Did CIA di­rec­tor run a black site at base?

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY CAROL ROSEN­BERG crosen­[email protected]­ami­her­ald.com

A de­clas­si­fied ar­gu­ment by a lawyer with top se­cret clear­ance ap­pears to dis­close an un­known chap­ter of CIA Di­rec­tor Gina Haspel’s covert ca­reer: that she served at Guantánamo.

GUAN­TANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, CUBA

An at­tor­ney for the ac­cused ar­chi­tect of the Sept. 11 at­tacks told a judge in a se­cret ses­sion last year that CIA Di­rec­tor Gina Haspel ran a se­cret agency out­post at Guantánamo, an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to a post-9/11 black site, ac­cord­ing to a re­cently de­clas­si­fied tran­script.

The claim by Rita Ra­dos­titz, a lawyer for Khalid Sheik Mo­hammed, ap­pears in one para­graph of a par­tially redacted tran­script of a se­cret hear­ing held at Guantánamo on Nov. 16. De­fense lawyers were ar­gu­ing, in a mo­tion that ul­ti­mately failed, that Haspel’s role at the prison pre­cludes the pos­si­bil­ity of a fair trial for the men ac­cused of or­ches­trat­ing the 9/11 at­tacks who were also held for years in covert CIA pris­ons.

Nei­ther the pub­lic nor the ac­cused was al­lowed to at­tend the hear­ing, but fol­low­ing an in­tel­li­gence re­view, the Pen­tagon re­leased por­tions of its tran­script on a war court web­site.

Haspel re­port­edly ran a CIA black site in Thai­land where two terror sus­pects were wa­ter­boarded, prob­a­bly be­fore her ar­rival there. The un­ver­i­fied state­ment that she had a sim­i­lar as­sign­ment at the terror-de­ten­tion cen­ter at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, would re­veal a never-be­fore dis­closed chap­ter of the spy chief’s clan­des­tine ca­reer.

The CIA de­clined to com­ment

on the claim.

But in the tran­script of a dis­cus­sion about CIA tor­ture and re­stric­tions on the lawyers for the al­leged plot­ters of the Sept. 11, 2001 at­tacks, Ra­dos­titz notes that prose­cu­tors claim they are “not try­ing to cover up the tor­ture ... But the one thing that they’re not will­ing to talk about is the names of the peo­ple in­volved in the tor­ture.” Then, af­ter a large cen­sored sec­tion, she says, “it makes it im­pos­si­ble for peo­ple at Guantánamo, who may have seen her when she was here as chief of base, to iden­tify her and talk about it.”

Chief of base is a CIA term for the of­fi­cer in charge of a se­cret for­eign out­post. A 2014 Se­nate study of the CIA’s net­work of se­cret over­seas pris­ons, called black sites, said the CIA had two such se­cret pris­ons at Guantánamo in 2003 and 2004 — apart from the Pen­tagon’s Guantánamo prison known as Camp Delta. While the mil­i­tary prison com­man­ders’ names were dis­closed, those who served as CIA chief of base were not.

The CIA sent the al­leged 9/11 con­spir­a­tors and other “high-value de­tainees” to mil­i­tary de­ten­tion at Guantánamo in Septem­ber

2006 af­ter the cap­tives spent three or four years in se­cret spy agency cus­tody. But at least one 9/11 de­fen­dant, Ramzi bin al Shibh, was ear­lier held at Guantánamo, ac­cord­ing to the pub­lic por­tion of the 6,200-page Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee study of the CIA’s over­seas prison pro­gram, known as the tor­ture re­port.

It says the agency op­er­ated two black sites there — code named Ma­roon and Indigo — from Septem­ber 2003 to April 2004 then spir­ited them away for fear their cap­tives might be en­ti­tled to at­tor­neys.

For­mer CIA coun­tert­er­ror­ism of­fi­cer John Kiri­akou told McClatchy that he was of­fered the Guantánamo chief of base po­si­tion in late 2002 or early 2003 — and de­clined. “No­body wanted the job,” he said. So they re­sorted to send­ing peo­ple on tem­po­rary duty as­sign­ments rang­ing from six weeks to nine months, he said.

“If it was dur­ing one of those pe­ri­ods when they couldn’t find some­body to fill the bil­let it would’ve made sense that she would’ve been there a short pe­riod of time,” Kiri­akou said, de­scrib­ing a Gitmo stint as es­sen­tially a ticket punch for some agents as­so­ci­ated with the black site pro­gram. “So when I read it, al­though I was sur­prised by it, I kind of be­lieved it.”

For­mer CIA an­a­lyst Gail Helt, now a pro­fes­sor of Se­cu­rity and In­tel­li­gence Stud­ies at King Univer­sity in Ten­nessee, said there’s been “a lot of shadi­ness” with the way the spy agency has spo­ken about Haspel’s agency ca­reer.

An of­fi­cial CIA time­line of Haspel’s 33-year ca­reer notes that the agency won’t dis­close 30 short­term, tem­po­rary duty as­sign­ments she held over the course of her ca­reer, sug­gest­ing they were covert. “Was one of those at Guantánamo for a cou­ple of months?,” asked Helt. “I don’t have per­sonal knowl­edge of that and couldn’t dis­cuss it if I did. But it doesn’t sur­prise me.”

Reached by McClatchy, Ra­dos­titz said that re­stric­tions im­posed on de­fense at­tor­neys with ac­cess to clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion pro­hibit her from elab­o­rat­ing or com­ment­ing on what was said in a closed ses­sion.

Ac­cord­ing to the tran­script, Ra­dos­titz was ar­gu­ing for dis­missal of the charges, or to not make the trial death-penalty el­i­gi­ble, be­cause of Haspel’s role as the top CIA of­fi­cial with con­trol of top se­cret classi- fi­ca­tions. The trial judge, Ma­rine Col. Keith Par­rella, re­jected the ar­gu­ment in De­cem­ber, weeks be­fore the par­tial tran­script was pub­licly re­leased.

In it, Ra­dos­titz also ar­gued that re­stric­tions on de­fense at­tor­neys ask­ing ques­tions about Haspel’s over­seas black site ser­vice ham­strung their abil­ity to pre­pare to de­fend Mo­hammed, who af­ter 3 1/2 in CIA de­ten­tion, in­clud­ing 183 rounds of wa­ter­board­ing, de­clared that he over­saw the 9/11 at­tacks “from A to Z.” He is among five men charged in a death-penalty case al­leg­ing they con­spired in the Sept. 11, 2001, hi­jack­ings that killed 2,976 peo­ple in New York, at the Pen­tagon and aboard an air­liner that crashed in a Penn­syl­va­nia field.

No trial date has been set as lawyers lit­i­gate what ev­i­dence the de­fense teams can see. De­fense lawyers have been try­ing to ex­plore what hap­pened to cap­tives at Guantánamo in their con­tin­u­ing bid to ar­gue the case is com­pro­mised by the CIA years.

The CIA held at least five cap­tives there, the re­port said, in­clud­ing al­leged USS Cole bomber Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, whose in­ter­ro­ga­tion in Thai­land Haspel re­port­edly over­saw.

The cir­cle of of­fi­cers in­volved in the black site pro­gram in the af­ter­math of 9/11 was so small Haspel could have run the Guantánamo out­post, said for­mer ca­reer CIA of­fi­cer Glenn Carle, who was sworn in on the same day as Haspel in 1985, but re­jected the ren­di­tion and en­hanced in­ter­ro­ga­tion pro­gram as “il­le­gal, un­nec­es­sary, and im­moral.”

“Could Gina have been chief of base? Cer­tainly,” said Carle, who left the agency in 2007. “I do not know. I could not say if I did. But is it a re­al­is­tic or plau­si­ble as­ser­tion to make? Yes. It seems from me­dia de­scrip­tions that Gina was in Thai­land. At least that was said. And it would not be im­plau­si­ble that an of­fi­cer would go from place to place given a par­tic­u­lar ex­pe­ri­ence in this bizarre sub­set of op­er­a­tions.”

On why the agency would nei­ther con­firm nor deny an un­clas­si­fied por­tion of a tran­script al­leg­ing a Guantánamo chief of base post­ing, he said the CIA sees it this way: “The fact that a clas­si­fied bit of in­for­ma­tion is in the pub­lic do­main is ir­rel­e­vant to us if we have not con­firmed or spo­ken to it.”

For­mer FBI agent Ali So­ufan said of Haspel, “I am not aware that she was down there.” So­ufan, who con­ducted in­ter­ro­ga­tions for the bu­reau at Guantánamo and else­where both be­fore and af­ter­math the Sept. 11 at­tacks, said dur­ing his time at Gitmo the CIA’s chief of base “was a man and he was re­ally help­ful and very good. He was a great team player. We had a good re­la­tion­ship with him and his team.”

So­ufan said he does not re­call see­ing Haspel in Guantánamo but says it is pos­si­ble that while “she was chief of base in the black site where Nashiri was, she may had vis­ited Guantánamo.”

A 2014 SE­NATE STUDY OF THE CIA’S NET­WORK OF SE­CRET OVER­SEAS PRIS­ONS, CALLED BLACK SITES, SAID THE CIA HAD TWO SUCH SE­CRET PRIS­ONS AT GUANTÁNAMO IN 2003 AND 2004.

MANUEL BALCE CENETA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

CIA Di­rec­tor Gina Haspel.

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