Live Briefing: Gina Haspel Vows at Confirmation Hearing That She Would Not Allow Torture by C.I.A.


“From my first days in training, I had a knack for the nuts and bolts of my profession,” she said. “I excelled in finding and acquiring secret information that I obtained in brush passes, dead drops, or in meetings in dusty alleys of third world capitals.”

She also confronted her record on torture, the issue that has dominated her nomination.

“I understand that what many people around the country want to know about are my views on C.I.A.’s former detention and interrogation program,” Ms. Haspel said. “Having served in that tumultuous time, I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership, C.I.A. will not restart such a detention and interrogation program.”

It was not clear whether her remarks would satisfy Democrats on the committee who signaled that they wanted a clear repudiation of her role and of torture carried out by others at the agency.

She also highlighted the fact that she would be the first woman to lead the C.I.A. in the male-dominated world of spying.

Few women were in senior roles when she joined the C.I.A., and “we are stronger now because that picture is changing. I did my part — quietly and through hard work — to break down some of those barriers.”

Haspel Says She Is Not Seen on Torture Tapes

Senators immediately launched into questioning about one of the most controversial episodes of Ms. Haspel’s career — her role in the destruction of interrogation videotapes that showed the torture of Qaeda detainees. This is the first time she has given her account of the destruction, which occurred in 2005.

She said there were concerns about the “security risk” the tapes posed — that the lives of undercover agency officers might be put in danger if the tapes were to become public.

There have long been rumors — never confirmed — that Ms. Haspel appeared in the tapes, some of which were made when she was running a C.I.A. detention facility in Thailand in 2002. Her answer was definitive: “I did not appear on the tapes,” she said.

But Senator Warner questioned the timing of the agency’s order to destroy the tapes, which came just days after the announcement of a Senate investigation into government detention programs. She said she wasn’t aware of the order.

“I knew there was disagreement about the issue of the tapes outside the agency,” she said.

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Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, pressed Ms. Haspel on the selective declassification of information about her.

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Tom Brenner/The New York Times

Leaning Into a Long-Awaited Confrontation

It was a confrontation a long time coming, and Ms. Haspel did not flinch. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a senior California Democrat who led the committee’s torture investigation, pressed Ms. Haspel on the selective declassification of information about her record and pressed for an explanation of her role in the interrogation program.

“Given the C.I.A.’s refusal to make your record public, I am very limited in what I can say,” Ms. Feinstein began, before lamenting that despite personal affection, the hearing was “probably the most difficult hearing in my more than two decades.”

Ms. Haspel rejected that jab, insisting she thought it unwise to bend department guidelines on classification just to help her own case.

“It has been suggested to me by my team that if we tried to declassify some of my operational history, it would help my nomination,” she said. “I said that we could not do that. It is very important that the director of the Central Intelligence Agency adhere to the same classification guidelines that all employees must adhere to because there are very good reason for those classification guidelines.”

Ms. Haspel also swatted back an assertion by Ms. Feinstein that Ms. Haspel was an unidentified woman referenced as the head of the agency’s interrogation program in a memoir by John A. Rizzo, the C.I.A.’s former general counsel.

Mr. Rizzo, Ms. Haspel said, was simply wrong and Ms. Feinstein must have missed a correction he later issued.

“Senator, I did not run the interrogation department,” Ms. Haspel said. “In fact, I was not even read into the interrogation program until it had been up and running for a year.”

That assertion, however, raised its own questions. Ms. Haspel arrived in Thailand in late 2002, the year the interrogation program began, to oversee a secret prison. A Qaeda suspect was waterboarded three times while she was there.

Democrats Need Assurances to Get On Board

Democrats have indicated that they are willing to get behind Ms. Haspel’s nomination, but not without extracting serious and unequivocal commitments from her. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the panel’s top Democrat, laid out a narrow path to ‘yes’ in his opening remarks.

He said that Democrats would expect Ms. Haspel to cooperate with the committee as it tries to exercise oversight. He asked her to pledge to cooperate with the ongoing investigations into Russian election interference by both the committee and the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. And he said he would want to know how Ms. Haspel would deal with a president “who does not always seem interested in hearing, mush less speaking, the truth.”

But, as expected, Mr. Warner said he was most concerned with Ms. Haspel’s views of the brutal interrogation program she helped run in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Ms Haspel, what the committee must hear, is your own view” of the program, Mr. Warner said. “Should the United States ever permit detainees to be treated the way the C.I.A. treated detainees under the program — even if you believe it was technically ‘legal’? Most importantly, in your view — was the program consistent with American values?”

He continued: “We must hear how you would react if the president asked you to carry out some morally questionable behavior that may seem to violate a law or treaty.”

But despite their repeated efforts to pin down her views on the morality of the enhanced interrogation program and the use of torture general, many of the committee’s more liberal members made clear they were less than satisfied with her answers.

“The president has asserted that torture works,” Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat of California, said. “Do you agree with that statement?”

“Senator, I — I don’t believe that torture works,” Ms. Haspel said. But, she added, that “valuable information” was obtained from Qaeda operatives who underwent advanced interrogation by the agency.

“Is that a yes?” Ms. Harris asked.

“No, it’s not a yes,” Ms. Haspel said. “We got valuable information from debriefing of Al Qaeda detainees, and I don’t think it’s knowable whether interrogation techniques played a role in that.”

A Veteran Spy, and a Résumé That Includes Torture

Few dispute that Ms. Haspel, a 33-year C.I.A. veteran, has the experience to run the agency. At issue is her involvement in the rendition, detention and interrogation program that the agency developed in the frantic hunt for the conspirators in the Sept. 11 attacks.

The C.I.A. long ago repudiated the program, which included waterboarding and other methods banned by law, and many senators say they are looking to Ms. Haspel to do the same.

“Having served in that tumultuous time, I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership, C.I.A. will not restart such a detention and interrogation program,” she planned to say, according to excerpts from prepared remarks released by the C.I.A. on Tuesday night. She did not directly address her role in the interrogations or the torture of suspected militants by others at the agency.

In late 2002, Ms. Haspel was dispatched to oversee a secret C.I.A. prison in Thailand code-named Cat’s Eye. While she was there, C.I.A. contractors waterboarded Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Qaeda suspect accused of orchestrating the bombing of the American destroyer Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000.

Critics, including some senators on the committee, say her willingness to employ brutal methods to extract information — including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and confining prisoners in boxes — should disqualify her.

The sessions carried out at the prison in Thailand — including many conducted when Ms. Haspel was not there — were videotaped and the recordings stored in a safe at the C.I.A. station there until 2005, when they were ordered destroyed. By then, Ms. Haspel was serving at C.I.A. headquarters, and it was her name that was on the cable carrying the destruction orders. The agency maintains that the decision to destroy the recordings was made by Ms. Haspel’s boss at the time, Jose Rodriguez, who was the head of the C.I.A.’s clandestine service.

Last week, Ms. Haspel briefly considered withdrawing her nomination over fears that the White House would not fully support her because of her role in the interrogation program. She changed her mind only after Mr. Trump and top aides reassured her.

Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the interrogations and destroying evidence of them already once hindered her career. In 2013, the C.I.A. wanted to name Ms. Haspel to run clandestine operations, but Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the Democrat who was then the chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, blocked the promotion because of her work in Thailand.

Haspel Says She Won’t Act Immorally

One aspect of the debate about the C.I.A.’s post-Sept. 11 torture program is whether it was illegal all along. Despites anti-torture laws and treaties, Bush administration officials in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote secret memos that embraced a disputed and idiosyncratic view of the president’s constitutional power, as commander-in-chief, to say that it would be lawful to override those restrictions.

The Justice Department later rescinded those memos, but determined that no one could be prosecuted for taking actions that relied upon the department’s own interpretation of the law at the time; one Bush-era official deemed the memos a “get-out-of-jail-free card.” Congress has also enacted statutes further tightening laws against torture.

In her opening statement, Ms. Haspel said she would not restart a detention and interrogation program “such as” the Bush-era one, and emphasized her commitment to follow current law. But the ranking Democrat on the committee, Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, put his finger on the difficulty of the malleability of “the law,” especially in secret national-security matters. Calling her comments “legalistic,” he said he wanted to know what she would do if the Justice Department was once again willing to secretly invoke esoteric theories of presidential power to say that the president was lawfully overriding statutory restrictions on torture — or some other activity seemingly barred by statute.

“I need to at least get a sense of what your moral code says about those kinds of actions because there is the potential that this president could ask you to do something,” Mr. Warner said.

Illustrating the complexity of the law is defined, Ms. Haspel insisted that the “C.I.A. follows the law. We followed the law then. We follow the law today.” But she also said that she would refuse orders to have the C.I.A. do something she found immoral, even if it was deemed to be legal.

“I would not put C.I.A. officers at risk by asking them to undertake risky, controversial activity again,” she said, adding: “My moral compass is strong. I would not allow C.I.A. to undertake activity that I thought was immoral, even if it was technically legal. I would absolutely not permit it.”

Haspel: Torture of 9/11 Planner Cast ‘Shadow’ Over His Capture

Ms. Haspel invoked one of the greatest counterterrorism successes in the immediate years after the Sept. 11 attacks: the capture, in March 2003, of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the principal mastermind of the attacks. Over the next few weeks, Mr. Mohammed was tortured by the C.I.A. at black-site prisons in Afghanistan and Poland, including being waterboarded 183 times over 15 sessions and being deprived of sleep for about a week by being forced to stand with his arms chained over his head.

She said she was proud of her service in the frantic hunt for the Sept. 11 conspirators.

“After 9/11, I didn’t look to go sit on the Swiss desk — I stepped up,” she said. “I was not on the sidelines. I was on the front lines in the Cold War, and I was on the front lines in the fight against Al Qaeda. I am very proud of the fact that we captured the perpetrator of 9/11, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.”

She lamented that the interrogations of Mr. Mohammed and the ensuing controversy overshadowed his capture. “It has cast a shadow over what has been a major contribution to protecting this country,” she said.

While Ms. Haspel ran the secret prison in Thailand in late 2002 while another detainee was waterboarded, it is not publicly known what she was doing in 2003 and whether she had any connection to Mr. Mohammed’s interrogation. Notably, this week Mr. Mohammed asked a military judge at the wartime prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for permission to give the Senate Intelligence Committee six paragraphs of unspecified information about her.

Haspel Won’t Say Whether Sought Expanded Use of Brutal Interrogation Techniques

Democrats have complained that under Ms. Haspel’s control as acting director, the C.I.A. has selectively declassified aspects of her record, making information public that will help her get confirmed while keeping more controversial secrets concealed. Against that backdrop, a line of questioning by Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, was striking.

Most of the C.I.A.’s use of torture took place in the first term of the Bush administration; it is not known to have waterboarded any prisoner, for example, since 2003. But Mr. Wyden stated: “Between 2005 and 2007, the program was winding down. The CIA was capturing fewer detainees and waterboarding was no longer approved. During that time, did you ever call for the program to be continued or expanded?”

Ms. Haspel did not directly answer. Instead, she talked about how C.I.A. officials were committed to making sure that the country was not attacked again and “had been informed that the techniques in C.I.A.’s program were legal and authorized by the highest legal authority in the country and also the president. So, I believe, I and my colleagues the Counterterrorism Center were working as hard as we could with the tools that we were given to make sure that we were successful in our mission.”

Mr. Wyden noted that her answer was not responsive to his question, adding: “I would really like to have on the record whether you ever called for the program to be continued which it sure sounds to me like your answer suggests it. You said well, we were doing our job. It ought to be continued. That troubles me very much.”

Her Chances of Confirmation

After her wavering last week and in anticipation of contentious moments at her hearing, Senate Republicans urged their colleagues on Tuesday to confirm Ms. Haspel but dismissed calls from Democrats for more sensitive information about her career to be made public.

“That has never happened in the history of the C.I.A., and it’s not going to happen with Gina Haspel’s nomination,” Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the Republican chairman of the Intelligence Committee, told reporters.

Several prominent members of the Republican-controlled Senate have indicated they are likely to object to Ms. Haspel’s confirmation, primarily over her role in the agency’s use of torture. They include Ms. Feinstein; Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky; and Senator John McCain, an influential Republican from Arizona and chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Mr. McCain’s dissent would normally be potent, but he is being treated for brain cancer and is not expected to be in Washington to vote or to try to persuade Republican colleagues to join his objection.

That leaves at least two key members of the Intelligence Committee to watch: Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Maine Republican who often breaks with Mr. Trump; and Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who has sided with the president.

If Ms. Collins indicates she is leaning against Ms. Haspel, she could provide cover for Mr. Manchin and other moderate Democratic senators to vote no, sinking her candidacy. But if Ms. Collins signals that she is satisfied with Ms. Haspel’s answers and intends vote yes, at least some Democrats — enough to secure a positive vote on the Senate floor — are likely to make a political calculation that they must follow suit.

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People protested Ms. Haspel’s nomination at her confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

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Tom Brenner/The New York Times

Protests from the Gallery

Demonstrators are a familiar sight in Hart 216, the Capitol Hill hearing room where many of the Senate’s most charged hearings take place. But as Ms. Haspel offered a nuanced defense of her role in the C.I.A.’s advanced interrogation program, she was treated to a more persistent chorus than usual.

“What do you do to human beings in U.S. custody?” interjected one woman, bringing the hearing to an abrupt halt after nearly two hours of questioning. Capitol Police rushed to detain and remove the woman, but she had the floor.

“Bloody Gina, bloody Gina, bloody Gina!” she yelled. “You are a torturer.”

She picked up where another protester had left off just before the hearing started.

“Don’t reward torturers,” he yelled as he struggled with police officers and was forcibly removed from the hearing room before Ms. Haspel sat down. “What meaning does love have in this world if we allow torture?”

Mr. Burr asked only that demonstrators make their point brief.

“For the benefits of our members: Do it fast, do it early, and be gone,” he told them.

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U.S. Transfers First Guantánamo Detainee Under Trump, Who Vowed to Fill It


But over time, court interventions gave prisoners rights to hearings and to humane treatment under the Geneva Conventions, and conditions improved at the prison. In his second term, Mr. Bush started trying to close it because, as he wrote in his memoir, “the detention facility had become a propaganda tool for our enemies and a distraction for our allies.”

Mr. Obama, who inherited 242 detainees from Mr. Bush, shared that view and significantly winnowed the inmate population without adding new detainees. But Congress blocked him from bringing several dozen detainees deemed untransferable to a different prison on domestic soil.

By contrast, Mr. Trump boasted during the campaign that he would not only keep the prison open, but also “load it up with some bad dudes.” But defying the expectations created by that rhetoric, his administration, too, has brought no new captives to Guantánamo — and now the population has instead shrunk.

A White House Push

In January, Mr. Trump signed an executive order directing Mr. Mattis to recommend within 90 days a policy about how to handle future detainees, including whether or when to take them to Guantánamo. Announcing that order in his State of the Union address, Mr. Trump also ad-libbed a line that “in many cases,” future detainees will be sent to the prison.

The Pentagon said on Wednesday that Mr. Mattis had provided updated policy guidance about when to propose transferring detainees to Guantánamo “should that person present a continuing, significant threat to the security of the United States.”

The Defense Department gave few details about the document. But people familiar with it said it was several pages long and consisted of screening criteria about what could make a terrorism suspect eligible for Guantánamo detention, without plainly specifying when that option should be preferred over alternative dispositions. One person portrayed the document as vague, and another said it made no major changes from existing policy.

In recent years, the government has tried to leave lower-level detainees in the hands of allies, while interrogating important captives at an overseas military base or on a naval ship. After the questioning, American officials have preferred to have an ally take or maintain custody of a suspect, with a fallback option of prosecution in civilian court.

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Ahmed Muhammed Haza al-Darbi’s transfer to Saudi Arabia, where American officials intend for him to serve out his sentence, leaves 40 detainees at Guantánamo.

Credit
International Committee of the Red Cross, via Associated Press

Transfer to Guantánamo has been a theoretical last resort; no new captive has arrived there since 2008, when the Supreme Court ruled that prisoners there have a constitutional right to file habeas corpus lawsuits challenging the basis for their detention.

When Mr. Obama pursued that approach, it was repeatedly criticized by Republicans as weak. But those voices have largely grown quiet as it continued under Mr. Trump, although Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, has continued to argue that the United States needs a place where it can interrogate terrorism suspects without defense lawyers for a much longer period.

But many national security professionals see taking new detainees to Guantánamo as unattractive for several reasons. It is extremely expensive. Moreover, in practice, the combination of an interrogation followed by a civilian-court prosecution has successfully garnered critical intelligence while also resulting in convictions and harsh sentences.

By contrast, the military commissions system has struggled to get contested cases to trial, and a statute bars the authorities from bringing detainees onto domestic soil, even for prosecution, once they have reached Guantánamo.

Finally, most of the terrorism suspects captured lately by the United States or allied forces have been associated with the Islamic State, like two British men who were recently caught in Syria by a Kurdish militia.

The Obama and Trump administrations have both contended that the legal authority Congress granted to the executive branch to use military force — like detaining people without trial — against Al Qaeda in 2001, and for the Iraq war in 2002, legitimately extends to the Islamic State. But it is not clear that their stance is lawful. Taking Islamic State detainees to Guantánamo would give a court an opportunity to rule that the larger conflict in Iraq and Syria is illegal.

A Cooperative Detainee

During his time in American custody, Mr. Darbi cooperated with investigators and lived apart from the main detainee population. A court document jointly prepared by prosecutors and defense lawyers for his sentencing said that his testimony against two other detainees facing tribunal charges was “unprecedented in similar counterterrorism prosecutions to date.”

Mr. Darbi had been detained for about 12 years before his 2014 guilty plea, but received no credit for that time. Under the terms of the plea deal, Mr. Darbi was supposed to be transferred by February to Saudi Arabia, which runs a custodial rehabilitation program for Islamist extremists and where his family lives.

The question of whether Mr. Trump would renege on the Obama-era agreement had been closely watched, and it missed the deadline by several months — although Mr. Darbi blamed the Saudi government for dragging its feet. While belated, the transfer is a rare success for the commissions system at Guantánamo.

Mr. Kassem has represented several other current and former Guantánamo detainees, including Awad Khalifa, a Libyan man who was resettled in Senegal in 2016 but forcibly deported last month back to Libya, where he has apparently been imprisoned by a militia in Tripoli. He had expressed fear that he would be killed if repatriated.

Mr. Kassem also asked a judge last month to order an independent psychological examination of another one of his clients, Mohammed al-Qahtani. Mr. Qahtani, a Saudi, is believed to have been the intended 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks, but was denied entry into the United States in August 2001 by a suspicious customs agent at the Orlando airport.

Mr. Qahtani was tortured at Guantánamo during a more than 50-day interrogation in late 2002 and early 2003. Saying that Mr. Qahtani has a history of significant mental illness dating to a brain injury he sustained as a child, Mr. Kassem wants a court to order the military to send him back to the custody of Saudi Arabia, too.

In a statement, Mr. Kassem argued that the legal and security arguments for closing the prison were “overwhelming” and blamed politics for why it has remained open under three presidents.

“This is the first prisoner transfer under Trump, but it may also be the last unless the courts meaningfully check the president’s claimed power to imprison men without charge for as long as he pleases,” Mr. Kassem said.

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At War: Sketching Cruelty and Finding Humanity Beside Syria’s ‘Waterfall of Blood’


“At least the Alawites aren’t being raped,” she adds. “I will not help them.”

This sort of moral corruption and sectarian self-righteousness helped violence spread through Syria like an uncontained, leaping fire. Many efforts at hastening the war’s end served as more fuel. Even would-be allies turned upon each other, as competition among groups seeking the downfall of President Bashar al-Assad created wars within the war, including the fratricidal militant infighting that Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s leader, labeled the “waterfall of blood.”

And then there was the awkward and ineffective support provided by the United States. This element emerges in Abouzeid’s portrayal of the frustration of the Hazm Movement, an American-funded rebel alliance that gathered intelligence on the activities and locations of Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State, both of which were designated terrorist organizations by the United States.

For months the United States did not act on the intelligence. Then, when it began attacking jihadist positions in Syria in 2014, it gave Hazm no warning, leaving its fighters and agents exposed to retaliation.

Hazm was soon overpowered by Jabhat al-Nusra, yielding its American-supplied weapons to the Qaeda affiliate — a process resembling what has played out repeatedly since 2001 in Afghanistan and Iraq, where many American partners have been bedeviled by desertion and battlefield defeat. A Hazm operative shares a scalding critique, telling Abouzeid that “Russia is more honorable and trustworthy than the United States, because at least it is really standing alongside its ally.”

Abouzeid was briefly in New York this month. She sat down to discuss her reporting, and that word in her book’s subtitle — “hope.”

You covered Syria from the beginning, before protest seemed likely and when uprising seemed impossible. How did you select characters from the many people you met?

I ended up with these characters because I felt that although they are individuals, each of their stories illuminated larger truths. I wanted to use characters and their experiences as vehicles, for example, to explain what happened to a Free Syrian Army battalion or the Islamization of the uprising. So I chose characters who would help a reader understand certain elements of the Syrian conflict.

“No Turning Back” illuminates experiences and points of view of female characters, including girls who came of age during war. Such voices are not prominent in news reports. Was it a mission to include them?

I wanted to include as many voices as I could to present as full a picture as I could. I spent more time with the men, because it’s the men who wage the wars. But the women are certainly there, and they’re there in many different capacities. I focused on Ruha, who was 9 years old in 2011, to tell the story of her family of very strong women, because I wanted to make sure that even in stories of war, the voices of others, who are not necessarily waging it, are also heard.

The book mostly covers Sunnis, but there are sections that cover Alawites and sections that cover the government point of view. It was very hard in Syria to toggle between sides, but you managed, in spite of all of your time with Free Syrian Army and Islamist battalions, to be a guest of Air Force Intelligence in one of their main detention centers in Damascus —

Where I was wanted as well. I was wanted by Air Force Intelligence.

There were active warrants out for you. And you also covered the perspective of an Alawite family that was kidnapped by Islamists. How did you get access across this divide?

I was branded a spy for several foreign states, and I learned that I was wanted by three of Syria’s four main intelligence agencies and barred from entering the country. This forced me to focus on the rebel side. I was on the Latakian front with the rebels in August 2013, shortly after their raid into those villages. And then I returned to Beirut, where I arranged to meet Talal and other Alawites whose families had been kidnapped in the raid. I stayed in contact with these family members, and I did manage two trips into government-held territory in 2013 and 2016 and went to their homes.

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A schoolgirl walking past damaged buildings in the town of Maaret al-Numan, Idlib Province, in October 2015.

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Khalil Ashawi/Reuters

The government let you in, in spite of long barring you. How did you meet with the Alawite families?

I was allowed into Damascus for a conference in 2016, and I sneaked away and made my way to the Alawite neighborhood. I continued reporting that side of the story from the homes of some of these Alawite families that were still hoping that their captive loved ones would be freed. It was hard. It was very difficult to get into that side, and it took years.

On the opposite side, you knew Mohammad and his wife, who were privy to and perhaps even participated in the detention of Talal’s family. What did you make of the absence of sympathy in Mohammad for these victims?

It’s a chilling moment. Mohammad is a father. He has children of his own. He has a wife, he has nieces and nephews, but he couldn’t relate. He had so dehumanized the other side that he couldn’t relate. And that’s what war does. It’s in the stories that people tell themselves to be able to brand somebody an enemy.

But in this case the enemies were children —

And they were neighbors, because Mohammad was from the same area. He was from Latakia, too. That’s the great tragedy of civil wars. They turn neighbors against one another.

You lay out starkly the American betrayal of Hazm. To those who have followed American proxy arrangements in the Middle East across the decades, this was not surprising. Did you see it coming?

I don’t know if I saw it coming, but the bigger point for me is repeated American involvement in the Middle East and the lessons that aren’t learned and the impact they have on the local communities. If you’re going to be stomping around in a place with a heavy footprint, then you should understand the place and the people you may be stepping on. Because, as history has taught us, blowback is an ugly thing.

Many of your stories are testaments to courage, like that of Hanin, the asthmatic Alawite child, who chose to remain a hostage so others could go free. In seven years of this war, what have you learned about Syrians?

The incredible resilience of ordinary people. Hanin was a prisoner. She was asleep one night when rebels entered her home and took her and her siblings and her mother hostage. The biggest lesson for me was the way people can adapt, the way they can survive, the way they can persist and the way they can continue, in some cases, even to have hope and to still be able to forgive and to still believe in a Syrian-ness that transcends politics.

Does that idea still exist?

I think it exists on the individual level. People are the building blocks of communities, and when it comes down to the community level and how neighbors become neighbors again, if they do, then it has to start with people like that who just want to get on with it and go back to living their lives. There is always hope. I mean, if they haven’t given up hope, then how dare we? Conflicts end. It doesn’t matter how long they take. They eventually end.

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Militants Linked to Al Qaeda Unleash Deadly Car Bombings in Somalia


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The Shabab claimed responsibility for a deadly car bombing in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Sunday.

Credit
Said Yusuf Warsame/EPA, via Shutterstock

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Three explosions in four days have shattered the Somalian capital and left a trail of carnage in their wake, killing nearly 20 people and injuring dozens of others, as Islamist militants unleashed a wave of attacks on the country.

On Sunday, a car bomb exploded at a security checkpoint near the Interior Ministry on a road leading to the presidential palace in the capital, Mogadishu. At least three people, in addition to the bomber, were killed, a police chief said.

The blast sent a plume of black smoke billowing above the skyline.

The police chief, Gen. Bashir Mohamed Jama, said that five other people had been injured in the blast and that the authorities had thwarted two other suicide bombing attacks on Sunday morning.

The Shabab, an Islamist extremist group affiliated with Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had killed 13 members of the security forces, although that could not be independently verified.

The group, which has been behind bombings and other attacks in Mogadishu, aims to topple Somalia’s Western-backed federal government.

Earlier on Sunday, another car bomb exploded in Siinka Dheer, outside Mogadishu, but the toll was not immediately clear. Some reports said that one person had been killed, along with the driver.

Mogadishu’s mayor, Abdirahman Omar Osman, also known as Yariisow, condemned the attacks, saying, “These terror acts will not stop us.”

Dr. Abdulkadir Adan, from Mogadishu’s only emergency services unit, said, “Our vehicles and rescue teams immediately reached the Sayid checkpoint to rescue civilian injured at the scene.”

Mohamed Abdulle, a resident of Mogadishu, said in a phone interview on Sunday, “I personally saw and counted the deaths of three people; they were civilians.” He added, “I could also see many motorbikes and cars, which were completely burned and destroyed by the blast.”

The explosions occurred days after a bomb went off outside the Weheliye Hotel in the city, killing at least 14 people, mostly young entrepreneurs, and injuring at least 10 others on Thursday afternoon, according to the police and rescue services.

Abdiasis Ali Ibrahim, the spokesman for the internal security minister, confirmed the death toll to the state-run Radio Mogadishu. The Shabab also claimed responsibility for that attack.

The first car bomb on Sunday was detonated at a checkpoint after soldiers stopped a suspicious vehicle, a senior police captain, Mohamed Hussein, told The Associated Press. Those who died included two soldiers, he said, while many of the nearly 10 people wounded were rickshaw drivers.

Officer Mohamed Abdi told The A.P. that the earlier explosion that day had occurred after soldiers inspected another “suspicious” car that was stuck on a road in the Siinka Dheer area.

Somalia suffered one of its deadliest attacks in October, when a double truck bombing killed 512 people. The attack came as the United States under President Trump has made a renewed push to defeat the Shabab, which has terrorized Somalia and elsewhere in East Africa for years, killing civilians across borders, worsening famine and destabilizing a broad stretch of the region.

Last year, the country’s president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, declared war on the militant group even as he offered amnesty to its fighters — whom he referred to as “brainwashed youth.” But the wave of attacks has continued.

American forces have stepped up efforts against the Shabab, with the military carrying out about 30 airstrikes in Somalia last year, twice as many as in 2016.

In 2017, the Pentagon presented the White House with an operational plan that envisioned at least two more years of combat against Islamist militants there, with the United States military handing over the country’s security to Somalia’s forces. But officials have said that Somali forces are not yet ready.

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