Our former boss, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), has announced he will do “whatever it takes” to block Gina Haspel from becoming director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Paul is right. Haspel has been actively complicit in the torture of terrorism suspects. Her elevation to the head of the CIA would set a terrible precedent for the rule of law in the United States and its reputation around the world.
Haspel has been a key figure in the CIA’s shadowy past. Although her resume is classified, we know she headed a secret prison in Thailand that oversaw the detention and torture of at least one detainee, Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri. The techniques approved for use at CIA black sites like it included everything from waterboarding to punching, shackling, and humiliation of the naked body.
We saw these techniques put to use in the now-infamous interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, a captured fighter mistakenly thought to be the third-ranking person in al-Qaeda. Operatives working for the CIA waterboarded Abu Zubaydah 83 times in one month. They subjected him to sleep deprivation and kept him locked in a large dog cage for weeks at a time. Knowing that he feared insects, they locked him in a coffin-size box full of bugs. They repeatedly slammed his head into walls.
A Person Who Allows This Doesn’t Deserve Elevation
Zubaydah’s case is important, not because it revealed any actionable intelligence—the testimony of FBI interrogator Ali Soufan confirmed that it did not—but because Haspel later destroyed the videotaped evidence of the interrogation, one of 92 “torture tapes” destroyed by the CIA. (The DOJ investigated, but declined to press charges.)
Certainly, some will argue that Haspel was only following orders to engage in activities that, at the time, were legal. But it would have also been reasonable for a CIA employee to refuse to follow orders because she was unwilling to engage in life-threatening torture that violated not only her constitutional oath, but the values of this country.
This is what makes Haspel’s confirmation fraught with a meaning that goes beyond just the post to which she is nominated. What Haspel represents is bigger than who she is, and, for that reason, her confirmation will undermine America’s identity as a nation of law and decency.
It will, as Fordham University terrorism expert Karen J. Greenberg wrote recently, remove Americans’ ability to “tell themselves that they live in a nation that privileges morality over anger, revenge and fear.” Fundamentally, approving of an individual complicit in torture fatally fractures America’s ability to lead the world.
This CIA Is Resisting Transparency Already
Equally as troubling is the statement that Haspel’s confirmation will send regarding comportment of our nation’s intelligence agencies. America’s legacy of state-sponsored torture continues to linger. It has pushed our already secretive intelligence community to new levels of furtive, underground activities. The CIA has gone to extreme lengths to keep the details of its torture policy from becoming public, redacting most of the Senate’s torture report then “accidentally” destroying its own record of it.
Through these and other measures, the CIA has been able to all but completely sidestep any accountability for this shameful chapter of our history. Placing Haspel, a known adherent of these troubling practices, at the head of the agency would end any necessary reckoning the CIA—as well as Congress and the rest of the country—must do with our legacy of torture.
To many, it will affirm the cynical view that the CIA is an agency free from oversight, accountable to no one; that all activities are within its purview, unless and until one gets caught. It will tell the rest of the world that the United States has learned nothing from the last two decades, and that the ideals we spout are simply rhetorical gloss on much deeper, darker practices.
Impunity breeds repetition. If the United States is truly a country that, as Paul has said, “stands for freedom from torture, not freedom to torture,” then the Senate must reject Haspel’s nomination to lead the CIA.