Washington — As neocons celebrate Donald Trump’s selection of General H.R. McMaster to replace Michael Flynn as national security advisor, the Department of Justice on Wednesday sought to block the deposition of the president’s choice for deputy director of the C.I.A.
Gina Haspel, a career C.I.A. officer, was selected by Trump and appointed as deputy director by the agency’s head, Mike Pompeo, on February 2. That same day, however, it was revealed that Haspel, during the post-9/11 Bush era, at one point ran a black site in Thailand where prisoners were waterboarded.
It was also reported that under orders, Haspel aided in the destruction of video tapes capturing the torture taking place at the black site. This allegation was recently confirmed by former C.I.A. Director Michael Morell.
These revelations about Haspel’s past prompted two former C.I.A. contract psychologists to involve the now-deputy director in their own case. The psychologists, who designed “enhanced interrogation” programs for the C.I.A., are fighting a lawsuit from men seeking to hold them accountable for torture they experienced at black sites.
One of the men, Gul Rahman, died as result of the torture, and is being represented in the lawsuit by someone else.
In a court filing in Washington state last week, an attorney for the two former contractors, Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, contended that:
“Ms. Haspel was centrally involved in the events alleged in plaintiffs Sulaiman Abdulla Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, and Obaid Ullah, on behalf of Gul Rahman’s…suit against Defendants for actions they purportedly took while contractors for the C.I.A.”
The court filing was an attempt to get the judge to directly compel Haspel, as well as another unidentified man who’s alleged to have headed up the C.I.A.’s Renditions Group, to give testimony. The day before the filing, the attorneys claim, the government informed them it would not authorize the depositions.
The former contractors, Jessen and Mitchell, are seeking to claim that since they were under the employ of the United States government, they should be immunized against legal consequences.
The judge in the case has already granted requests to depose other former C.I.A. officials, such as Counterterrorism Center Chief Jose Rodriguez and Chief Attorney John Rizzo. But those men have publicly discussed their roles in U.S. torture programs through memoirs that were screened by the C.I.A.
The agency, in other words, has had a chance to sift through the information those officials intended to reveal. It’s had no such opportunity with Haspel, however, and on Wednesday the government used this as reasoning to block the deputy director’s deposition.
In the filing, U.S. attorneys and Justice Department officials said the government “anticipates asserting the state secret privilege” to prevent Haspel from testifying.
Speaking of Haspel and the other unnamed man, the brief claimed the U.S. government “has never officially acknowledged whether either witness had any role in the former detention and interrogation program. To confirm or deny that fact would itself disclose classified information.”
The government is set to officially present its state secrets argument to the court on March 8. Former C.I.A. officials John Rizzo and Jose Rodriguez are set to give their depositions in March, as well.