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Gina Haspel, the CIA, and THE TORTURE REPORT

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

Black Sites, Lies, and Videotape

Gina Haspel, President’s nominee to lead the CIA, will testify in front of Congress today about her supervision of a black site in Thailand where detainees are known to have been tortured. Hers is a role the CIA—which at the time had no organizational background or experience running detention facilities—has deliberately obscured. Below, from Larry Siems’ 2011 book The Torture Report, is an account of the torture of a number of detainees in Thailand, as well as a look into the site’s administration around the time of Haspel’s tenure.

redacted document from the torture report

Inventory of 92 videotapes of the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah in the CIA black site in Thailand, available at


On November 20, 2002, a suspected Afghan military in his early thirties named Gul Rahman was doused with water, shackled naked to the floor, and left overnight in a frigid cell in a CIA black site known as “The Salt Pit” on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan. He died of hypothermia. The supervisor of the facility, an agent with no experience as an interrogator or a jailer, ordered him buried in an unmarked grave.

As this was happening, the CIA was dispatching one of its lawyers to the black site in Thailand to review the videotapes of the Abu Zubaydah interrogation. For weeks the agency had been discussing destroying the tapes; a cable sent from the secret prison to headquarters in August, the month Zubaydah was waterboarded eighty-three times, discussed “the security risks of videotape retention” and suggested “new procedures for videotape retention and disposal.” A September 6, 2002 email between CIA attorneys has as its subject “Destruction proposal on disposition of videotapes at fi eld,” and an email two months later “from a CIA officer to CIA officers and attorneys” dated November 6 follows up with the “proper procedures for destruction of the interrogation videotapes.”

But Langley had decided it wanted a “random independent review” of the tapes first, and so in late November, an attorney from the CIA General Counsel’s office was sent to verify that Abu Zubaydah’s torment had followed the approved script. With his assurances that it had, the discussion resumed: on November 27, a cable was sent from the black site “requesting approval for destruction of the interrogation tapes,” and on December 3, 2002, headquarters responded with a cable with the subject line “Closing of facility and destruction of classified information” and an email “outlining the destruction plan for the videotapes.”

In the midst of this exchange, back in Afghanistan, CIA agents delivered a young mullah named Habibulah into the hands of army interrogators at Bagram Collection Point, a converted hangar at the former Soviet airbase about fifty kilometers north of Kabul. Within a week, an Armed Services Medical Examiner reported, “the remains” were “presented for autopsy clothed in a disposable diaper. No additional clothing or personal effects accompan[ied] the body.”

Habibulah had been “found unresponsive, restrained in his cell”—handcuffed to the wire mesh ceiling of the plywood-walled isolation cell, that is—at 12:15 a.m. on December 4, 2002. The military first claimed he had died of natural causes. The Medical Examiner, however, concluded the cause of death was “pulmonary embolism due to blunt force injuries”; the Manner of Death, “homicide.”

The day Habibulah was killed, the CIA switched off the video cameras and closed down its black site in Thailand. In addition to the torture of Abu Zubaydah, they had for the previous two weeks been recording the interrogation of a second “high value detainee,” Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, whose arrest the administration trumpeted on November 21, 2002. Th e alleged chief of Al Qaeda operations in the Persian Gulf and the suspected organizer of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, al-Nashiri was captured in Dubai in October and held for a time at the Salt Pit in Afghanistan before being flown to Thailand on November 15—where, as the CIA’s Inspector General observes blandly, “The interrogation proceeded after [redacted] the necessary authorization.”

“Psychologist/interrogators began Al-Nashiri’s interrogations using EITs immediately upon his arrival,” the Inspector General reported. A largely redacted documented headed “Summary,” “CTC’s interrogation efforts” [redacted] “with the interrogation of Al-Nashiri” dated November 20, 2002 records that “Al-Nashiri has undergone [redacted] interrogation with the HVT interrogators using [redacted]” and “Al-Nashiri is becoming more compliant and is providing actionable intelligence.” Even so, Mitchell’s team kept climbing the force continuum. The Inspector General found that although al-Nashiri “provided lead information on other terrorists during his first day of interrogation,” the use of EITs continued for eleven more days, and on the twelfth day, “psychologist/interrogators administered two applications of the waterboard to Al-Nashiri during two separate interrogation sessions.”

They didn’t stop there. Th e cameras were switched off on December 4th; that day, al-Nashiri and Zubaydah were bundled onto a CIA-leased jet and flown to Dubai and on to a new secret CIA detention facility located near the airport in Szymany, Poland. The plane, a leased twenty two-seat Gulfstream jet carrying the two detainees and the six-person CIA rendition team, landed in Poland on December 5th; al-Nashiri’s “enhanced interrogation” resumed immediately and continued for two more weeks, at which time his interrogators “assessed him to be ‘compliant.’”

“A Lit’r’y Coup”: an excerpt from FINKS

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

When the literary élite was sustained by the C.I.A.

The secret organization better known for its coups, assassinations, and spying activities underwrote literary and cultural institutions such as The Paris Review—often with the complicity of their editors and publishers.



From the introduction to Finks:

In early 1966, Harold “Doc” Humes, one of the founders of The Paris Review, wrote a well-intentioned ultimatum to George Plimpton, another founder. Having left it to Plimpton to run the famous magazine long before, Humes was floundering. Living in London, where his wife Anna Lou had left him over the holidays, he was dogged by bouts of extreme paranoia and convinced that he was under surveillance. According to Anna Lou, he believed that the bedposts in his London home recorded whatever he said, and that the recordings were then played directly for Queen Elizabeth.

Yet in his March 1966 letter to Plimpton, he was clear and reasonable, writing that Peter Matthiessen, another Paris Review founder, had just visited London and had told Humes an astonishing story. During his stay, Matthiessen had admitted that “The Paris Review was originally set up and used as a cover for [Matthiessen’s] activities as an agent for the Central Intelligence Agency.” Humes continued,

He further said that you [Plimpton] knew nothing about this until recently, that in fact when he told you your face “turned the color of (my) sweater” which I hasten to inform you is neither red nor blue but a very dirty grey-white, my having worn nothing else since my wife left. It precisely matches my spirits; they get greyer every day.

Humes even sympathized. “I believe Peter when he says he is properly ashamed of involving the [Paris Review] in his youthful folly, and, true, this was all 15 years ago. BUT…”

Humes was just one of The Paris Review’s larger-than-life personalities. The magazine received early praise from American publications like Time and Newsweek, and also from magazines and newspapers all over Europe. It helped launch the careers of William Styron, Terry Southern, T.C. Boyle, and Philip Roth, among others. It threw legendary parties where, for decades, actors like Warren Beatty and political and cultural figures like Jackie Kennedy would rub shoulders with New York City’s writers and book publishing rank and file. Its editor-in-chief Plimpton was already a best-selling author, a friend of the Kennedys, one of Esquire magazine’s “most attractive men in America,” and, according to Norman Mailer, the most popular man in New York City. His personal entourage drew attention, too. A 1963 Cornell Capa photograph shows a group assembled for one of the famous cocktail parties in Plimpton’s apartment. In the picture are Truman Capote, Ralph Ellison, Humes, Matthiessen, Styron, Southern, and Godfather author Mario Puzo.

. . .

Arguing that an association with secret institutions like the C.I.A. would inevitably lead to “rot,” Humes advised Plimpton that, for the integrity of the magazine, he should make Matthiessen’s ties during the magazine’s founding public. Citing Edmund Burke’s line “that it is enough for evil to triumph that good men do nothing,” Humes wrote, “I have deeply believed in the Review and all that we hoped it stood for, but until this matter is righted I feel I have no honorable choice but to resolutely resign. Even if I have to split an infinitive to do it.” He went on to suggest that Matthiessen might” laugh the matter off in print in a manner calculated to restore our tarnished escutcheon…” Under these circumstances, he would stay. Barring that, however, “I should like my name removed from the masthead. I’m sure it will not be missed.”

In attempting to inspire his colleagues to come clean, Humes cited an opinion that grew increasingly common as revelations of the C.I.A.’s vast propaganda apparatus were published in Ramparts magazine and The New York Times in 1964, 1966, and 1967. Namely, that any association with the super-secret spy agency—notorious for coups, assassinations, and undermining democracy in the name of fighting communism—tainted the reputations of those involved. Humes pressed the point forcefully. “Since this was apparently a formal arrangement, involving his being trained in a New York safehouse and being paid through a cover name, then without doubt the fact is recorded in some or several dusty functionarys’ [sic] files in Washington or around the world that our hapless magazine was created and used as an engine in the damned cold war…” He continued,

although Peter is not [to] be blamed for a paranoid system that makes victims of its instruments, nevertheless what of Styron?… What of half the young writers in America who have been netted in our basket? What color would their faces turn?


Of interest: Rear Window, Julian Stallabrass on the C.I.A.’s covert funding of Abstract Expressionist painters during the Cold War.


Further Reading

finks cover

rosset cover

seventeen and j cover

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