Torturous Times: Americans May Suffer More Than Its Enemies With Gina Haspel as CIA Chief
Donald Trump is determined to revive one of the darkest chapters of US history with the nomination of Gina Haspel – an official who featured prominently in the Bush-era torture program – as the new CIA director.
Much to my surprise, I find myself for the first time in agreement with US Senator John McCain, the ailing American warhorse who experienced torture firsthand: it would be a serious mistake for the US Senate to confirm Gina Haspel, 61, as the new CIA director.
To remember why, it is necessary to take a brief stroll down Memory Lane where sits, among the overgrowth of thistles, brambles, and poison ivy, Haspel’s little Thai shop of horrors.
Rewind to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, an event that traumatized the national psyche like none other in American history. Instead of pursuing the culprits with a sense of honor, integrity and decency, America succumbed to its darkest impulses, arguably behaving no better than its sworn enemy.
Like something straight out of a Freudian nightmare, the macabre images (WARNING: GRAPHIC) are not easily forgotten: The impish US soldier Lynndie England dragging a naked Iraqi detainee across the floor at Abu Ghraib prison by a dog leash; US service men and women, posing next to what must have been gratefully dead detainees, flashing smiles and thumbs-up signs; prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, despite being held on an island surrounded by shark-infested waters, being forced to wear ‘sensory deprivation’ garb, including goggles, earmuffs, and hoods as armed US Marines taunted them.
This sort of barbaric behavior is not, nor has ever been, the American way in past wars. This forces one to inquire into the ultimate source and utility of such sadistic brutality. Far from attempting to ‘break the enemy,’ it looked as if the US was doing everything in its power to actually create one. And now we seem determined to bring back these medieval methods.
Amid this atmosphere of sheer depravity, enter Gina Haspel, who ran a ‘black site’ located somewhere deep in the lush jungles of Thailand. These top-secret torture facilities, holdover zones on the lengthy ‘extraordinary rendition’ journey to Gitmo, dotted the fringes of empire, mostly in Eastern European countries, like Poland, Romania, and Lithuania. Incredible as it may seem, many officials of those states had no idea as to the barbarities taking place on their territory.
And since not even the precise location of those facilities has been fully established, what went on behind those walls is even lesser known. However, one thing that we do know that happened on Haspel’s watch was a torture technique known as ‘waterboarding,’ that is said to simulate the very unpleasant sensation of drowning. A 2014 report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence details how one detainee at Haspel’s site was repeatedly subjected to waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
That is just the tip of the torture iceberg, however, since US intelligence imposed a gag order restricting any further details from emerging into the public realm.
“The CIA and the White House… have dissuaded Congress from demanding that the agency answer questions in open testimony about the conditions under which captives are held,”reported the Washington Post in 2005. “Virtually nothing is known about who is kept in the facilities, what interrogation methods are employed with them, or how decisions are made about whether they should be detained or for how long.”
In addition to Haspel’s participation in the Bush-era torture program, she helped scrub its existence from the historical record. On Nov. 9, 2005, as the US Senate was debating whether to investigate the CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation’ program, as good old-fashioned torture was euphemistically called, Haspel oversaw the destruction of dozens of tapes that purported to document the harsh treatment of detainees.
Just in case anybody suspected Haspel of wrongdoing, the intelligence community wasted no time investigating and exonerating her.
“There was an internal investigation of the issue conducted by one of my predecessors… who found no fault with my actions and that my decisions were consistent with my obligations as an agency officer,” Haspel remarked during her Senate confirmation hearing on May 9.
Today, with the promise of the CIA top job tantalizingly close, Haspel has told US lawmakers that she has reformed her ways and would never ever consider twisting the arm of another suspected terrorist again.
“Having served in that tumultuous time, I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation program,” she told the hearing.
Haspel may very well mean what she says, but in the event of another terrorist attack, for example, or some other national emergency, she may be tempted to revert back to old habits after gaining the keys to the dark kingdom. She outright rejected that possibility during her Senate grilling.
“My moral compass is strong,” she said. “I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that I thought was immoral, even if it was technically legal.”
On the other hand, Haspel may be expected to restart the engine on America’s torture machine, since Trump has in the past expressed his enthusiasm over such unproven methods.
“Torture works. OK, folks,” Trump stated on the campaign trail. “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.”
By promoting Haspel to the CIA’s top post, America is sending a disturbing message not only to its enemies, but to Americans as well. After all, what kind of treatment can US soldiers be expected to receive if they one day find themselves prisoners of war in some hostile foreign land? If America’s enemies know that their brothers in arms are possibly being treated inhumanely, this knowledge will not do our own soldiers any favors.
In the meantime, even debating the issue of torture has become a form of torture in itself, as former CIA officer Ray McGovern learned the hard way. Last week, while attempting to speak at Haspel’s Senate confirmation hearing, McGovern was forcibly dragged from the assembly.
The 78-year-old said the judge had told him he could deliver a comment in the chambers.
“Well, I had my comment prepared very briefly, I said it… but oh my God,” he told RT.
Indeed, this could be just the beginning of very tortured times for American citizens if Haspel gets the nod.