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CIA director nominee Haspel and the destruction of interrogation tapes: Contradictions and questions

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“There was an internal investigation of the issue conducted by one of my predecessors, Mr. Morell, who found no fault with my actions and that my decisions were consistent with my obligations as an agency officer.”
— Gina Haspel, nominee to be CIA director, in remarks during her confirmation hearing, May 9, 2018

A key issue in Gina Haspel’s nomination to be CIA director is her role in the CIA’s 2005 destruction of videotapes documenting interrogation sessions with al-Qaeda detainees using brutal techniques, including waterboarding. In preparation for her hearing, the CIA declassified a 2011 internal disciplinary review, written by then-deputy CIA director Michael Morell, that Haspel and her allies have said exonerated her.

“I have found no fault with the performance of Ms. Haspel,” Morell wrote. He essentially said she was a “good soldier” who followed orders, including an order to draft the cable to destroy the tapes.

But there’s less to this review than meets the eye, and various other accounts (principally memoirs of CIA officials) have raised other questions about her role in the tape decision. During her hearing, Haspel addressed some of those questions. As a reader service, here’s a guide to what happened to the debate.

The Facts

On Nov. 8, 2005, the Senate voted on whether to approve an independent investigation of CIA’s treatment of detainees. The proposal, advanced by then-Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), was voted down, but at the time, a CIA detention facility in Thailand retained 92 videotapes of interrogations — 90 of Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein (better known as Abu Zubaida) and two of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. (A 2004 CIA Inspector General report found that 11 were blank, two were mostly blank and two were broken.)

That same day, Jose Rodriguez, then director of the National Clandestine Service, sent a cable to Thailand facility instructing CIA personnel there to use an “industrial strength shredder” to destroy the tapes. On Nov. 9, the tapes were destroyed.

Haspel was Rodriguez’s chief of staff at the time and she testified that she received a notice on her computer that the cable had been sent. In late 2002, Haspel oversaw the secret Thailand facility, where one al-Qaeda suspect had been waterboarded. Another detainee also was waterboarded before Haspel’s arrival.

John Rizzo, then the acting CIA general counsel, had long been involved in the seemingly endless debate inside the


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