ProPublica retracts claim against Trump pick for CIA director

ProPublica has issued a retraction pertaining to the website’s reporting on CIA director nominee Gina Haspel from a year ago, including an anecdote which said she mocked a detainee during a waterboarding session.

Gina Haspel, President Trump’s pick to be CIA director, did not oversee the CIA “black site” in Thailand at the time that al Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah was being interrogated. Nor did she mock him during a waterboarding session. These assertions appeared in a story published by ProPublica on February 22, 2017.

Late on March 15, 2018, the news site retracted the story, which it said was based on declassified agency cables and CIA-reviewed books.

ProPublica erred when it reported in 2017 that Gina Haspel was in charge of a secret prison in Thailand during the infamous interrogation of an al-Qaida suspect.

Haspel, who is currently the CIA’s deputy director, did not become the chief of base at the Thailand black site until after Zubaydah’s interrogation had ended. ProPublica’s original story also quoted a book written by one of the CIA interrogators, which said that at one point Haspel addressed Zubaydah directly one session and made fun of him. “Good job! I like the way you’re drooling,” she reportedly told him. “It adds to the realism. I’m almost buying it. You wouldn’t think a grown man would do that.”

But James Mitchell, a CIA contractor who helped in directing Zubaydah’s waterboarding, told Fox Business Network on Marcy 14 that Haspel was not the person who was making fun of Zubaydah.

“That chief of base was not Gina,” Mitchell told Fox Business Network. “She’s not the COB I was talking about.”

ProPublica noted that its story had been cited by Haspel’s critics as reason not to confirm her as CIA director. Among them was Kentucky GOP Senator Rand Paul, who said earlier this week that he will try to stop her confirmation. Referring to the ProPublica account, he told reporters, “When you read that sort of the joyful gleeful at someone who is being tortured,” Paul said, “I find it just amazing that anyone would consider having this woman at the head of the CIA.”

The retraction has received scant coverage in mainstream media.

“We at ProPublica hold government officials responsible for their missteps, and we must be equally accountable,” editor-in-chief Stephen Engelberg said in a statement. “This error was particularly unfortunate because it muddied an important national debate about Haspel and the CIA’s recent history.

“To her, and to our readers, we can only apologize, correct the record and make certain that we do better in the future,” Engelberg added.