As the Senate considers Gina Haspel’s nomination as director of the C.I.A., it is time to dispel the false narrative about her record. That narrative says that Ms. Haspel’s involvement in torture, as well as the order she drafted authorizing the destruction of videotapes documenting this abusive practice, was legal and justifiable.
Torture — “enhanced interrogation,” as it was called — was supposedly legal because Justice Department lawyers had given it their blessing at the time, and destroying evidence of it was legal not only because government lawyers said it was, but also because Ms. Haspel was just following orders.
But Ms. Haspel’s supporters, many of whom are lawyers, should know better: the faulty advice of government lawyers and bosses cannot make illegal conduct legal. And C.I.A. investigations that rely on these specious justifications to excuse her decisions should be given no weight.
In 2002, Ms. Haspel ran a secret detention site in Thailand, code-named Cat’s Eye, that was known for its use of harsh interrogation techniques that amounted to torture. She was also chief of staff to Jose Rodriguez, director of the National Clandestine Service for the agency.
The Nuremberg trials after World War II established that following orders is not a defense for conduct that is patently illegal. Under the Geneva Conventions, torture, like genocide, belongs in that category. A similar principle says that incorrect legal advice cannot shield one from liability when such advice is promoting transparently unlawful conduct. Torture, like genocide, is of such patent illegality that we are entitled to hold all who engage in it responsible, whether they knew it was illegal or not. Under both domestic and international law, a manifestly evil act puts perpetrators on notice they are committing a crime, and they can be held responsible for such knowledge.
Torture is just wrong. It should never be used. Not only that, but it doesn’t even work!
The NYT reports that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed wants to release a six paragraph statement about Gina Haspel:
Ms. Haspel ran a black-site prison in Thailand where another high-level detainee was tortured in late 2002. But it is not known whether she was involved, directly or indirectly, in Mr. Mohammed’s torture. Mr. Mohammed was held in secret C.I.A. prisons in Afghanistan and Poland.
In the weeks after his capture, an Intelligence Committee report said, Mr. Mohammed was subjected to the suffocation technique called waterboarding 183 times over 15 sessions, stripped naked, doused with water, slapped, slammed into a wall, given rectal rehydrations without medical need, shackled into painful stress positions and sleep-deprived for about a week by being forced to stand with his hands chained above his head.
While being subjected to that treatment, he made alarming confessions about purported terrorist plots — like recruiting black Muslims in Montana to carry out attacks — that he later retracted. They were apparently made up, the Senate report said.
Gina Haspel should not be promoted, she should be sent to The Hague to stand trial for war crimes, along with others like Dick Cheney. Torture is not an American value, at least not in the America I want to live in.
The Guardian reports:
Gina Haspel is set to become the first female director in the 70-year history of the CIA. But smashing that glass ceiling will depend on offering the US Senate a convincing explanation about her dark past.
More than a decade ago Haspel reportedly oversaw an infamous secret CIA prison in Thailand where a terrorism suspect, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was waterboarded, a process that simulates drowning. She is also said to have drafted orders to destroy video evidence of such torture, which prompted a lengthy justice department investigation that ended without charges.
I am personally not reassured by her assertion that the CIA won’t restart torture:
Gina Haspel is expected to tell the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday that she “will not restart” the CIA’s brutal interrogation program if confirmed to lead the agency, according to excerpts of her remarks released by the agency in advance of what is expected to be a contentious confirmation hearing.
But that is unlikely to satisfy those senators who have called for more public disclosure about her career. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the Intelligence Committee’s vice chairman, told Haspel in a letter earlier this week that her recalcitrance was “unacceptable.”
Not reassured at all that Haspel, Bolton and Trump won’t quickly start up black sites and begin torturing people again. Who would even know, at first? She seems quite happy with herself, able to sleep at night, unlike some of her victims.
In October 2002, she took over a secret CIA detention facility in Thailand where an al-Qaeda suspect was waterboarded. Another suspect was subjected to the same so-called enhanced interrogation technique before Haspel arrived. At the time, she was serving in a senior leadership position in the agency’s counterterrorism center.
In 2005, Haspel drafted a cable, ultimately issued by her boss, ordering the destruction of nearly 100 videotapes of the interrogation sessions. Officials familiar with the episode have said that Haspel believed her boss, Jose Rodriquez, then the director of the National Clandestine Service, would obtain approval from the CIA director and general counsel before issuing the order. But Haspel was a strong advocate within the agency for destroying the tapes, believing that were they to become public and reveal the identity of CIA interrogators, they could face reprisals from terrorists.
End Torture in Illinois, and everywhere
James Cavallaro of The Guardian writes:
In the coming days, Gina Haspel will testify before the Senate in connection with her nomination by Donald Trump to direct the Central Intelligence Agency. Much has been written about whether someone who oversaw a secret CIA detention site where detainees were tortured should be eligible to head the nation’s leading intelligence agency.
At first blush, this may appear to be the central debate. What ethical transgressions are inconsistent with an agency-level directorship in the United States government? Certainly, participation in torture should render a candidate unqualified. Yet, on further inspection, the focus on whether Haspel’s abusive conduct disqualifies her from CIA leadership cloaks a far more important and revealing debate.
Judging candidates to direct the CIA presupposes knowledge of the history of the CIA and a vision for its role – if any – in a society that purports to be democratic. Interrogating, so to speak, that knowledge and understanding that vision have been painfully absent from the national debate.
More recently, the CIA created black sites around the world to host programs of institutionalized torture, documented by the Senate itself. The torture memos, written to justify this torture, so twisted and distorted legal norms that they were kept secret for years. The agency also facilitated creation of a black hole legal regime in Guantánamo, where the US has indefinitely detained hundreds of people in violation of international law.
My guess is that none of this bleak history will be raised when Gina Haspel appears before the Senate. Since 9/11, we have witnessed a national, collective effort to rehabilitate the CIA and champion its role as a noble protector of the US. Our post-9/11 reverence for all those tasked with defending us against real and perceived terrorist threats has crippled our ability to assess the actions and role of agencies like the CIA critically. This collective amnesia regarding the agency’s abuses, including its pattern of interference in democratic processes, is particularly stark today, as our nation grapples with the consequences of Russian efforts to undermine our elections and those of other nations.
Given its sordid history, the question to ask might not be whether Haspel rises to the caliber of the CIA. The question might be whether Haspel descends to the level of instigator of torture, murder and interference in foreign governments that has marked the history of the CIA. Unless and until we examine the difficult questions about the past and future of the CIA, Haspel may just be perfect for the job.
Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, offered to withdraw her nomination amid concerns that a debate over a harsh interrogation program would tarnish her reputation and that of the CIA. That’s according to two senior administration officials.
White House aides on Friday sought out additional details about Haspel’s involvement in the CIA’s now-defunct program of detaining and brutally interrogating terror suspects after 9/11 as they prepared her for Wednesday’s confirmation hearing. This is when she offered to withdraw.
They said Haspel, who is the acting director of the CIA, was reassured that her nomination was still on track and she will not withdraw.
If Ms. Haspel had any honor, and there is no evidence she does, she would immediately withdraw her nomination and start a non-profit organization dedicated to helping victims of human rights abuses around the world as a kind of penance. Even still, she should become a pariah, unwelcome to visit civilized societies.
Torture is stain on our country. Not only does it rarely produce actionable intelligence, it is just morally and ethically wrong. The Senate should not confirm Gina Haspel to be Director of the CIA because she should be in prison instead.
John Kiriakou, a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, writes:
Described in the media as a “seasoned intelligence veteran,” Haspel has been at the CIA for 33 years, both at headquarters and in senior positions overseas. Now the deputy director, she has tried hard to stay out of the public eye. Mike Pompeo, the outgoing CIA director and secretary of state designee, has lauded her “uncanny ability to get things done and inspire those around her.”
I’m sure that’s true for some. But many of the rest of us who knew and worked with Haspel at the CIA called her “Bloody Gina.”
The CIA will not let me repeat her résumé or the widely reported specifics of how her work fit into the agency’s torture program, calling such details “currently and properly classified.” But I can say that Haspel was a protege of and chief of staff for Jose Rodriguez, the CIA’s notorious former deputy director for operations and former director of the Counterterrorism Center. And that Rodriguez eventually assigned Haspel to order the destruction of videotaped evidence of the torture of Abu Zubaida. The Justice Department investigated, but no one was ever charged in connection with the incident.
CIA officers and psychologists under contract to the agency began torturing Abu Zubaida on Aug. 1, 2002. The techniques were supposed to be incremental, starting with an open-palmed slap to the belly or the face. But the operatives where he was held decided to start with the toughest method. They waterboarded Abu Zubaida 83 times. They later subjected him to sleep deprivation; they kept him locked in a large dog cage for weeks at a time; they locked him in a coffin-size box and, knowing that he had an irrational fear of insects, put bugs in it with him.
The meaning of Haspel’s nomination won’t be lost on our enemies, either. The torture program and similar abuses at military-run prisons in Iraq were among the greatest recruitment tools that al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and other bad actors ever had, according to legal experts, U.S. lawmakers and even the militantsthemselves. It energized them and gave them something to rally against. It sowed an even deeper hatred of the United States among militant groups. It swelled their ranks. It was no coincidence that the Islamic State paraded its prisoners in front of cameras wearing orange jumpsuits (like those worn by Guantanamo Bay detainees) before beheading them. Haspel and the others at the CIA who engineered and oversaw the torture program are at least partially responsible for that, because they showed the world how the United States sometimes treats captives.
Do we Americans want to remain a nation that tortures people, like North Korea, China and Iran? Are we proud of the era when we snatched people from one country and sent them to another to be interrogated in secret prisons? Do we want to be the country that cynically preaches human rights and then violates those same rights when we think nobody is looking?
I will be paying attention to who votes to confirm Bloody Gina, I’m looking at you specifically Senator Feinstein…
Asked by a reporter about her opposition to an earlier promotion that Haspel was up for in 2013, Feinstein replied, “Well, I have spent some time with her, we’ve had dinner together, we have talked … everything I know is, is that she has been a good deputy director of the CIA….I think hopefully the entire organization learned something from the so-called enhanced interrogation program. I think it’s something that can’t be forgotten. And I certainly can never forget it. And I won’t let any director forget it,” the senator added, revealing she shared a “long personal talk” with Haspel about the program.
Pressed to say whether she’s “a no” on Haspel’s nomination, Feinstein appeared to be undecided. “No, right now I’m late for my hearings,” she said.
Feinstein is facing a surprisingly robust primary challenge from Democratic state Sen. Kevin de Leόn, which already seems to have nudged her leftward as she competes for the nomination. It’s very unlikely Feinstein will actually lose, but frustration with her perceivably establishment politics is clearly mounting among California’s progressive voter base. Last month, not only did the longtime senator fail to secure the state party’s endorsement at its annual convention, but de Leόn beat her by a margin of 17 percent of delegates.
If Feinstein believes Haspel is the right woman for the job, a “yes” vote could really upset Golden State progressives already dissatisfied with her job performance. On Tuesday afternoon, de Leόn seized on Feinstein’s early reaction to Haspel. “It is very concerning Senator Feinstein is ‘open to supporting’ CIA nominee Haspel, who ran a ‘black site’ prison that waterboarded and beat prisoners,” he tweeted. “Believes she has been a ‘good’ deputy CIA Director.”
Regardless of her own interests, Feinstein may plausibly determine Haspel is unfit for the position. But the senator’s ambiguity on Tuesday signals some measure of respect for the nominee, indicating the decision won’t come easily no matter what.
In a just world, these evil doers would be publicly humiliated, named by name, and forced to stand trial for war crimes at The Hague. The Bush administration too. It’s a travesty that President Obama’s response to war crimes perpetrated by his predecessor was to sweep all the evidence under the rug and shrug, “Bygones…”
The American Psychological Association secretly collaborated with the administration of President George W. Bush to bolster a legal and ethical justification for the torture of prisoners swept up in the post-Sept. 11 war on terror, according to a new report by a group of dissident health professionals and human rights activists.
The report is the first to examine the association’s role in the interrogation program. It contends, using newly disclosed emails, that the group’s actions to keep psychologists involved in the interrogation program coincided closely with efforts by senior Bush administration officials to salvage the program after the public disclosure in 2004 of graphic photos of prisoner abuse by American military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
“The A.P.A. secretly coordinated with officials from the C.I.A., White House and the Department of Defense to create an A.P.A. ethics policy on national security interrogations which comported with then-classified legal guidance authorizing the C.I.A. torture program,” the report’s authors conclude.
The involvement of health professionals in the Bush-era interrogation program was significant because it enabled the Justice Department to argue in secret opinions that the program was legal and did not constitute torture, since the interrogations were being monitored by health professionals to make sure they were safe.