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Iran Press TV

Lawmakers, activists decry CIA No. 2's link to black site prison torture

Iran Press TV

Sun Feb 5, 2017 1:19AM

Donald Trump's selection of an officer, linked to CIA's notorious torture of terror suspects in overseas black site prisons, as the spy agency's deputy chief has sparked opposition by Democratic lawmakers and human rights activists.

The US president picked as the Central Intelligence Agency's second-in-command a veteran clandestine officer, Gina Haspel, "who oversaw the brutal interrogation of two terrorism suspects at a black site in Thailand – and then later played a role in the destruction of video tapes documenting the harsh treatment of the detainees," Washington-based news outlet The Hill reported Saturday citing "multiple reports."

The development comes amid reports that the Trump administration intended to reopen CIA's overseas "black site" prisons, where agency officers once tortured terrorism suspects, but backed off due to a strong bipartisan opposition from Congress and cabinet officials.

According to the report, ranking member of US Senate's Intelligence Committee Senator Dianne Feinstein of California blocked Haspel's promotion to the head of CIA's clandestine services in 2013 over her role in the so-called enhanced interrogation (torture) program.

The report further underlined that US-based human rights activists regard Haspel's promotion as "confirmation of their worst fears about the intentions of the new administration."

"We are gravely concerned that, only a few days after taking office, CIA Director [Mike] Pompeo has selected as his deputy a person who has run a secret CIA torture prison and then lobbied to destroy evidence of the crimes committed there," said deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington DC, Christopher Anders as quoted in the report.

Haspel, a 30-year veteran of the spy agency, was reportedly in charge of torturing and interrogating two captured terrorism suspects, identified as Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

Zubaydah alone, the report added, "was waterboarded 83 times in a single month, slammed into walls and confined in a coffin-like box" before CIA interrogators determined that he had no useful information to provide.

"I felt I was going to explode from bending my legs and my back and from being unable to spread them not even for short instants," he wrote to his lawyers in 2008, describing being placed in the box. "The very strong pain made me scream unconsciously."

The torture and interrogation sessions were recorded by the US spy agency, "but the videotapes were ordered destroyed in 2005," the report underlines citing a New York Times articles that further pointed out that the CIA maintains that the decision was made by Haspel's then-boss, Clandestine Service head Jose Rodriguez.

However, Haspel's name appears alongside Rodriguez's on the cable carrying the order, the report added noting that other reports cited former officials as saying that "she also lobbied to destroy the recordings."

The controversial bid to destroy evidence of CIA's involvement in torture triggered a Justice Department probe, though no charges were brought.

This is while some Democratic senators consider the promotion of Haspel to deputy director of the CIA as a clear sign that the Trump administration intends to reestablish the use of torture techniques such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation.

The report further points out that the lawmakers are cautious about publicly addressing Haspel's role in the torture program since only a heavily-redacted 500-page executive summary of the Senate report on CIA's interrogation techniques has been declassified.

Democratic Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico sent a letter to Trump on Thursday regarding Haspel's appointment, warning that "her background makes her unsuitable for the position."

"We are sending separately a classified letter explaining our position and urge that the information in that letter be immediately declassified," they further wrote.

"I want some reassurance from her that she intends to comply with both the spirit and the letter of the law, like Director Pompeo testified that he would during his confirmation process," said ranking Senate Intelligence Committee member Mark Warner of Virginia in a statement, adding that he plans to meet with her "as soon as possible to secure that commitment."

The report insists, however, that there is very little that concerned Democratic lawmakers will be able to do to block Haspel's appointment since the position does not require Senate confirmation.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers as well as some former CIA officers view Haspel's promotion as a signal that Director Mike Pompeo "is wisely prioritizing career officials as he attempts to boost morale after months of disparaging comments about the agency from President Trump," the report said.

The appointment, one former officer argued, indicates the "consistent agency position that you shouldn't punish good officers for doing their best in difficult circumstances."

Trump insisted in a televised interview last month that he "absolutely" thinks that waterboarding works and would consider reinstating it as senior administration officials see it necessary.

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