ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Trump's choice for director of the CIA is in danger of not getting confirmed. Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky announced today that he will vote no.
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RAND PAUL: With regard to the nomination of Gina Haspel, I am troubled by her participation in the black ops site in Thailand.
SHAPIRO: That was a secret prison where the CIA interrogated detainees using techniques that were later banned by Congress. Paul cited a report by ProPublica saying Gina Haspel mocked a detainee who had been tortured, accusing him of faking physical reactions.
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PAUL: When you read that - sort of the joyful glee at someone who's being tortured - I find it just amazing that anyone would consider having this woman at the head of the CIA.
SHAPIRO: In a moment we'll hear from the ProPublica reporter who wrote the story Senator Paul cited. He is the second Republican to express concern about Haspel's involvement in the CIA's black sites. John McCain of Arizona issued a statement yesterday calling the torture of detainees in U.S. custody one of the darkest chapters in American history. He said Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement.
Some background - in the months after 9/11, the CIA was under intense pressure to deliver intelligence about al-Qaida. In early 2002, the CIA thought they had a high-value detainee in a man named Abu Zubaydah. At the time, he was thought to be the third-highest-ranking official in al-Qaida, a personal aide to Osama bin Laden. This is where Gina Haspel comes into the story according to Raymond Bonner. He wrote about Haspel's involvement in black sites for ProPublica last February.
RAYMOND BONNER: What's critical here is that Abu Zubaydah is the poster boy. I mean, he was the guinea pig. It was Abu Zubaydah for whom the, quote, unquote, "enhanced interrogation techniques" were drafted. The, quote, unquote, "torture program" was drafted for Abu Zubaydah at this black site in Thailand where Gina Haspel was the COB, or chief of base.
SHAPIRO: To get intelligence from Abu Zubaydah, the CIA sought and received permission to go beyond typical interrogation methods.
BONNER: They asked for approval from the Department of Justice - that it wouldn't amount to torture, that it wouldn't violate various international treaties on torture. They got approval. The last technique for which they got approval was the use of the waterboard. I think the approval came on August 1, 2002. And the interrogations including the waterboard began three days later.
SHAPIRO: According to a Justice Department memo from 2005, Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times that month. That far exceeded the number of times the Justice Department had approved. One author of the notorious torture memo, Jay Bybee, later told Congress that, quote, "those techniques were not authorized." The interrogations were primarily carried out by two psychologists on contract with the CIA.
And what was Gina Haspel's role in the interrogations?
BONNER: She was in charge. I mean, she was the supervisor. She was...
SHAPIRO: So she was in the room.
BONNER: Well, not necessarily in the room for the interrogations. We don't know where she was, although there's one description that Abu Zubaydah has in his documents which have been released under a Freedom of Information Act request and as part of one of his lawsuits in which he describes a woman who interrogated him and describes it in some graphic detail. We do not know for certain that that was Gina Haspel, but all indications are that it was.
SHAPIRO: The sessions were videotaped, and the tapes were stored at the American Embassy in Thailand. After a few years, as opposition to the torture program grew, courts and congressional committees began to investigate.
BONNER: The CIA decided they were going to eliminate the tapes, and they did.
SHAPIRO: The cable approving the tapes' destruction was written by Gina Haspel. NPR has reported that CIA officers maintain Haspel was following orders from her boss. By the time the tapes were destroyed in 2005, the CIA had learned that Abu Zubaydah was not al-Qaida's No. 3 man as they had thought.
From what you can tell, how much of what she was doing was following orders, doing what she was told was legal versus leading the way and forging her own path?
BONNER: Well, I - based on what I know at the moment, I have no belief that she was a rogue CIA agent. She was following orders. This came from the top. This was a CIA program, and I don't think she was rogue at all.
SHAPIRO: That's Raymond Bonner, who's reporting on this subject you can find at propublica.org. The CIA told Bonner his reporting was incorrect but would not specify how. Since yesterday morning when the president announced he would nominate Gina Haspel, multiple former CIA officials have defended her, including John McLaughlin, who was deputy head of the agency at the time of Haspel's involvement with the interrogations.
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: It does not concern me, and I'll tell you why. You cannot find I think a seasoned CIA professional - a career professional, someone who's been there 30 years - who hasn't been involved in some controversial program.
SHAPIRO: Another defender - Michael Hayden, who was director of the CIA from 2006 to 2009.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: What she did in the fight against al-Qaida and later ISIS was simply everything that the agency, the agency's directors and the nation asked her to do. And she did it on our behalf, and she did it out of duty, not out of raw enthusiasm to be involved in these kinds of difficult programs.
SHAPIRO: Haspel's critics say following orders is not a good excuse. Those critics now include two Republican senators. If they oppose her nomination and the Democrats vote no as a block, Haspel would not be confirmed. Hearings have yet to be scheduled.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: During this conversation, journalist Raymond Bonner discusses his reporting for ProPublica. His story asserted that Gina Haspel, who has been nominated to be the next CIA director, played a role in the treatment of al-Qaida suspect Abu Zubaydah during interrogations at a "black site" in Thailand and that she had "mocked" Zubaydah. On March 15, ProPublica issued a retraction, a correction and an apology. Haspel was not in charge of that black site at the time of Zubaydah's interrogations and had not mocked his complaints about the treatment.]
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