The other day Rand Paul accused Gina Haspel of enjoying the ‘torture’ of a terrorist as she wasterboarded him. He mentioned a quote in a book where Haspel reportedly mocked the captive terrorist while being waterboarded, suggesting she had glee in her voice when she did it.
But it turns out Rand Paul was wrong…but it may not be all his fault. It all depends on whether he got the story from the book itself or from the ProPublica website, which just issued a correction to their story attributing that quote to her.
Here’s the lowdown from ProPublica:
On Feb. 22, 2017, ProPublica published a story that inaccurately described Gina Haspel’s role in the treatment of Abu Zubaydah, a suspected al-Qaida leader who was imprisoned by the CIA at a secret “black site” in Thailand in 2002.
The story said that Haspel, a career CIA officer who President Trump has nominated to be the next director of central intelligence, oversaw the clandestine base where Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding and other coercive interrogation methods that are widely seen as torture. The story also said she mocked the prisoner’s suffering in a private conversation. Neither of these assertions is correct and we retract them. It is now clear that Haspel did not take charge of the base until after the interrogation of Zubaydah ended.
Our account of Haspel’s actions was drawn in part from declassified agency cables and CIA-reviewed books which referred to the official overseeing Zubaydah’s interrogation at a secret prison in Thailand as “chief of base.” The books and cables redacted the name of the official, as is routinely done in declassified documents referring to covert operations.
The nomination of Haspel this week to head the CIA stirred new controversy about her role in the detention and interrogation of terror suspects, as well as the destruction of videotapes of the interrogation of Zubaydah and another suspect. Some critics cited the 2017 ProPublica story as evidence that she was not fit to run the agency.
Those statements prompted former colleagues of Haspel to defend her publicly. At least two said that while she did serve as chief of base in Thailand, she did not arrive until later in 2002, after the waterboarding of Zubaydah had ended.
James Mitchell, the psychologist and CIA contractor who helped to direct the waterboarding of both suspects, said in a broadcast interview on March 14 that Haspel was not the “chief of base” whom he described in his book as making fun of Zubaydah’s suffering.
“That chief of base was not Gina,” Mitchell told Fox Business News. “She’s not the COB I was talking about.”
Mitchell’s book, “Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying to Destroy America,” referred to the chief of base in Thailand as both “he” and “she.”
We erroneously assumed that this was an effort by Mitchell or the agency to conceal the gender of the single official involved; it is now clear that Mitchell was referring to two different people.
Now if ProPublica was Paul’s source, then it’s somewhat understandable why he got it wrong. However if he read Mitchell’s book and quoted from it directly, then the fault is on his part, as DC Examiner explains:
On Wednesday, prior to the ProPublica correction, a U.S. official told the Washington Examiner that Paul’s claims about Haspel were “not only inaccurate, but contradicted by the very source materials he relied on.”
“The senator quotes liberally from page 263 of James Mitchell’s book Enhanced Interrogation in describing the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah in claiming that Ms. Haspel was the CIA chief of base who was present and expressing joy at this interrogation,” the official said. “A reading of the same page demonstrates that the chief of base present and quoted during this event was a man, not Gina Haspel. This is just one of many false claims about Ms. Haspel being peddled by the uninformed.”
Either way, Rand Paul was incorrect about Haspel and honestly, he should have known better than to accuse her of such things. After reading the quotes myself, it’s clear to me that Paul’s disdain for Haspel played a part in his characterizations of her.
Some like Marc Thiessen, who was directly involved in the program, feel Paul owes Haspel an apology:
Paul may have been wrong about the quote but don’t worry, he isn’t changing his mind about Gina Haspel:
Paul still remains opposed to Haspel.
“The fact remains that Gina Haspel ran a black site in Thailand, it was used for torture and remains a disqualifying aspect in regards to her nomination,” Paul’s office said in an email, according to BuzzFeed.