Torture is back in the news with the nomination of the Central Intelligence Agency Deputy Director Gina Haspel, who ran the black site at which Abu Zubaydah was detained and interrogated, to head the agency. She personally supervised the torture of Zubaydah who was waterboarded 183 times over the course of one month and lost the sight in one eye.
At one point, Haspel spoke directly with Zubaydah, accusing him of faking symptoms of physical distress and psychological breakdown. In a scene described in a book written by one of the interrogators, the chief of base came to his cell and “congratulated him on the fine quality of his acting.” According to the book, the chief of base, who was identified only by title, said: “Good job! I like the way you’re drooling; it adds realism. I’m almost buying it. You wouldn’t think a grown man would do that.”
Haspel was sent by the chief of the CIA’s counterterrorism section, Jose Rodriquez, the “handpicked warden of the first secret prison the CIA created to handle al-Qaida detainees,” according to a little-noticed recent article in Reader Supported News by John Kiriakou, a former CIA counterterrorism officer. In his memoir, “Hard Measures,” Rodriquez refers to a “female chief of base” in Thailand but does not name her.
Kirakou provided more details about her central role. “It was Haspel who oversaw the staff,” at the Thai prison, including James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the two psychologists who “designed the torture techniques and who actually carried out torture on the prisoners,” he wrote.
Kiriakou pleaded guilty in 2012 to releasing classified information about waterboarding and the torture of detainees, and served 23 months in prison.
Zubaydah is currently incarcerated at Guantanamo. His lawyers filed a court action in 2008 seeking his release, but the federal judges overseeing the case have failed to issue any substantive rulings.
Haspel later participated in the destruction of the CIA’s videotapes of some of its torture sessions. The Trump administration is defending her saying she bears no responsibility for her actions during the Bush administration, she was just following orders. Former director of both the CIA and National Security Agency, Michael Hayden, defended Haspel in an op-ed stating, “Haspel did nothing more and nothing less than what the nation and the agency asked her to do, and she did it well.”
That sounds familiar because it is.
After World War II during the Nuremberg trials several Nazis claimed were not guilty of the charges because they had been acting at the directive of their superiors. This became known as the “Nuremberg defense” in which the defendant claims they were “only following orders.” The judges rejected this defense and a number of Nazi officers were hanged.
The United Nations International Law Commission later codified the underlying principle from Nuremberg as “the fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”
This is likely the most famous declaration in the history of international law and is as settled as anything possibly can be. The US is a signatory of the Geneva Conventions.
German Federal Public Prosecutor, the foremost law enforcement authority in the Federal Republic of Germany, are now reviewing a request from June, 2017 by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (“ECCHR”) to initiate legal action against Haspel.
ECCHR’s legal intervention was made by way of a 6-page document titled, “CIA Torture: Submission on Gina Haspel to German Federal Prosecutor.” Immediately after ECCHR submitted their request, Frank’s office confirmed that this request was received and was being formally reviewed.
According to Deutsche Welle, the German equivalent of PBS, the investigation into Haspel is presently ongoing and Frank’s office has yet to rule on ECCHR’s request. ECCHR previewed their formal request in April 2017–after Haspel was named deputy director of the CIA. ECCHR’s request was reiterated on Tuesday–after news broke regarding Haspel’s potential promotion.
ECCHR’s request is based on an alleged violation of the European Convention on Human Rights’ Article 3. This article prohibits torture and “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” There are no recognized exceptions or limitations on the right not to be subject to torture under this section.
Wolfgang Kaleck, founder and general secretary of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, spoke with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!
Torture is illegal under various international pacts and treaties to which the U.S. is bound as a state party. Torture is also illegal under U.S. domestic law. On April 16, 2009, then-president Barack Obama announced blanket immunity for any and all U.S. officials engaged in the Bush administration’s torture program.
Once again the war crimes of the Bush/Cheney administration rears its ugly head. We would not be having this discussion if Barack Obama had not turned his back on the law and the crimes committed by his predecessor and his minions.