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CIA Releases Report Finding Haspel Not at Fault in Destruction of Torture Tapes

But some key Senate Democrats now want more answers

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., talks with reporters after the Senate Policy luncheons in the Capitol on March 20, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., talks with reporters after the Senate Policy luncheons in the Capitol on March 20, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Central Intelligence Agency released an unclassified but partially redacted version of an internal memo Friday finding “no fault” on the part of current director nominee Gina Haspel regarding the destruction of infamous tapes.

The tapes showed the use of harsh interrogation tactics on detainees who had been subject to rendition at so-called “black sites.” Clarity about Haspel’s involvement is one key to the deputy director’s chances for Senate confirmation to be the director.

Michael Morell, who was the deputy director at the time, prepared the memo following a review conducted at the request of Director David Petraeus. The investigation centered on Jose Rodriguez, who as the leader of the operations directorate was the one who actually ordered the tapes be destroyed. However, Haspel’s role was also studied because she served as chief of staff to Rodriguez and actually drafted the order, following his instructions.

“I have concluded that she acted appropriately in her role as Mr. Rodriguez’s Chief of Staff, including in her efforts to press for and facilitate a resolution of the matter, as well as in her drafting of the cable that authorized the destruction of the tapes,” Morell wrote in the December 2011 memo. “It was not her decision to destroy the tapes; it was Mr. Rodriguez’s.”

The newly-released material has been declassified and released, “at the request of members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,” with as few redactions as possible, a CIA spokesperson said.

“The review shows that Deputy Director Haspel has been consistent and clear in describing her role in the incident. She did not appear in the tapes, nor did she make the decision to destroy them,” the spokesperson said. “The review also makes clear that the decision to destroy the tapes was made by Jose Rodriguez, who has publicly taken responsibility for his actions.”

Friday’s release, which was reported earlier in the afternoon by CBS News, was met with skepticism from some key Democrats.

“It’s completely unacceptable for the CIA to declassify only material that’s favorable to Gina Haspel, while at the same time stonewalling our efforts to declassify all documents related her involvement in the torture program,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a statement.

Feinstein is a former chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, who led the development of a report on the CIA’s use of torture techniques during the George W. Bush presidency. Efforts by Senate committee staff to develop the report was at one point compromised because of disputes over the CIA improperly accessing computer systems being used by the Intelligence Committee at an agency facility.

“All told there have been at least five requests for more information, but so far none has been provided. Senators and the public need to know more about her record,” said Feinstein.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said Haspel’s work for Rodriguez should nonetheless raise more questions for his Senate colleagues ahead of the Haspel confirmation debate, which is expected next month.

“She didn’t just draft the cable that authorized the destruction of the tapes, she played a key role in events surrounding the drafting of the cable. Unfortunately, the Morell report is highly incomplete, raising far more questions about Ms. Haspel than it answers. The administration needs to release much more information about this episode, including the extensive record described in the Morell report,” Wyden said. “Members of the Senate who are considering Ms. Haspel’s nomination should be particularly concerned, given the interest CIA officials had in destroying the tapes before an investigatory commission proposed in the Senate would discover them.”

Morell publicly reiterated his findings on Friday.

“My decision on the question of accountability was that Mr. Rodriguez was who should be held accountable and reprimanded. My findings and decision were shared, at the time, with both the White House and Congress,” he said in a statement to Roll Call. “There were no follow-up questions from either.”

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