At an open confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, acting CIA Director Gina Haspel testified that the agency destroyed video tapes that show the harsh interrogation of “one detainee” in 2005 — a decision with which she was closely involved. But internal CIA records suggest that may not be the case.
Haspel’s statement came as she was correcting Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who incorrectly asserted the 92 videotapes, which the CIA destroyed in 2005 based on a memo Haspel drafted, showed the interrogation of 92 separate detainees.
“No, the tapes were recordings of only one detainee,” Haspel responded. “It was 92 tapes of one detainee.”
That appears to contradict an undated CIA inventory of the tapes that was released to the American Civil Liberties Union as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in 2011. That inventory shows 90 videos of “Detainee #1,” identified in the inventory as “AZ” or “Abu Z” — also known as Abu Zubaydah, a suspected Al Qaeda operative the CIA waterboarded 83 times at a black site in Thailand.
Zubaydah’s interrogation occurred before Haspel took over as head of the Thailand site, according to reporting by ProPublica and The New York Times. However, Haspel did oversee three waterboarding sessions with another detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
The CIA’s inventory of the tapes shows two videos of “Detainee #2.” The top of the inventory also states its purpose as an “inventory of all videotapes and other related materials created at [redacted] during the interrogations of Al-Qa’ida detainees Zayn Al-‘Abidin Muhammad ((Husayn)) AKA Abu ((Zubaydah)) and ‘Ahd Al-Rahim Al- ((Nashiri)) AKA Mullah ((Bilal)).”
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2014 study of CIA detention and interrogation also refers to tapes of both Zubaydah and al-Nashiri.
“On December 11, 2007, the Senate Select Committeeon Intelligence … initiated a review of the destruction of videotapes related to the interrogations of CIA detainees Abu Zubaydah and ‘Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri,” says the first line of the report’s unclassified executive summary.
Most recently, the government admitted in a July 27, 2016, Military Commissions filing that 90 tapes showed Zubaydah while 2 showed al-Nashiri. That filing is part of a pending case against al-Nashiri at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility, where he is currently being held for his role in the 2000 USS Cole bombing.
The tape inventory lists the two tapes in question as “record and rewind” and “use and rewind” respectively — part of a CIA policy implemented in October 2002 that officials would only keep one day’s worth of interrogations on the tape at a single time, rewinding the tape and recording over it when a new interrogation session was recorded.
It’s not clear whether that means the two al-Nashiri tapes were blank at the time of their destruction or whether they had one day’s worth of interrogations on them.
A 2004 CIA Inspector General report found that 11 of the 92 tapes were completely blank. Two more were blank “except for one or two minutes of recording,” while two others were broken. It did not say which tapes this applied to or how they were labeled.
In her testimony Wednesday, Haspel stated flatly that she did not appear on any of the interrogation tapes in question.
“I would also make it clear that I did not appear on the tapes, as has been mischaracterized in the press,” Haspel said in response to a question from the committee chair, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC). “However, as chief of staff and I believe like everyone at the agency at that time, we were extremely concerned about the security risk that was posed to our officers.”
The CIA did not immediately respond to requests for on-the-record comment.
Experts and advocates agree it would be difficult for the CIA to restart its detention and interrogation program, and there’s little appetite for it within the agency. But President Donald Trump came out in support of torture during the 2016 presidential campaign, vowing to “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
Trump took to Twitter yesterday to rip into Haspel’s critics and praise her for being “tough on terror.”
“Gina Haspel, my highly respected nominee to lead the CIA, is being praised for the fact that she has been, and alway [sic] will be, TOUGH ON TERROR!” he tweeted. “This is a woman who has been a leader wherever she has gone. The CIA wants her to lead them into America’s bright and glorious future!”
UPDATE, May 10, 2018: Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) asked Acting CIA Director Gina Haspel on Thursday to clarify comments she made during sworn testimony the previous day that appeared to contradict CIA records.
“Senator Warner has asked Ms. Haspel to clarify that portion of her open session testimony,” spokesperson Rachel Cohen said in a statement to ThinkProgress.