In late March of 2002, Gina Haspel had very little time to prepare for the torture to come. Haspel ran the "Cat's Eye," a secret CIA jail located near Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand. It was very warm, 34 degrees Celsius (93 degrees Fahrenheit), with the kind of humidity that makes your clothes stick to you, but inside the black site, also known as "Detention Site Green," the air conditioning had been cranked up to make it extremely cold. The cells had Spartan furnishings: a plank bed, four halogen lights, four meters by four meters (13 feet by 13 feet) of confinement with no windows.
America's Central Intelligence Agency planned to use this site to test, for the first time, the new "enhanced interrogation" techniques President George W. Bush had approved six months earlier. Al-Qaida fighters' will was to be broken through waterboarding, sleep deprivation or humiliation through forced nudity until they could be turned into valuable sources in the "war on terror," which had been declared by the U.S. after the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001. Haspel, a 45-year-old intelligence agent, was to carry out the first torture sessions in Thailand.
Fifteen years later, in 2017, President Donald Trump would appoint Haspel as the CIA's deputy director.
Torture, Solitary Confinement and More Torture: Abu Zubaydah Said Nothing – Was It Because He Knew Nothing?
This week, human rights lawyers at the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) in Berlin submitted a filing about former agent Haspel to supplement a December 2014 criminal complaint over the CIA's extraordinary renditions and torture program it lodged with the Federal Public Prosecutor in Karlsruhe. The new information could create additional pressure for the Karlsruhe-based office to act. Thus far, the Federal Public Prosecutor has rejected calls to file any charges against Americans responsible for the torture – be it then-Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld for incidents inside Abu Ghraib, former CIA head George Tenet or the intelligence agents at the National Security Agency (NSA) who eavesdropped on the German chancellor's mobile phone. When it comes to relations with the United States, Germany seems to have a habit of looking the other way. That also extends to the Federal Public Prosecutor.
But the qualities of this case suggest it could be different. For the first time, a criminal complaint has been filed against a torturer who is still with the CIA. In another first, the person in question is directly tied to the current U.S. administration.
Haspel will now be a public face of the intelligence agency and, as such, her job will entail frequent travel. "This is our opportunity," says Wolfgang Kaleck, ECCHR's general secretary. "Given the burden of proof offered by the intelligence and named witnesses of the U.S. torture program, the Federal Public Prosecutor must either open an investigation or issue a warrant for her arrest if she travels to Germany."
Until only a few weeks ago, the appointee for the CIA's No. 2 job hadn't even been announced. Haspel had been responsible for clandestine operations at the CIA for decades. She served as CIA station chief in London and later in New York, then becoming deputy director of the National Clandestine Service for Foreign Intelligence and Covert Action and ultimately head of all the agency's clandestine operations around the world. Now people know her name, but not much else – Haspel is such a shadowy figure that you can't even find public photos of her.
One of her torture victims was Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, better known as "Abu Zubaydah." His hell began on a Thursday in March 2002, when heavily armed men stormed a house in Faisalabad, a textile-industry center in northern Pakistan. During the raid, American and Pakistani intelligence agents shot the suspected high-ranking terrorist, who was 31 at the time, in the testicles, the thigh and the stomach. The case was one of the focuses of the U.S. Senate's 2014 report on CIA torture practices. The Central Intelligence Agency had reportedly paid a $10 million bounty for information leading to his whereabouts.