“If the US Senate has a single shred of respect left for the law, it should not confirm her appointment.”
Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, writes:
We’re on the brink of a full-throttled return to officially sanctioned US torture. Our impulsive president has said he wants to bring back waterboarding “and a hell of a lot worse” and has now named Gina Haspel as the new CIA chief. Haspel personally oversaw torture at a CIA black site in Thailand, and she even seemed to relish the role.
Haspel also oversaw George W Bush’s rendition to torture program and, unsurprisingly, many in the intelligence community that are connected to the US torture program are now leaping to her defense, saying that she shouldn’t be penalized now for just following orders back then.
Former CIA Director John Brennan, who supported rendition to torture and famously said, “we do have to take the gloves off in some areas,” this week vouched for Haspel’s “integrity” and told an interviewer, “don’t forget that the detention-interrogation program was authorized by the president of the United States and deemed lawful by the Department of Justice.”
Former CIA chief General Michael Hayden said in defense of Haspel, that she did “simply everything that the agency, the agency’s directors and the nation asked her to do.”
While it is certainly not unusual for people who’ve overseen and participated in crimes against humanity like torture and genocide to be recast by their supporters as dutiful public servants, there are, in addition, two deeply disturbing trends – one old, one new – embedded both in the naming of Haspel to the position and her defenders’ characterizations of her.
Torture is illegal under US and international law in all circumstances, and human rights organizations like mine have been strongly pushing for those who ordered or committed torture after 9/11 – including the president – to be held accountable in US and international courts.
Yet Haspel’s defenders are loathe to admit that the practice she participated in was concerning, much less illegal. So defending Haspel as a duty-bound functionary when it comes to torture but a vibrant leader with great integrity when it comes to everything else seeks to erase the illegality and the depravity of the practice of torture as well as the well-deserved disgrace that must always travel with those who have practiced it.
But beyond that, there is another, more current problem, and that is the president himself. Trump, who is lining up with authoritarian rulers and tin-pot dictators around the world, has no use for the rule of law. He is impulsive, reckless, and astonishingly self-focused. A very healthy subset of high-level White House staff have been running for the exits when he’s not looking, precisely because they recognize that he demands fealty to whim rather than to the national good.