Gina Haspel wants the nation to put dark times behind it, which is not about to happen if she is appointed director of the CIA.
She was too much a part of those dark times.
If the Senate confirms Haspel’s nomination, the message to all of those who participated in or condoned secret CIA torture sessions in the years after 9/11, or who looked the other way, is that there is no price to pay for throwing our nation’s values to the wind.
Surely, there are others who could lead the CIA who, unlike Haspel, did not oversee a secret CIA prison in Thailand at which interrogation techniques included waterboarding, intense sleep deprivation and confining prisoners in boxes. There must be somebody capable of running the CIA whose name was not on a cable ordering the destruction of videotape and audio recordings of those so-called “enhanced” interrogation sessions.
We have to believe there is another potential candidate who is willing to say, if only with the clarity of hindsight, that such interrogation techniques are immoral.
Because Haspel, for her part, can’t bring herself to say it.
Testifying on Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, she pledged to never allow the CIA to employ such techniques again, but she declined to call them immoral.
Sen. Kamala Harris: “I’m asking, do you believe they were immoral?”
Haspel: “Senator, I believe the CIA did extraordinary work to prevent another attack on this country given the legal tools.”
Harris: “Please answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Do you believe in hindsight that those techniques were immoral?”
Haspel: “Senator, what I believe sitting here today is that I support the higher moral standard we have decided to hold ourselves…”
Harris: “Can you please answer the question?”
Haspel: “I think I’ve answered the question.”
Harris: “No, you have not.”
In her prepared remarks, Haspel vowed her “personal commitment, clearly and without reservation,” that under her leadership the “CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation program.”
But how sure can we feel about that? She won’t call things what they are — torture and immorality — which would seem to leave open the door. And she was nominated to head the CIA by a president, Donald Trump, who has shown little interest in morality or the rule of law.
Trump campaigned for president on a promise to “bring back” waterboarding and said he would “approve more than that.” Now, by nominating Haspel, he again has made clear his disdain for those who care about niceties like human rights.
There is much to admire in Haspel. She worked her way up in the CIA, as she said, making “dead drops” in “dusty back allies” on “dark, moonless nights.” She did a dangerous job, proudly so, in the service of her country.
“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.”
We admire Haspel’s patriotism and honor her service, even as we’d like to know more. But that’s the heart of the problem. So many questions remain about her role in CIA “black site” interrogations. The CIA has refused to declassify much of her record.
We appreciate that Haspel didn’t control CIA policy on interrogation techniques. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, with contorted legal reasoning, had sanctioned it all.
But there were always responsible voices of dissent, even back then when the ashes of the World Trade Center towers had barely cooled. There were Americans — in Congress, in the media, in the CIA and elsewhere — who warned against the natural urge to compromise civil liberties and human rights in the name of the war on terror.
They rightly opposed the fear-driven Patriot Act that put every American under greater surveillance. They railed against the unending detention of suspects without due process, notably at Guantanamo Bay. And they questioned, early on, the CIA’s use of interrogation techniques that human rights groups had long before said amounted to torture.
Haspel didn’t make the rules, but she lived by them.
If our nation hopes to move on, elevating her makes no sense at all.
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