ProPublica correction: Gina Haspel was not in charge during the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah

Last February, both the NY Times and ProPublica published reports stating that CIA officer Gina Haspel was involved in the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah at a CIA black site in Thailand in 2002. That became relevant again when President Trump nominated her to be the next CIA Director. As Allahpundit noted Tuesday, it appeared that Haspel was at risk of being ‘borked.’ However, today ProPublica published a major correction to its earlier reporting on Haspel:


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…

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 Network. “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.

Prior to the publication of its 2017 story, ProPublica submitted a list of detailed questions to the CIA, which declined to answer them. However, the CIA did send a response saying, “nearly every piece of reporting that you are seeking comment on is incorrect in whole or in part.” ProPublica ran the story anyway and now says it regrets the error. The correction closes with an apology to Haspel and to readers for muddying the waters on an important topic.


Meanwhile, the NY Times seems to have revised its earlier reporting without issuing a correction of the kind ProPublica issued today. Here’s the opening graph of the 2017 story from the Times along with a later paragraph in the same story.

As a clandestine officer at the Central Intelligence Agency in 2002, Gina Haspel oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and later took part in an order to destroy videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations at a secret prison in Thailand…

The C.I.A.’s first overseas detention site was in Thailand. It was run by Ms. Haspel, who oversaw the brutal interrogations of two detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

But two days ago, the Times offered a different take clarifying that Zubaydah was interrogated prior to Haspel’s arrival [emphasis added]:

Just over a year after the Sept. 11 attacks, the C.I.A. dispatched the veteran clandestine officer Gina Haspel to oversee a secret prison in Thailand. Shortly after, agency contractors in the frantic hunt for the conspirators waterboarded a Qaeda suspect three times and subjected him to brutal interrogation techniques.

In 2002, agency operatives working with Pakistani authorities captured a Qaeda suspect, Abu Zubaydah, and ferried him to the C.I.A. prison in Thailand. He was harshly interrogated and waterboarded at least 83 times in one month, sent to the brink of death, revived and questioned over and over.

Ms. Haspel arrived to run the prison in late October 2002, after the harsh interrogation of Mr. Zubaydah, a former senior C.I.A. official said. In mid-November, another Qaeda suspect, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri arrived. Mr. Nashiri, accused of bombing the U.S.S. Cole, was the man who was waterboarded three times.


To be clear, Haspel is not entirely out of the woods. ProPublica is still standing by the part of its report involving the waterboarding of al-Nashiri and the claim that Haspel pushed her boss to destroy videotapes of the interrogations (though she did not make the ultimate decision herself). In short, there’s still something for Democrats to use against her during a confirmation hearing, just less than there was before.

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