ProPublica Retracts Key Claims in 2017 Gina Haspel 'Torture' Story

March 16th, 2018 10:35 AM

A February 2017 ProPublica story claimed that Gina Haspel, nominated as CIA director this week, "was more deeply involved in the torture of Abu Zubaydah" at a secret Thailand prison "than has been publicly understood." Thursday evening, the group published a correction admitting that Haspel wasn't even present when one of the program's primary targets was, according to the New York Times, waterboarded 83 times.

ProPublica's correction is contrite, and displays the original erroneous report below the correction. But the fact remains that its 2017 story largely relied on sources granted anonymity and an indefensible gender-driven assumption:

The story said that Haspel ... oversaw the clandestine base where (Abu) 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.

... The Trump administration named Hansel to the CIA’s No. 2 job in early February 2017. Soon after, three former government officials told Republican that Hansel was chief of base in Thailand at the time of Zubaydah’s waterboarding.

... (This week) At least two (Haspel defenders) said that while she did serve as chief of base in Thailand, she did not arrive until later in 2002, after the waterboarding of Zubaydah had ended.

... (Former psychologist and CIA contractor James) 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.

... A few reflections on what went wrong in our reporting and editing process.

The awkward communications between officials barred from disclosing classified information and reporters trying to reveal secrets in which there is legitimate public interest can sometimes end in miscommunication. In this instance, we failed to understand the message the CIA’s press office was trying to convey in its statement.

None of this in any way excuses our mistakes.

The bogus story didn't happen because of a CIA "miscommunication." It happened because of a wrong assumption made by journalists lacking all of the facts.

Paraphrasing former Labor Secretary Ray Donovan, who was indicted but ultimately acquitted in the 1980s: Now that we know that ProPublica and the New York Times, in a separate February 2017 story (print edition original), deceived the public about Gina Haspel for over a year, where does she go to get her reputation back?

A Tuesday Times story also reported that Hansel was not involved in the Zubadayah interrogation. Only by early Friday afternoon did The Times offer an editor's note at the bottom of its own story, admitting in part that "[a]n earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to Gina Haspel’s role in the torture of detainees at a secret detention site in Thailand during her tenure there."

Cross-posted at