On January 8, Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald reported that Trump’s CIA Director Gina Haspel had possibly been Chief of Base at a CIA black site at Guantanamo in 2003 and/or 2004.
The revelation was drawn from a redacted transcript of a classified 9/11 military commissions hearing on November 16, 2018. The redacted transcript of that meeting quoted Rita Radostitz, a defense attorney for Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM), as saying Haspel was “chief of base” at Guantanamo during the time her client had been held in a CIA black site at the Cuba-based facility.
According to Rosenberg, “Chief of base is a CIA term for the officer in charge of a secret foreign outpost.”
Radostitz had joined other military commissions defense attorneys in questioning whether Haspel had engaged in “unlawful influence” pertaining to the prosecution of her client after Haspel became first Deputy Director of the CIA in February 2017, and later was confirmed as CIA director three months later.
Coincidence or not, the ability of Military Commissions defense attorneys to approach CIA officers believed to be involved in or witness to torture of their clients was curtailed after Haspel acquired greater power within CIA.
Strangely, neither Rosenberg or anyone else reporting on the new development noted that Radostitz also claimed that Haspel had been present at yet another CIA black site, this one in Poland.
Detention Site BLUE
Radostitz argued that the inability to question witnesses or speak about classified information attorneys had gathered made it very difficult to defend their clients. In the context of the Poland revelation, Radostitz was asking for permission to present the information about Haspel’s work in Poland to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI).
According to the document, Radostitz told the court, “… we request permission to provide information to the Senate Select Committee that Gina Haspel was in Site Blue or #4.” The designation “#4” would seem to relate to where in the sequence of new black sites the Poland site would fall.
“Detention Site Blue” was the name the SCCI gave to the CIA’s Polish black site in their report on the CIA Detention and Interrogation Program.
It is not clear that anyone in Congress ever got Radostitz’s information. Requests for comment from both the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, were not returned as of the time of publication.
According to the SSCI report, the Poland site was the scene of unauthorized interrogation methods used on al-Nashiri, including having a gun placed next to his head, and operating “a cordless drill near al-Nashiri’s body.” The CIA officer involved, as well as the Poland black site Chief of Base, were later supposedly disciplined by CIA for these unauthorized actions, and both later retired from the CIA.
But was Gina Haspel present during these events?
During the Senate confirmation process of President Trump’s nomination of Haspel as CIA director, four Democratic senators on the committee wrote to the Director of National Intelligence, Daniel Coats, asking him to “declassify all Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) information related to any involvement by Ms. Gina Haspel, the current Acting Director of the CIA, in the CIA’s Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation program.”
Nothing concerning Haspel’s work or presence at any CIA black sites except the “Cat’s Eye” site in Thailand was ever mentioned during Haspel’s confirmation process for CIA director.
Before the SSCI report was released, an important January 2014 article by Adam Goldman at the Washington Post described the Poland secret site, which CIA called code name “Quartz,” after purchasing the old Polish intelligence training site at Stare Kiejkuty, north of Warsaw.
During the approximately 3 years of its operation, “Quartz,” which was supposedly built to house two prisoners, held at least five prisoners, among them KSM, Abu Zubaydah, and alleged USS Cole bomber Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. According to the Post account, Zubaydah and al-Nashiri were taken to the Polish prison on December 5, 2002.
“The CIA prison in Poland was arguably the most important of all the black sites created by the agency after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks,” Goldman wrote.
The legal consequences of the torture continue to mount. According to Charles Church at Lawfare, “As a result of the complicity of both Poland and Lithuania in Abu Zubaydah’s captivity and torture, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that both nations owed him 100,000 euros each.”
According to a Just Security report last year, in May 2018 ECHR also “handed down…judgments in two cases involving European countries that had hosted CIA ‘black sites’ in their territory.” In both cases — Al Nashiri v. Romania and Abu Zubaydah v. Lithuania — ECHR found that Poland and Lithuania, “through their cooperation with CIA extraordinary renditions of the applicants, had committed multiple violations of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
This new revelation regarding Gina Haspel’s presence at “Site Blue” in Poland, along with the apparent outing of her Guantanamo posting, raise a host of new questions about Gina Haspel’s involvement with the CIA’s Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation (RDI) program. Her presence at Poland and Guantanamo goes along with earlier, well-publicized accounts of Haspel’s posting at the CIA black site in Thailand during the time al-Nashiri was waterboarded there, and her role in the destruction of torture videotapes from the Thai-based CIA prison.
Last December, I broke the story that the CIA’s RDI program was not the only torture program run by the CIA. The article also detailed revelations from a memorandum by the chief of the CIA’s Office of Medical Services showing that the highly-classified and monitored RDI program appeared to hide illegal experimentation on CIA detainees, at least in part under the cloak of “quality control.”
Meanwhile, a separate CIA black site program in Afghanistan (and possibly elsewhere) was conducted without much CIA oversight, especially from medical personnel, as can be discerned from both the testimony of the Chief of CIA’s Office of Medical Services, and from the fragmentary narrative provided in the SSCI Executive Summary of its unpublished investigation into CIA’s detention and interrogation program.
Haspel’s alleged presence at the Poland black site raises the question of possible prosecution of America’s top spy chief for war crimes. Poland is a member of the International Criminal Court, and Haspel could be considered liable for war crimes committed on its territory. (See this analysis.)
In addition, according to legal documents posted online, as of May 2017, there was still an investigation by the Organized Crimes Division of the Regional Public Prosecutor’s office in Kraków, Poland into the operations of the CIA’s black site and complicity by Polish officials.
Drawing on questions former CIA officer John Kiriakou asked in print after the news surfaced regarding Haspel’s work at Guantanamo, one wonders when exactly Haspel was at the Poland black site? Was she involved in the torture of prisoners there? Were videos made of the interrogations and torture, and did Haspel then also destroy them? Did she disclose her time at the “Quartz” black site to the SSCI prior to her nomination hearing?
Given the amount of new information surfacing, the question arises whether or not Haspel committed perjury during her Congressional hearings, or whether or not Congressional personnel colluded with members of the Trump administration, including Haspel, in hiding the totality of her participation in the CIA’s torture program.
The biggest question remains whether there is any political will by those in power to pursue these questions in a legal or political setting, or whether the mainstream press or human rights groups will continue to press the issue at all.
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Full but redacted transcript below of a November 16, 2018 Military Commissions hearing is taken from the public posting by Carol Rosenberg and the Miami Herald. The actual Military Commissions website posting for the same hearing spans three different URLs, Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. The relevant quotes upon which this article relies can be found in the last 10 pages or so of Part Three.