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Tuesday, 08 May 2018 06:43

For This White House, It's a Job Qualification to Approve of Torture

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ginahaspelCIA director nominee Gina Haspel. (Photo: Central Intelligence Agency)

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On Wednesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee will question the CIA's Gina Haspel on her nomination to become the confirmed director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The appearance comes on the heels of Haspel apparently seeking to withdraw from the process to avoid questions about her involvement with torture -- euphemistically called "enhanced interrogation techniques" in Washington, DC. It took Sarah Huckabee Sanders and another White House aide to travel to CIA headquarters on Friday and convince Haspel to continue with the nomination process, according to The Washington Post.

The Post noted that Haspel was concerned that she would be particularly grilled about her role in two incidents:

Haspel, who serves as the CIA’s deputy director and has spent 33 years in the agency, most of it undercover, faces some opposition in Congress because of her connection to the interrogation program, which was set up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In late 2002, Haspel oversaw a secret CIA detention facility in Thailand, where one al-Qaeda suspect was waterboarded. Another detainee also was waterboarded before Haspel’s arrival.

Three years later, Haspel was involved in the CIA’s destruction of nearly 100 videotapes that recorded the men’s interrogations, touching off an investigation by a special prosecutor who ultimately decided not to bring charges against those involved. 

Because of the willful elimination of the torture tapes, the truth will probably never be known about what types of "enhanced interrogation techniques" were used. In addition, Haspel is part of what is known as the clandestine division of the CIA, and much of her work is classified. This severely limits the information available to the senators who will question her, and it will also constrain her answers.

Since Haspel decided not to step aside, the White House has expressed full support for the embattled nominee. CBS News reported:

On Monday morning, President Trump sidestepped some of the major criticisms surrounding his nominee and, in a tweet, appeared to frame the matter as a mix of national security, gender, and politics.

"My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists," the president wrote. "Think of that, in these very dangerous times, we have the most qualified person, a woman, who Democrats want OUT because she is too tough on terror. Win Gina!"

In 2017, The Nation ran an article entitled "Donald Trump Has a Passionate Desire to Bring Back Torture." It states that President Obama's executive order to close down CIA torture sites and end enhanced interrogation "already seems like such ancient history, especially as the first hints of the Trump era begin to appear, one in which torture, black sites, extraordinary rendition, and so much more may well come roaring back." It goes on to say:

Right now, it’s a matter of reading the Trumpian tea leaves. Soon after the November election, Masha Gessen, a Russian émigré who has written two books about Vladimir Putin’s regime, gave us some pointers on how to do this. Rule number one: “Believe the autocrat.” When he tells you what he wants to do -- build a wall, deport millions, bring back torture -- “he means what he says.”

Indeed, in 2016 Trump stated, according to The Washington Post:

“Torture works. OK, folks? You know, I have these guys -- “Torture doesn’t work!” -- believe me, it works. And waterboarding is your minor form. Some people say it’s not actually torture. Let’s assume it is. But they asked me the question, What do you think of waterboarding? Absolutely fine. But we should go much stronger than waterboarding. That’s the way I feel. They’re chopping off heads. Believe me, we should go much stronger, because our country’s in trouble.

After all, this is a man who proclaimed that "you have to take out" the families of terrorists.

Nominees for major government positions that require Senate confirmation are carefully prepped for their appearances. One can imagine that Haspel will have tactful answers aimed at assuaging doubts about her past oversight of torture. Indeed CBS News reports that "Haspel has told senators in private meetings that she would 'never let the CIA restart an interrogation and detention program.'"

However, one has to ask why the White House chose such a seemingly compromised candidate to begin with.

Given Trump's outspoken support of torture, it may hardly be an accident that Haspel was selected to become CIA director. Indeed, her confirmation would send a signal through the agency that those who supported and enabled torture in the Bush presidency are being rewarded not censured.

There is no reason to believe that Trump does not fully support his declarations that torture works and that waterboarding is just the beginning. What better director for a torture enthusiast such as Trump than a person who has already overseen and approved of the action.

Haspel's background in torture is not a liability in the framework of this White House; it's an asset.