it works, because hopefully that’s why they’re doing it, but IMO if it doesn’t work that isn’t why we shouldn’t do it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: I wonder

First of all, how do we define torture? Even the United Nations Convention against Torture (which the United States is a signatory) has a somewhat vague definition that fails to ban specific pain and discomfort inducing techniques like those that the US routinely used against prisoners of war in order to “make them talk.” John Yoo’s infamous “torture memo” set the official threshold for torture shocking high.

The Geneva Convention goes much farther, and bans any form of coercion used to extract information from a prisoner. Of course, reclassifying prisoners-of-war (which are afforded legal protection) to a new made-up term “unlawful combatants” (which supposedly strips away those protections) allowed the U.S. to make the claim that the blatant violations of the Geneva Convention were not violations at all.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: POWs versus "Unlawful Combatants"

Making the distinction wasn’t difficult to do. In Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq most of the combatants we were fighting were irregulars, which is to say they didn’t wear a national uniform and they didn’t have conventional training. Rather than regarding them as militia or partisans, the United States under George W. Bush regarded them as spies, hence they could strip them of their POW status and do whatever they wanted to them.

And to be fair, suicide bombers look like saboteurs, id est spies.

But these weren’t suicide bombers. Some were even mistargeted Americans. They weren’t spies of any kind, and it would have been appropriate to regard them like militia, civilians defending their own homes. But the Bush Administration did not want to regard them as human beings at all. Cheney implied very strongly the torture program was for his pleasure and for the appreciation of vengeance-seeking Americans.

Eventually the military ceased participating inthe program. The detainees were handed over to the CIA who rendered them to black sites.

Then again, we still torture at Camp Delta, there’s a compound to which detainees are sent for disciplinary measures (id ests, doesn’t entirely cooperate) in which all the rooms are kept in bright light and saturated with loud noise and rancid smells. So even though the DoD isn’t waterboarding anyone (that we know of) they’re still willing to shove people into the Wookie Torture Room when they’re feeling cranky, and keep them in there for months at a time.

I remember as a kid being taught that as Americans, we’d never do this kind of shit because we were better than that. My heart’s been broken over it since 2003.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: I wonder

That brings up the question of ‘why continue torture if nothing can be reliable learned from it’?

Because some people believe it does work(one US Supreme Court Justice literally used the tv show 24 as an example), that the ends justify the means, and never stop to actually think what those ‘means’ actually involve, or brush it aside as ‘well they’re bad people, so they deserve bad things’.

As nasch noted however the effectiveness should never even be a question, as the practice should be considered so abhorrent that whether it works wouldn’t even matter or come up. You could solve a lot of problems if how you do it doesn’t matter, but only if you want to throw any morality or ethics out the window, and once you start doing that things get really bad really quick.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Things getting bad.

Well, now we Americans live in a country that tortures. In a century or so we’ll get to say we did that but we don’t any more like massacring Indians, except we still treat the first nations like shit to this day.

And we’re still torturing (Mostly we outsource our torture so we can claim The US does not torture!) It means we can’t even start counting the days since there’s been an atrocity committed by Americans.

And yeah, it means we are losing soft power. Other nations are very clear America is not a model of state to be emulated.

Anonymous Coward says:

It makes little difference

Frsnkly whether or not she participated in it or just covered it up the bitch is still complicit. The question of “Would you rather have a child rapist or one who covered it up to protect one as a school principal?” has only “Neither of those monsters.” as an acceptable answer, period. She and the entire organization belong burning in hell after a new Hague trial so merciless that sociopaths everywhere are given pause because even the fucking janitors get hard time for not leaking what they knew.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Torture in history

Torture has lasted so long in history because people can be vengeful fucks. It’s natural to disregard the punks from the nearby district as undesirables or subhuman, so why concern ourselves with their suffering? Most of the wars throughout history have been against enemies we did not regard as our equals.

If by torture works you mean to say that it gets some people off to reduce their enemies to broken blubbering masses, then yeah, I agree with you.

But as was noted by Nice Guy Eddie If you fucking beat this prick long enough, he’ll tell you he started the goddamn Chicago fire! Now, that don’t necessarily make it fucking so. In fact, the US Army has studied use of torture at length and found that it consistently yields unreliable intel, and we have better methods to extract more consistently reliable intel from captives, but that involves not torturing them. But this means we have no purely utilitarian cause to torture. If we’re going to torture, we need to admit we’re doing it for the jollies.

And that’s what it comes down to. We torture some folk because we want to torture some folk. We get off on torturing folk, and even are drunk off torturing folk. That’s what it’s all about. We hate. We’re furious. We want revenge, so we make them suffer. We attempt to justify it later as if it could have been a measured deliberate choice.

I want the United States to be better. I want the US to be a nation of measured deliberate choices. Instead we make groups suffer not just at the ignorance of our aristocracy but so they can feel satisfaction that the people they hate are suffering. And an unsettling quantity of the US public gives no fucks about it.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Sean Hannity water boarded

That’s too bad that he’s refused. We’ve seen a number of correspondents over the last fifteen years try it to see what it’s like (by SERE experts, no less) and all of them came out with the same unqualified verdict: Yes. It’s torture. No, it shouldn’t be done if there are alternatives. (And there are.)

I’m curious if Hannity simply knows that his career depends on sticking to the far right ideology. His audience doesn’t want truth, they want their own views comfortably reaffirmed. And if he ever could not hold to such rhetoric (say due to a traumatic conflicting personal experience) then he’d be out of a job. But I can’t tell if he’s that self-aware.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: "It's acceptable to do... just not to ME."

It wouldn’t magically make it right, and I too disagree with the ‘and then you can torture people’ second half, but it would force pro-torture people into a ‘put up or shut up’ position, where they either go through what they are willing to subject others to, or flat out admit to gross hypocrisy.

My only objection at that point is what it would do to the people engaged in the ‘test’. The pro-torture people I would have zero sympathy with, but for the ones actually doing it you’d either need to hire sociopaths or sadists, or cause some serious mental issues to anyone even remotely decent, and neither of those are really good options.

Much like crippled encryption, those pushing to make others less safe and/or suffer should be expected to either endure what they would foist on others and that they claim is acceptable, or admit that what they are proposing isn’t acceptable, for them or others.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: "It's acceptable to do... just not to ME."

As a former Marine, I have been waterboarded. It was to train to learn how to resist torture, not to train me how to do it. I can tell you that even knowing that it was just training, it didn’t matter. You reach a point where survival instincts kick in. It works, you will eventually tell people what they want to know.

Is that torture? Define torture. Is waterboarding torture? Psychologically yes, physical no. Is telling someone you will kill their family if they don’t talk torture? Where do you draw the line?

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "It's acceptable to do... just not to ME."

@ former Marine, are you sure you wouldn’t be just telling people whatever it would take to stop them hurting you?

I’d tell you I started the Great Fire of London if you waterboarded me. Heck, the threat alone would make me say it.

I’d define torture as any deliberate act that causes physical or mental distress.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Drawing the line.

It’s the same line as what is sexual harassment: coercion and extortion.

According to international law (id est the geneva conventions) if you threaten someone with bodily harm, or threaten their children, or threaten to airstrike their village / carpet bomb their county / nuke their city / Death-Star their planet, you’ve crossed the line.

And yes, they’ll tell you whatever it is they believe will get you to stop.

What is not torture? Using the carrot instead of the stick. Every FBI behavioralist specialist agrees with Mattis’ two beers and a pack of cigarettes approach. Make it in their own best interests to talk.

During the cold war, the US got into the habit of treating Soviet POWs like kings. The point was not to get them to blab but to indoctrinate them with how awesome capitalism and democracy were. They blabbed whether we needed intel from them or not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Don’t you think the people doing these things know and understand that? Don’t you think they have ways of confirming thing?

You can train someone to resist and to give false information, but sooner or later they will give up the information.

And last I checked, we were not at war with the Soviets, so no, they were not POWs, they were spies. Different objectives.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: "Sooner or later they will give up the information"

How does an interrogator know what is a truth from a plausible lie from a wild guess by the subject of what the interogator wants to hear? It becomes really easy for false intel from one enhanced interrogation to confirm the wild flailing guesses of another. Or the beliefs of an overenthusiastic interrogator.

And at what cost? The integrity and reputation of the United States.

And yes, we’ve had Soviet POWs from incidents at sea. We’ve also had spies and defectors, there was some crossover.

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