In Defense of Gina Haspel

Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to succeed Mike Pompeo as head of the CIA, is a thirty-year veteran of the agency, one well respected by intelligence professionals from both parties. If confirmed, she will be the first woman to run our most important security agency. But despite this feminist victory, the Dems are likely to muddy the waters at her confirmation hearings by smearing her with allegations she oversaw “torture” at a black site in Thailand in 2002. Typical of what we can expect is the New York Times editorial titled, “Having a Torturer Lead the CIA,” even as the charge about the black site was shown to be untrue.

Gina Haspel was on the ground around the world, including in the Thai jungle where captured Al Qaeda terrorists were interrogated. And Haspel proved to be much tougher than some of the male politicians back in Washington D.C. who wanted to fight the terrorists who had murdered thousands of people in this country, but expected them to give up their secrets without any inconvenience or pressure.

Haspel and the people under her did the difficult and unrewarding job they had to do for their country. And, like the Vietnam veterans of a previous generation, they returned from Asia to jeers and smears. The women and men who had gone into the heart of darkness had their names dragged through the mud and their careers destroyed by the Democrats and their radical leftist media allies.

Senator Dick Durbin compared them to the “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags” and “Pol Pot”. CNN’s Anderson Cooper echoed him, “if you envision Nazis doing this, and I even hate to say this, if you envision the Khmer Rouge doing this.” And Senator McCain, who is already attacking Haspel, sleazily compared it to Pol Pot, the Spanish Inquisition and the Japanese torture of Americans during WW2.

Now many of the same activists who originally took credit for stopping Haspel in ’13 are back at it again. And some turncoat Republicans like McCain have joined them. Senator McCain has accused Gina Haspel of being involved in “one of the darkest chapters in American history”.

However Once again, the party bereft of ideas and principle resorts to emotional obfuscation and accusation to advance their ideological prejudices. So, once again, it is necessary to lay out the facts and partisan hypocrisy behind the “torture” charge that has damaged our ability to gather the intelligence necessary to defend our safety and security.

Start with the imprecise or even willfully distorted language that always perfumes unsavory ideologies. In everyday use, “torture” can mean anything from a visit to the dentist to the sadistic mayhem of brutal regimes like Iran or North Korea. As a result, indiscriminate, lurid connotations and emotions attend the use of a word like “torture,” which of course is what makes it so useful for partisan smears.

Laws, however, have to be more precise. The statute concerning torture in U.S. law defines it as “an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control.” The law further clarifies “severe mental pain or suffering” as “the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from . . . the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering.”

The key words are “intended,” “severe,” and “prolonged.” As John Yoo, who was a deputy assistant to the AG during the Bush administration, wrote in his book on the subject, in passing this legislation “Congress unquestionably intended its prohibition on torture to be narrow, much narrower than many popular understandings of the word. The alleged torturer must have acted with ‘specific intent,’ the highest level of criminal intent known to the law . . . If severe physical or mental pain or suffering results, but was unintentional, or unanticipated, it would not be torture.”

However, the law left vague what “severe” means. That is why, in 2002, the Office of Legal Counsel in the Bush administration’s Department of Justice prepared what the left tendentiously calls the “torture memos.” To clarify the law, the OLC looked to other uses of similar language in U.S. law. “The only other place” Yoo writes, “where similar words appear is in a law defining health benefits for emergency medical conditions, which are defined as severe symptoms, including ‘severe pain’ where an individual’s health is placed ‘in serious jeopardy,’ ‘serious impairment to bodily functions,’ or ‘serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part.’” So too with “prolonged” regarding “mental harm.” By including this language, “Congress prohibited the causing of posttraumatic stress disorder or chronic depression,” but not the “temporary strain” of a tough interrogation.

This analysis led to the definition of torture in the 2002 legal opinion: “physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death. For purely mental pain or suffering to amount to torture (under U.S. law), it must result in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years.” By this analysis of the law, the enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, are neither “torture” nor “illegal.”

But once the Democrats turned against the Iraq War and began exploiting it for partisan advantage during the 2003 primaries, “waterboarding” became the dog-whistle for those eager to condemn the Bush administration’s use of “torture.” Pandering to their blame-America-first base, the same Democrats who had demanded everything be done to prevent another 9/11 tossed their previous support down the memory hole. When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, one of his first actions as president — and first fulfilled campaign promise — was to issue Executive Order 13491 that rejected waterboarding and other EIT, and stripped our intelligence agents of an invaluable tool.

And an effective one. Despite the lies about the ineffectiveness of waterboarding, former CIA directors Michael Hayden, George Tenet, and Leon Panetta, along with the CIA Inspector General’s report on enhanced interrogation techniques, have said that waterboarding and other now forbidden techniques produced actionable information.

In his memoirs George Tenet wrote about the interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — the mastermind of 9/11 who personally decapitated Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. According to Tenet, “From our interrogation of KSM and other senior al-Qa’ida members and our examination of documents found on them, we learned many things — not just tactical information leading to the next capture. For example, more than twenty plots had been put in motion by al-Qa’ida against U.S. infrastructure targets . . . All these plots were in various stages of planning when we captured or killed the pre-9/11 al-Qa’ida leaders behind them.” As ex-CIA chief Hayden said, the charge that EIT yielded no useful intelligence “is so untrue” that it “actually defies human comprehension. We detained about 100 people, we had a Home Depot-like warehouse of information from those people.”

More important, in 2009 the Obama administration’s own AG, Eric Holder, confirmed the legality of waterboarding. Since tens of thousands of American service members were waterboarded during their SERE (Survive, Evade, Resist, Extract) training, Holder was asked why this training wasn’t torture and hence illegal.

Holder correctly replied, “It’s not torture in the legal sense because you’re not doing it with the intention of harming these people physically or mentally.” This same logic perforce applies to the CIA interrogators, whose intent was to gather intelligence in order to defend us from terrorist attacks. The lack of intent to harm permanently on the part of the interrogators is confirmed by the carefully calibrated limitations imposed on the techniques, as well as the presence of physicians and psychologists to monitor the proceedings and insure that the subject didn’t suffer permanent physical or mental damage.

In sum, as national security analyst Marc Thiessen wrote in Courting Disaster, “none of the techniques used by the CIA meet the standard of torture in U.S. law. This is for two reasons: first, because the CIA’s interrogators did not specifically intend to inflict severe pain and suffering; and second because they did not in fact inflict severe pain and suffering.”

But despite their earlier recognition that waterboarding was legal and effective, the Democrats continued to peddle the torture lie over the following decade. In late 2014, Senator Dianne Feinstein and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Democrat members released their “Torture Report.” This sensationalized and duplicitous document allegedly detailed the “brutal interrogation techniques in violation of U.S. law, treaty obligations, and our values,” a crime Feinstein said was “a stain on our values and on our history.”

Conveniently left out was the Dems earlier support of EIT. Despite their later claims they were shocked, shocked by the use of EIT. Jose Rodriguez, a 31-year veteran of the CIA who ran the interrogation program, detailed the hypocrisy and untruths of the report. He reminds us that in the aftermath of 9/11, lawmakers demanded that the intelligence agencies do everything possible to stop another attack. Indeed, Feinstein in May 2002 told the New York Times that “we have to do some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves.”

In her comments on the Report’s release, however, Feinstein referred to the Geneva Conventions and said, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, (including what I just read) whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” No matter that the Geneva Conventions don’t apply to terrorists, or that the EIT are not legally torture. Twelve years later, the political advantages of moral preening had trumped the recognition that hard choices have to be made sometimes to fulfill the federal government’s highest duty — to keep its citizens safe.

Rodriguez also explodes the report’s canard that the enhanced interrogation techniques were not legally sanctioned. They were in fact reviewed in 2002 and 2005 by the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, and in 2009 were also investigated by Eric Holder’s DOJ, which did not file charges against those accused of being illegal torturers. Rodriguez also debunks the claim that the CIA withheld information concerning their use from government officials. Rodriguez should know, since he was there when the CIA briefed Senator Feinstein, House member Nancy Pelosi, and other Congressmen on the techniques.

Indeed, Feinstein tacitly admitted her duplicity when she said that EIT “amount to torture.” But government policy should follow the law as written and established by Congress, not what “amounts” to the law in someone’s subjective estimation. The EIT cited in the report — threats, sleep deprivation, “physical assault,” stripping detainees naked, putting them in “stress positions” — are all obviously frightening and painful. But they are not “torture” under U.S. law. Nor is waterboarding, Exhibit A in the left’s indictment of U.S. heinous behavior. That’s why Feinstein slyly said that EIT “amount” to torture rather than explicitly calling them torture, and why she cited international conventions on torture rather than the U.S. law.

Debunking Myths Regarding the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques used on Abu Zubaydah

Inevitably, Haspels nomination have dredged up all of the old falsehoods often peddled in the media about Zubaydah. So for the slow learners in the press, here is a rundown of the top three myths regarding his capture and detainment.

The Washington Post and the New York Times once again repeated the debunked myth that Zubaydah was “waterboarded 83 times.” They don’t seem to want to take his word for it that this is not the case.

When Zubaydah was interviewed by the International Red Cross after his arrival at Guantanamo Bay, he told them waterboarding “was applied during five sessions of ill-treatment that took place during an approximately one-week intense period of interrogation.” He further told the IRC that “during each session, apart from one, the suffocation technique was applied once or twice; on one occasion it was applied three times.” So according to Zubaydah’s own account, that is between 8 and 13 times — not 83. He also Never “had his head slammed into walls” as some have claimed

So where does 83 number come from? The CIA inspector general’s report, but the number refers not to waterboarding sessions, or even the number of applications within a session, but rather to the number of individual splashes of water (for example, a single 15-second application could involve a dozen quick splashes). No matter how often this is explained, the press continues to falsely report that Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times — even though Zubaydah himself says it is not so. At some point, this becomes intentionally misleading.

The Times reports today that “American intelligence officials wrongly concluded that he was a top-ranking leader of al Qaeda who might have knowledge of forthcoming plots.” The Post reports that “President George W. Bush described Abu Zubaida in 2002 as ‘al Qaeda’s chief of operations,’ but U.S. officials later assessed that he was a Pakistan-based “fixer,” not a formal member of the group.”

It is true that Zubaydah was not “formal” member of al Qaeda when captured, and it is also irrelevant. According to CIA documents declassified at former Vice President Cheney’s request, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the mastermind of 9/11, was also not an “formal member of al-Qaeda” until well after the 9/11 attacks.

After his capture, KSM told his CIA debriefers that he intentionally did not swear bayat (the pledge of loyalty to Osama bin Laden) until after September 2001 so that he could have ignored a decision by the al Qaeda leadership to cancel the 9/11 attacks. So at the time he was planning the biggest al Qaeda operation in history, KSM was not an “official member” of al Qaeda. If KSM had been captured before he swore allegiance, should he have been dismissed as unimportant because he was not a “formal member of al Qaeda?” Of course not.

The same is true for Zubaydah. According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, “Although he never pledged bay’ah to Usama bin Ladin, Abu Zubaydah functioned as a full member of al-Qa’ida and was a trusted associate of al-Qa’ida’s senior leaders.”

According to the official US government biography of Zubaydah:

Bin Ladin recruited him to be one of al-Qa’ida’s senior travel facilitators following Zubaydah’s success in 1996 at securing safe passage of al-Qa’ida senior members returning from Sudan to Afghanistan. In November 2001, Abu Zubaydah helped smuggle now-deceased al-Qa’ida in Iraq leader Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi and some 70 Arab fighters out of Kandahar, Afghanistan, into Iran.

In other words, he was the man who moved terrorists in and out of Afghanistan and then deployed them around the world for Bin Laden. He knew the identities, plans, and locations of hundreds of al Qaeda terrorists.

According to former CIA Director George Tenet, Zubaydah had spent years screening al Qaeda recruits, training them, and deploying them on missions across the world — including the would-be “millennium bomber” Ahmad Ressam, who was captured while entering the country in 1999 on a mission to blow up Los Angeles International Airport. After his capture, Ressam told the FBI a great deal about Zubaydah. Ressam said that Zubaydah was the Emir of the Khalden and Deronta training camps in Afghanistan, where Ressam had trained, and that Zubaydah ran many terrorist camps in Afghanistan. He said Zubaydah had asked him to obtain Canadian passports to help terrorist operatives infiltrate the United States. He also said that Zubaydah had a direct relationship with Osama bin Laden and corresponded frequently with the al Qaeda leader. From another source, the CIA learned more about Zubaydah’s relationship with bin Laden — including that he had traveled to Saudi Arabia in 1996 to visit bin Laden and deliver $600,000 to the al Qaeda leader.

Bottom line: Zubaydah was a senior al Qaeda operative who was close to Osama bin Laden and deeply involved in al Qaeda’s training and operational activities.

The Times and Post accounts of Zubaydah today portray him a low-level fixer, while failing to mention the instances in which Zubaydah’s CIA interrogation did help the US capture or kill other high-value terrorists and disrupt forthcoming plots. Here are the facts.

After the CIA began applying the first initial enhanced interrogation techniques (which included forced nudity, exposure to cold temperatures and sleep deprivation, but before his waterboarding was approved in August) Abu Zubaydah provided information on a terrorist code-named “Abdullah al-Muhajir,” whom he identified as an American with a Latino name. This terrorist, subsequently identified as Jose Padilla, was captured thanks to information provided by Abu Zubaydah. FBI agent Ali Soufan tried to take credit for getting this information, but according to the Justice Department’s Inspector General, Soufan’s own FBI partner (identified as “Agent Gibson”) confirmed that Zubaydah “gave up” Padilla “during the CIA interrogations.”

Padilla is known to most Americans as the “dirty bomber,” but he was actually on a mission from KSM to carry out a much more sinister — and realistic — attack on America.

Padilla made his way to an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in 2000 where came to the attention of al Qaeda’s then-military commander, Mohammed Atef, who saw in Padilla an American-born terrorist who could enter the United States at will. Atef took Padilla on as his protégé, and in June 2001 asked Padilla to take on a mission: to blow up apartment buildings in a major American city using natural gas.

Padilla was still training in Afghanistan for this mission when the 9/11 attacks took place and coalition forces launched Operation Enduring Freedom. Atef was killed in an airstrike, and Padilla joined the other al Qaeda operatives fleeing Afghanistan.

It was at this time that he met Abu Zubaydah, who helped arranged his passage across the Afghan-Pakistan border. Zubaydah then sent Padilla to see KSM. He wrote Padilla a letter of reference, gave him money, and even called KSM to say he was free to use Padilla for his planned follow-on operations in the United States.

KSM instructed Padilla to undertake the apartment buildings operation, and KSM’s right-hand man, Ammar al-Baluchi, gave Padilla $10,000 in cash, as well as travel documents, a cell phone, and an email address to be used to notify Ammar once Padilla arrived in America. The night before Padilla’s departure, KSM, Ammar, and Ramzi Bin al-Shibh hosted a farewell dinner for him — a send-off to America from the men responsible for the destruction of September 11, 2001.

Thanks to the information Zubaydah provided, American authorities apprehended Padilla as he got off his plane at Chicago’s O’Hare airport on May 8, 2002 — thwarting KSM’s plot to blow up buildings in the United States.

Zubaydah’s identification of Padilla also led to another terrorist Padilla had trained with at an al-Qaeda camp in Kandahar who went by the code name “Jafar al-Tayyar,” or “Jafar the Pilot.” In May 2002, the CIA asked Abu Zubaida whom al-Qaeda would pick to lead the next big attack on the United States, and Abu Zubaida told them it was “Jafar.” But the CIA still did not know the real name or identity of “Jafar.” After KSM was captured in March 2003, he identified “Jafar” as Adnan Shukrijumah — leading the FBI to issue a BOLO (“Be on the Lookout”) alert for Shukrijumah calling him an “imminent threat to U.S. citizens and interests.” Shukrijuma eluded capture, but the alert and manhunt that followed KSM’s revelation undoubtedly set back his plans to conduct follow-on attacks. He later rose to become al Qaeda’s top operational commander. In December 2014, the Post reported that Pakistani forces had finally killed Shukrijumah. The U.S. would not have known (a) that Shukrijumah existed, and (b) that he posed an “imminent threat” to the United States without Zubaydah.

After being waterboarded, Zubaydah began to provide information on key al Qaeda operatives, including information that helped the CIA find and capture more of those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. According to at least two former CIA directors — George Tenet and Michael Hayden — Zubaydah’s questioning after the application of enhanced interrogation techniques led directly to the capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh. When he was taken into custody, bin al-Shibh was at the end stages of planning a KSM-conceived attack that the CIA knew nothing about: a plot to replicate 9/11 on the other side of the Atlantic by hijacking multiple passenger planes and crashing them into Heathrow airport and the Canary Wharf business district in London.

And for more information, go to the Long War Journal, where Tom Joscelyn reports on the US government’s unclassified file on Zubaydah, which notes that Zubaydah “played a key role in al Qaeda’s communications,” “closely interacted” with Osama bin Laden’s “second-in-command,” enlisted al Qaeda operatives in planned attacks against Israel, worked with 9/11 planner Khalid Shaykh Mohammed, and so on.

Reporters are entitled to their own opinions about the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program, but they are not entitled to their own facts — and the facts show that Abu Zubaydah was a top al Qaeda operative whose interrogation stopped terrorist attacks and saved lives.


Gina Haspel is an excellent choice to be the Director of the CIA. Democrats who attack her during confirmation hearings because of the stale “torture” canard will confirm yet again that they are rank partisans of a party that for two decades has put its own political interests ahead of the safety and security of the American people.

“The ‘First Woman CIA Director’ Is a Smokescreen,” an Atlantic smear insists. “Gina Haspel’s gender is the least important fact about her.” Like so many other examples of the pro-terrorist genre, it treats us to piteous images of the poor terrorists and the cruel CIA people who made them feel very bad.

And yet there is something very powerful in the image of a woman standing up to Islamic terrorists

Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood and the various strains of the Islamic movement envision a world in which women are segregated and enslaved. The female interrogators who turned the tables on captured Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners were making a meaningful feminist statement. They were doing what the abused women in Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan would never be able to do.

They fought back.

The media’s idea of a feminist heroine is Linda Sarsour. And Sarsour’s idea of feminism was protecting a sexual harasser, praising Saudi Arabia and Farrakhan. That’s also Tamika Mallory’s idea of feminism. Gina Haspel’s idea of feminism was going after the Islamic terrorists looking to realize Sarsour and Farrakhan’s idea of a perfect Islamic society where women and non-Muslims know their place.

Gina Haspel’s nomination sends a message to Islamic terrorists and their domestic collaborators. And it shows that real feminism looks nothing like the Women’s March. It looks like the new head of the CIA.


I Defend America and its Foreign Policy from a Liberal Perspective. Don’t judge a book by its cover until you’ve read the book.