CIA: Haspel ‘acted appropriately’ in destruction of torture tapes
The CIA on Friday declassified a 2011 disciplinary memo that concludes Gina Haspel "acted appropriately" regarding the destruction of videotapes showing brutal interrogations of detained terrorist suspects — a move aimed at assisting her embattled nomination to lead the spy agency.
The memo, written by then-CIA deputy director Michael Morell, confirms that Haspel drafted a cable directing the destruction of more than 90 interrogation tapes but did so on the orders of her then-supervisor, former CIA clandestine service director Jose Rodriguez.
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The destroyed tapes are a central concern of senators weighing Haspel’s nomination to be President Donald Trump’s next CIA director. Whether Friday’s declassified memo will help win over skeptical members in both parties is uncertain.
"This is a good step, but it is only one step," Rachel Cohen, spokeswoman for Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), said by email. "Senator Warner will continue to press the CIA to declassify additional documents and material regarding Ms. Haspel’s background."
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), an early critic of Haspel, said in a statement that the Morell memo “is highly incomplete, raising far more questions about Ms. Haspel than it answers,” adding that "the administration needs to release much more information about this episode, including the extensive record described in the Morell report.”
Morell found "no fault with the performance of Ms. Haspel," he wrote in the memo, which the CIA stated came at the request of Senate Intelligence Committee members.
"She drafted the cable on the direct orders of Mr. Rodriguez; she did not release that cable. It was not her decision to destroy the tapes; it was Mr. Rodriguez’s."
Morell found that Haspel "acted appropriately in her role" as Rodriguez’s chief of staff regarding the tapes, "including in her efforts to press for and facilitate a resolution of the matter." Haspel also "claims that she believed — incorrectly, as it turned out — that Mr. Rodriguez was going to obtain approval from" Porter Goss, then CIA director, in advance of the tapes’ destruction in 2005.
Haspel followed up with Rodriguez after the tapes were destroyed to inquire about that approval, according to Morell. Rodriguez later stated that he acted on his own accord in "what he believed to be the best interests of the CIA and its officers," the 2011 memo states.
The destroyed tapes reportedly depict the harsh interrogations of two high-level detained al-Qaeda suspects, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, both of whom were subjected to waterboarding — techniques that critics say amount to torture and which Congress later outlawed.
In a statement released Friday about the declassification, Morell said that he had found Rodriguez to be the decision-maker "who should be held accountable and reprimanded. My findings and decision were shared, at the time, with both the White House and Congress. There were no follow-up questions from either."
Haspel has also drawn fire from liberal and human rights groups for her supervisory role at the CIA "black site," though she did not arrive there until after Zubaydah’s waterboarding.
Haspel’s nomination faces uncertain odds. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) plans to oppose her confirmation over her role in the George W. Bush administration’s "enhanced interrogation techniques" program.
In a Senate narrowly divided 51-49, and with GOP Sen. John McCain recovering from brain cancer in Arizona, Paul’s opposition means that Haspel will need Democratic support to get confirmed.
The CIA has worked to boost Haspel’s nomination, and an agency spokesperson said in a statement that the newly released memo "shows that Deputy Director Haspel has been consistent and clear in describing her role in the incident. She did not appear in the tapes, nor did she make the decision to destroy them. The review also makes clear that the decision to destroy the tapes was made by Jose Rodriguez, who has publicly taken responsibility for his actions."
The spokesperson also noted that Morell wrote his 2011 memo after the Obama administration’s Department of Justice opted against charging any CIA official in connection with the tapes’ destruction.