Trump has tapped CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel to replace outgoing CIA Director Mike Pompeo, after Pompeo was named to succeed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. Haspel was directly involved in the CIA’s torture program under George W. Bush. She was responsible for running a secret CIA black site in Thailand in 2002 where one prisoner was waterboarded 83 times and tortured in other ways. But she enjoys broad support, including from the intelligence community and Democrats in the Senate. For more, we speak with Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of The Intercept.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to former CIA Clandestine Service chief Jose Rodriguez speaking to CBS News in 2014. Rodriguez defended the CIA’s so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.
JOSE RODRIGUEZ: It was necessary. And let me give you a little history lesson on this. At the time of 9/11, we had general information that an attack was coming. But we didn’t know when, where, how. And the reason was, was because the informants, the agents that we had, were on the periphery of the leadership. So we really did not have any inside information. Once we captured Abu Zubaydah and realized that he was the key to letting us know about the incoming—the upcoming second wave of attacks, we decided to go with the enhanced interrogation program. And once that happened, we started to learn about the—about the organization. We got information that added to our base information. We were able to capture and kill the entire al-Qaeda leadership that attacked us on 9/11. We were able to protect the homeland. We were able to save lives.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Jose Rodriguez from 2014 on CBS. I wanted to get Jeremy Scahill to respond, co-founder of The Intercept, host of the weekly podcast Intercepted, author of the books Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army and Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, as well as the Oscar-nominated film Dirty Wars, and a former Democracy Now! producer. Jeremy, your response to both what Rodriguez said and also the possible appointment of Gina Haspel to head the CIA.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, first of all, I mean, Jose Rodriguez is the guy who wrote in his memoir, which was called Hard Measures—sounded like it was like a porn movie or something—that when they decided to start torturing people around the world, that it was the CIA and the Washington establishment putting on their, quote, “big boy pants,” is how he referred to it, just to give you a sense of the kind of infantile mentality that some of the people that John Kiriakou was describing had.
And I think that there is substantial evidence to suggest that some of the people involved with this program—I don’t know directly about Gina Haspel, but others—seemed to really enjoy torturing people, placing them in boxes, exploiting their fears by using psychologists and other mental health professionals to come in and say, “What are they actually really afraid of? What’s their deepest, darkest fears?” and then exploiting those. So, if someone was afraid of spiders, they would put them inside of a box, that they referred to as a coffin, and then they would put a caterpillar inside of the box and tell the person that it was a tarantula that was in the box with them. They did something called walling, where they would have a rope that was on the other side of a wall, and they would, out of nowhere, just slam a prisoner and yank him on a kind of jerk chain, or like he was a dog on a leash, against the wall. And then you had the kinds of extreme torture that Gina Haspel was involved with. And both Jose Rodriguez and Gina Haspel, in addition to being involved with the outright torture of people, both of them were involved with the destruction of videotapes that were filmed at these black sites that showed, we understand, torture.
And what I think is also important for people to realize right now, Gina Haspel is not considered some extremist in the CIA community. In fact, President Obama’s director of central intelligence, John Brennan, was on MSNBC all throughout the day yesterday singing her praises. In fact, at one point, an MSNBC anchor asked John Brennan—or said to John Brennan, “Now, you demoted her when you were at the CIA.” And he goes, “No, no, no, no, no. I didn’t demote her. In fact, she’s wonderful and has all this integrity. And she was tasked with very difficult operations, you know, and persevered and did it with gusto.” And, you know, then you have James Clapper, same thing. It was a lovefest on the so-called like opposition media yesterday throughout the day. And MSNBC actually created a—they had a graphic up that was describing Gina Haspel’s track record. And they said that she was involved with sending terror suspects to put them in the hands of foreign governments to be tortured, but they described what she did in Thailand as, quote-unquote, “rough interrogation.” Now, already it’s an abomination that anyone refers to this as “enhanced interrogation,” but, out of nowhere, MSNBC starts referring to torture by the CIA as “rough interrogation.”
So, we now have someone who is nominated to be the CIA director. It will be interesting to see what happens at that confirmation hearing. One possibility here—my colleague Matthew Cole and I were discussing this yesterday—is that Trump knows that she’s going to have a very difficult time being confirmed as CIA director. Now, maybe that’s not true. It will take a lot of Democrats. You know, Dianne Feinstein has already come out and sung the praises of Gina Haspel. But Trump is sort of portraying this as she’s going to break the glass ceiling and become the first female CIA director—of course, they choose a woman who, as The Onion put it, you know, had to torture many more people than her male colleagues to prove herself—but that part of the idea might be to force the Democrats to try to stop the appointment of the first female CIA director in an effort to get Senator Tom Cotton, who has been dying to be CIA director—and I think that a lot of neocons want him there, very hawkish on Iran, etc.—to sort of pave the way for Tom Cotton to take control of the CIA.
And the final point that I’ll make on this micro part of the discussion is that, you know, with the exception of people like John Kiriakou and others who were whistleblowers and who found themselves in the crosshairs of the national security establishment in this country, there really is no such thing as former CIA. And I think it’s very telling that, across the board, when you hear all these pundits, who were former senior CIA, DNI, FBI, naval intelligence analysts, they’re all on the same page—Ned Price, who was the spokesperson for the CIA under Obama, just heaping praise on Gina Haspel all throughout the day. Nothing will fundamentally change in this country with torture, with war crimes, unless we hold those who did the torture accountable.
Gina Haspel does not belong as head of the CIA. She belongs in front of a judge, answering to what she was doing, running a torture operation at a black site in Thailand and destroying evidence. And then, John Brennan, Obama’s CIA director—while the Senate was investigating the torture that Gina Haspel was a key player in, John Brennan’s CIA starts spying on the United States Senate. This is the investigators who were investigating the very torture that Gina Haspel was directly involved with. It was Obama’s CIA director who was spying on the Senate.
AMY GOODMAN: How?
JEREMY SCAHILL: The Senate investigators were given access to close net computers so that they could review documents. And, of course, the CIA wanted no pages released. What ended up happening is the Senate released a several hundred-page executive summary of a report that was—that is still not public, that was thousands and thousands of pages. So, Brennan and others at the CIA were concerned about this investigation, and they began monitoring what the Senate investigators were looking into.
So, you know, this isn’t just like, “Oh, we have Mr. out-of-control Putin asset Donald Trump putting this horrid torturer in power.” No, no, no, no, no. The hashtag #resistance, in terms of former intelligence people that are on the liberal networks, they love Gina Haspel. They absolutely love her. And no one’s saying word boo about the fact that John Brennan was the one who was heading the CIA when the CIA was spying on the United States Senate committee that’s tasked with overseeing the Central Intelligence Agency.
AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to go to something Dexter Filkins wrote in The New Yorker. Actually, it was Raymond Bonner, in [ProPublica], about questions beginning to swirl about the Bush administration’s use of black sites and the program of enhanced—so-called enhanced interrogation.
JEREMY SCAHILL: It’s “rough interrogation” now, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: “[Haspel] began pushing to have the tapes destroyed. She accomplished her mission years later when she rose to a senior position at CIA headquarters and drafted an order to destroy the evidence, which was still locked in a CIA safe at the American embassy in Thailand. Her boss, the head of the agency’s counterterrorism center, signed the order to feed the 92 tapes into a giant shredder.”
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. I mean, you know, and another way of putting that: If you and I were involved with a crime and we did that, it’s destruction of evidence. And clearly, there was a systematic effort to—at first, to defend the torture tactics, and then, later, to say, “Well, let’s remove any evidence that we did this to terror suspects.” And let’s remember Guantánamo is still open. Donald Trump has intimated that he wants to put more people there. The vast majority of people that were taken to Guantánamo were cleared for release.
And part of the reason that maybe even some people that were involved with terrorism are not ultimately going to be held accountable is because of people like Gina Haspel. So, if you’re an American and you were horrified, shocked, angered by what happened on 9/11, and you want people that were involved with terrorism plots against the United States, including successful ones, to be held accountable, Gina Haspel is one of the people that you should be furious with, because it was the torture that she and her colleagues were running at these black sites that has resulted in some people being able to walk away, and the fact that they were held in this lawless gulag in Guantánamo rather than treated as criminals and given due process and a trial.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. On Tuesday morning, President Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by Twitter. In the same tweet, the president announced CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who’s a close ally of the Koch brothers, will be nominated to become the new secretary of state. As we look at the shake-up in the Trump administration, I want to bring into this conversation investigative journalist Lee Fang of The Intercept.
Let’s talk, Lee, about secretary of state nominee Mike Pompeo. You have written about how he once depicted the war on terror as an Islamic battle against Christianity. Mike Pompeo, who’s the current director of the Central Intelligence Agency, a former congressman.
LEE FANG: Hi, Amy. Yes, that’s right. I think this nomination to elevate Pompeo as secretary of state signals a much more aggressive posture from Donald Trump. You know, Donald Trump campaigned for office by portraying himself as a skeptic of foreign intervention, but Pompeo represents a very different view. Pompeo has supported foreign intervention, from Yemen to Syria. In the last year, he has spoken out and described the leadership of Iran and North Korea as an existential threat to the United States, suggesting that he supports regime change.
And, you know, Pompeo represents just a very different temperament from Rex Tillerson. Rex Tillerson has been willing to provide an even-handed assessment of very complex foreign policy issues. When there was a UAE-Saudi Arabia attempt to blockade Qatar, Rex Tillerson was willing to push back on that. On issues such as military support to Egypt and human rights abuses, he’s been willing to speak out. And Rex Tillerson has been willing to speak out and push back against some of the worst impulses of Donald Trump. On the other hand, Pompeo has been a very loyal kind of sycophant to Donald Trump, pandering to his worst instincts and promoting foreign intervention.
And most critically here, I think—you know, we took a look at Pompeo’s different statements to think tanks, to churches around the country, when he served as a member of Congress. And Pompeo has described the war on terror as a battle between religions. He has depicted the fights in the Middle East and the war on terror as a conflict between Christianity and Islam, and saying that Christians need to mobilize against this Muslim threat. So he really kind of has taken extreme viewpoints. If he wants to serve as the chief diplomat for the United States, this is deeply problematic.
AMY GOODMAN: Lee, I want to go to a video clip that you’ve written about. This is Mike Pompeo addressing a church group in Wichita in 2014.
REP. MIKE POMPEO: This threat to America is from people who deeply believe that Islam is the way and the light and the only answer. And so, as we think about what U.S. policy needs to be, how we will begin to combat this, we need to recognize that these folks believe that it is religiously driven for them to wipe Christians from the face of the Earth. They may be wrong. There’s some debate about that, what the Qu’ran actually says. They may be wholly misguided. And I will tell you it is absolutely a minority within the Muslim faith. But these folks are serious, and they abhor Christians and will continue to press against us, until we make sure that we pray and stand and fight and make sure that we know that Jesus Christ as our savior is truly the only solution for our world.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Mike Pompeo when he was a congressman from Kansas in 2014. Lee Fang?
LEE FANG: Yeah, that’s right. You know, I’ve covered Mike Pompeo for some eight years now. I reported on Pompeo’s first election to Congress, in 2010, when he was running for a seat in the Wichita area. And, you know, there’s a disturbing pattern that I think we should talk a little bit about.
Pompeo, from his very first campaign, has had a history of racially tinged comments, of antagonizing the Muslim community. You know, his first Democratic opponent, Raj Goyle, an Indian American, his campaign sent out a statement describing Raj Goyle as a, quote-unquote, “turban topper.” The campaign later apologized for that statement, but then put up billboards all around the Kansas seat reminding voters to, quote, “Vote American.”
Once he got into office, Pompeo has had a long history of, again, antagonizing Muslim Americans. He called for a protest and encouraged harassment of a local mosque in Kansas, falsely accusing them of supporting terrorism. After the Boston bombing, Pompeo went out and made a statement demanding that the Muslim community condemn and apologize for that attack, even though, well before he made that statement, all the leading Muslim civil rights groups had already condemned this attack. So, you know, this is ridiculous for many reasons, not only because of that, but because he’s never demanded something similar from Christian groups after Christian terror attacks, you know, for incidents like the Charleston shooting. Dylann Roof was a proud Christian. You don’t see Pompeo demanding an apology or condemnation from the Christian community. He’s been very selective in his demands.
I believe he’s been on anti-Muslim activist Frank Gaffney’s radio show 20 times. He has a very close relationship with that individual. And ACT for America, this is one of the most influential and aggressive anti-Muslim organizations in the country. They’ve organized protests and harassment campaigns against Muslims all over the country. ACT for America, this anti-Muslim hate group, actually awarded Pompeo their highest award, recognizing his long history of antagonizing the Muslim community.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Lee Fang, his connection to the Koch brothers?
LEE FANG: Right, and I think this is very important for understanding Pompeo’s character. Pompeo has deep ties to the Koch brothers. The Wichita seat that he represented in Kansas was the headquarters of Koch Industries. Early in his career, he received an investment from the Koch brothers, when he started an aerospace company. The Koch brothers really handpicked him to run for that open seat in 2010. His only political experience was appearing at tea party events organized by the Koch brothers’ political machine, and they were his largest contributor.
Why is this important? Well, once he got to Congress, Pompeo was a loyal foot soldier for the Koch brothers’ political agenda. He constantly attacked pollution regulations, climate change regulations, and advanced attacks on renewable energy. So, you know, other than tax cuts, this is a top legislative priority for the Koch brothers. And I think that that speaks to Pompeo’s character, that he’s really been beholden to his political supporters.
And again, just looking at his relationship with Trump, he was a big Trump supporter during the presidential campaign. He’s been incredibly loyal, unwilling to really question Trump’s agenda. And so, if he’s secretary of state, he will be very different from Rex Tillerson, who was at least—who at least attempted to be even-handed in some complicated disputes. Pompeo, I think, is much more likely to be a loyal foot soldier.
AMY GOODMAN: John Kiriakou, you had a different feeling about Mike Pompeo, who President Trump just tweeted, when he informed Rex Tillerson he was fired, that Mike Pompeo would be replacing him as secretary of state.
JOHN KIRIAKOU: Not necessarily different. I think all of that is true. And I’ll tell you, where I think he’s most dangerous is on Iran, because Mike Pompeo has made it very, very clear that he intends to take a tough stand on Iran. He opposes the Iran nuclear deal, consequences be damned. And, you know, President Trump likes to surround himself with yes men on issues like that, like Iran and terrorism. Mike Pompeo is a yes man.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Lee Fang for one minute on a different issue, and that is this special election that we’re about to see the results of. It looks like in this district there may be a complete upset, a district, the 18th District in Pennsylvania, that Trump won by like 20 percent. The Republican candidate, who has yet to concede defeat, though he’s down hundreds of votes, but the final vote is not in—”Rick Saccone,” you write, “the GOP nominee in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, is a former intelligence support consultant for the U.S. Army at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison.” Can you expand on that, Lee Fang?
LEE FANG: That’s right. Rick Saccone, you know, he describes himself as “Trump before Trump was Trump.” You know, this is someone who’s been very bombastic, you know, attacked immigrants. He has a very right-wing agenda. But he has a very interesting history, as well. You know, previously, before he served in the Pennsylvania state Legislature, he was a consultant for interrogations in Iraq, actually serving in Abu Ghraib. And he wrote an entire book defending torture. So this is a very unusual candidate, in certain respects.
But this is a huge election in terms of being a bellwether for the midterm elections. Saccone had a lot of money, a lot of super PAC support, I think over $10 million spent on his behalf, really every advantage in this district. This was a very pro-Republican district. And it looks like Conor Lamb pulled it out. So, this is, I think, a signal that Democrats will do very well in the elections this year.
AMY GOODMAN: Conor Lamb, who was a Marine Corps captain.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill, before this show ends, I want to switch gears a bit and play an excerpt of the latest episode of your podcast, Intercepted, where you interview Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky about Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, sister [sic] of Betsy DeVos, the billionaire education—
JEREMY SCAHILL: Brother of Betsy DeVos.
AMY GOODMAN: Brother of Betsy DeVos, Erik Prince now under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Now, I remember when President Obama was elected and Leon Panetta was serving as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Panetta went to Capitol Hill early on in the first year of the Obama administration, and he emerged from his meetings with you guys on the Intelligence Committee and said that there had been an assassination program involving Erik Prince and Blackwater, but that had been shut down. What can you tell us about that chapter in all of this, Erik Prince, Blackwater being involved with a CIA assassination program?
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Yeah, I can’t—I really can’t, I don’t think even at this point, tell. We did a study on the committee. I had insisted on it. And we actually—and it’s on the shelf, and I’ve encouraged current members of the Intelligence Committee to take a look, especially as they’re investigating Erik Prince right now. But when I say anything goes when it comes to Erik Prince—and, of course, you know, he was working closely with the Bush administration, and there were operations, intelligence operations, that were coming out of the Vice President’s Office, and he was a valuable player in carrying out what they may have defined as the mission.
And Erik is, I think, one frightening guy. One of the current members of the Intelligence Committee said, even after the testimony they had, that he’s the scariest person he ever met. I have to tell you, Jeremy, you know, at one point, because on the floor of the House, members can say whatever they want, without liability, and he threatened to sue me. I got a letter from their lawyers. And even though he couldn’t sue me, I have to tell you, I had my apartment in Washington swept. He makes me very nervous.
But this time, I think that Mueller may actually be catching up with Erik Prince and the kind of lies that just roll off his lips, the kind of description of what he’s done, what he did in the past, which is clearly not true. Lying to Congress is against the law. And, you know, what a coincidence that he met with all these people in the Seychelles! Isn’t that amazing?
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois talking about Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater. A lot to unpack there, also talking about the Seychelles meeting of Erik Prince in January. Tell us about it.
JEREMY SCAHILL: OK. So, in short, Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, we broke the story that he was advising Donald Trump from the shadows. A few weeks later, The Washington Post says that Erik Prince was in the Seychelles in a meeting arranged by powerful people in the United Arab Emirates. Erik Prince also used to live in the United Arab Emirates, very close to all of the—
AMY GOODMAN: When he fled the United States.
JEREMY SCAHILL: When he fled the United States in the middle of Obama’s first term. So, Erik Prince goes there. He’s meeting with these Emiratis. And according to him, they say, “Oh, there’s this fund manager that you have to meet from Russia named Kirill Dmitriev.” And Erik Prince says, “Oh, OK, sure.” And they go, and Erik Prince says he met with him long enough to have a beer.
Well, it turns out that this guy Kirill Dmitriev is a very close associate of Vladimir Putin and operates a $10 billion fund. And, now, we don’t know the truth of what happened there, but what we do know is now a guy named George Nader, who was—who worked with Erik Prince and Blackwater in Iraq and has been visiting the Trump White House all through 2017, he reportedly testified in front of a grand jury and is cooperating with Mueller and says that the explicit purpose of Erik Prince taking this meeting with this Russian oligarch was to establish a back channel for Donald Trump and the Russians.
Now, even if that’s true, that probably isn’t illegal or illicit for Erik Prince to have done that. But it is, as Jan Schakowsky points out, illegal to lie to Congress about it. And so, Erik Prince now continues to be the focus of yet another sort of national security scandal. The connection also to the broader picture is that Erik Prince was involved with this CIA assassination program from very early after 9/11, and Jose Rodriguez, who was Gina Haspel’s boss, was the CIA—
AMY GOODMAN: Who we just played.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Who we just played—was the CIA liaison for that program that Jan Schakowsky is talking about. To hear a sitting member of Congress say that she had to get her house swept for surveillance devices because of a civilian that the Congress is investigating is pretty chilling.
AMY GOODMAN: And we just have 20 seconds, but the significance of her comments about Prince and Cheney?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, you know, for a long time, a lot of us national security reporters have heard that Dick Cheney’s office was coordinating a whole series of torture and targeted kidnapping and kill operations around the globe, and that Erik Prince and Dick Cheney are very close. This is the first time that you have a member of Congress who had access to high-level, top-secret intel, as part of the Intelligence Committee, confirming that Erik Prince was involved with operations that were being run directly by Vice President Dick Cheney. In the whole scheme of things, as everyone focuses on Trump’s tweets, etc., the—
AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.
JEREMY SCAHILL: What happened under Bush-Cheney needs to be investigated, and Erik Prince needs to be held accountable, not just for lying, but for killing a lot of Iraqis.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about Betsy DeVos’s brother, Erik Prince, who you’ve been talking about, the founder of Blackwater. In July, he spoke to Steve Bannon, who at the time was the head of Breitbart News, the white supremacist, white nationalist news site; Steve Bannon, who’s now Trump’s senior adviser. Prince said Trump should recreate a version of the Phoenix Program, the CIA assassination ring that operated during the Vietnam War, to fight ISIS.
ERIK PRINCE: It was a vicious, but very effective, kill/capture program in Vietnam that destroyed the Viet Cong as a military force. That’s what needs to be done to the funders of Islamic terror. And that would be even the—the wealthy radical Islamist billionaires funding it from the Middle East and any of the other illicit activities they’re in.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Erik Prince. The significance of what he’s saying here, Jeremy?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, you know, remember, Erik Prince views himself as the rightful heir to the legacy of “Wild Bill” Donovan, who was the head of the agency that was the precursor to the CIA. And, you know, immediately after 9/11, Erik Prince became very, very close to a number of people within the CIA and also Dick Cheney and Dick Cheney’s office. And they jointly came up with this idea that Erik Prince could run a kind of off-the-books hit squad that could roam the world conducting assassinations for the United States, and there would be no effective paper trail and no ability for Congress to engage in any oversight. Now, Leon Panetta, who was Obama’s CIA director early on in Obama’s term, said, “Oh, we shut down that program, and no one was ever killed.” I don’t believe that for one moment. That was—that was part of the legacy of the Phoenix Program, that was a murderous death squad operation in Vietnam, that also included enhanced interrogation. What Erik Prince being around Trump indicates to me is that—
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what you found out about election night and what his role is. We just have 50 seconds.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right, well, Robert Mercer, the billionaire hedge funder, his daughter Rebekah ran one of the most important super PACs to Trump, Make America Number 1 super PAC. And Trump—and Erik Prince and his mother, Elsa, were two of the largest contributors to one of the most significant super PACs that supported Donald Trump. Erik Prince is very close to Robert Mercer. Prince was also at the “Heroes and Villains” party that Mercer threw in Long Island after the election. And, in fact, there’s a picture that Peter Thiel, the right-wing billionaire who destroyed Gawker—a picture of Peter Thiel, Donald Trump and Erik Prince, that Peter Thiel says is not safe for the internet. But it’s clear that Erik Prince, through Betsy DeVos, through Robert Mercer and through his very right-wing paramilitary crowd, has the ear of President-elect Donald Trump. And our understanding, from a very well-placed source, is that Prince has even been advising Trump on his selections for the staffing of the Defense Department and the State Department.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have a post-show discussion and post it online at democracynow.org. That’s Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of The Intercept.