Inside Gina Haspel Newly Declassified Torture Memos

Published August 12th, 2018 - 01:22 GMT
Gina Haspel (AFP/FILE)
Gina Haspel (AFP/FILE)



  • The CIA has released 16 memos written or authorized by Gina Haspel while she led a black site in Thailand
  • The memos depict excruciating torture of Abdel Rahim al-Nashiri
  • Even though Haspel promised not to re-introduce torture, she never disavowed its uses
  • The memos give a harrowing account of life under the CIA's torture programs 


By Ty Joplin


Newly declassified memorandums written or authorized by current CIA head, Gina Haspel, reveal excruciating details regarding the use of torture while she was directing a secret CIA black site in Thailand.

The memos break down the detention and torture of Abdel Rahim al-Nashiri, an al-Qaeda member, while he was held in Haspel’s clandestine CIA site. Though broad details of al-Nashiri’s torture were known by the public when Haspel was faced her Senate confirmation to become the CIA’s current head, the memos show the extent of the psychological pressure involved while he was detained.

Although Haspel has promised not to re-introduce torture techniques while directing the CIA, the memos point to a logic that justifies them; logic Haspel was careful not to disavow.

Inside the Memos

A demonstrator is waterboarded to illustrate its use as a torture technique (AFP/FILE)

The 16 declassified reports, written or authorized by Haspel, detail the circumstances of al-Nashiri’s torture by the hour, over a period of a month.

In them, it is acknowledged that al-Nashiri was kept in boxes of different sizes for extended periods of time, stripped naked, deprived of sleep, slammed against walls, waterboarded several times and threatened with more suffering.

The reports show that al-Nashiri arrived in Thailand on Nov 15, 2002 and "immediately upon his arrival,” was tortured.

One of the most common forms of physical abuse al-Nashiri faced was being slammed against “the walling board.” In one of his first interrogation sessions, he was forced onto the walling board before being pinned to the floor and being stripped naked. When told to reveal information regarding future attack plans, al-Nashiri went over information the CIA already knew, then became incoherent. Shortly thereafter they pointed to a “large box.”

The memos document that “interrogator told subject to look at it, as it was now his new home.” He was then locked into the box at 4:45 AM, where he was held in a box for about 12 hours. He was taken out the next day at about 5 PM, or 17:03. Other documents show a smaller box he was kept in for shorter periods of time, big enough only to remain in the fetal position.

Throughout the memos, CIA agents consistently threatened al-Nashiri by telling him he would “suffer in ways he never thought possible” and they would make his life “infinitely worse.” In addition, al-Nashiri was kept locked in a ‘large box’ in between interrogation sessions, meaning he was kept in tight physical confinement.

On the 12th day of his detention at Haspel’s blacksite, he was waterboarded for the first time. As the memos details, the day’s “Interrogation escalated rapidly from subject being aggressively debriefed by interrogators while standing at the walling wall, to multiple applications of the walling technique, and ultimately, multiple applications of the watering technique.”

Waterboarding is a notorious psychological torture method whereby detainees are laid down with bodies inclined downwards and whose faces are covered and drenched in water to emulate the feeling of drowning. Detainees, convinced they are dying, often writhe, hyperventilate, inhale water and lose consciousness. The program that allowed waterboarding was officially ended in 2009 under Obama, and a 2014 Senate investigation found the method to be counter-productive and unnecessarily harmful. Agents within the CIA also reportedly attempted to intimidate investigators by hacking into investigators' computers. 

After being waterboarded, “interrogators covered subject’s head with the hood and left him on the water board, moaning, shaking and asking god to help him repeatedly.” After being unstrapped from the device, he was put back into the small box.

Many of the memos describe the interrogators as ‘sly’ and forceful agents, while al-Nashiri struggled to answer basic questions, cried and moaned, and repeated information already known to the CIA.


The Logic of Torture

Gina Haspel (AFP/FILE)

Although official reports from Senate includes countless pages of internal CIA memos showing torture to produce false or misleading information, CIA heads have relied on the thinking that torture was, at the time, necessary. Haspel is one of the most public defendants of this thinking.

“I’m not going to sit here, with the benefit of hindsight, and judge the very good people who made hard decisions in extraordinary circumstances,” Gaspel said in her Senate confirmation to be the director of the CIA.

In the torture memos just released, this logic is closely mirrored and can be found explicitly in a section called “justification for application of enhanced measures.”

Much of it is redacted, but the declassified section speaks in broad terms of Nashiri’s importance in al-Qaeda before stating that, “based upon Nashiri’s position in the Al-Qa’ida hierarchy, his training at al-Qa’ida camps which includes counter-interrogation… we do not believe Nashiri will be willing to volunteer information to interrogators. We therefore believe that enhanced measures must be employed to learn what Nashiri operations are imminent in order to save lives.”

The CIA believed at the time, that the U.S. was in imminent danger of another 9/11-style attack, and that torture was the only method that could be used to prevent it. That the agency also attempted to silence investigations into the technique speaks to how the CIA values the ability to conduct without oversight. 

Haspel has been careful to not contradict or refute this logic, and even dodged questions regarding the morality of torture in her confirmation hearing. It stands to reason that she believes torture still has its uses, and may even be justified or moral given these ‘extraordinary circumstances’ materialize again.

Haspel does not appear concerned that this goes against evidence found by independent and bi-partisan investigations into torture techniques being counter-productive to gaining knowledge, even if 'extraordinary circumstances.' 

John Kiriakou, the former CIA agent who blew the whistle on the agency’s use of waterboarding, fears Haspel will re-introduce torture methods given the right climate.

U.S. President Donald Trump himself advocated for re-introducing waterboarding and “much worse,” not just on suspected terrorists, but on their entire families as well.

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