From the President: Say No to Torture, Oppose Gina Haspel Nomination as CIA Chief

Posted on April 4, 2018

There is urgency to this posting because Congress will return from its Spring break April 9 and the Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to schedule quickly thereafter the Haspel confirmation hearings, to be followed almost immediately by full Senate vote.

Let’s start with the basics: Torture is always immoral and illegal as well, both within U.S. and under international rules. “Blowback” from US, including CIA torture, is a documented motivator of terrorist acts.

President torture-supporter Trump named as his first CIA chief Michael Pompeo, now vacating that office to replace Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. The Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights joined the Illinois Coalition Against Torture in urging the Senate to reject Pompeo’s nomination to head the CIA because of his notorious support for torture. Shamefully, the Senate voted to confirm him by a 66 to 32 vote in January 2017.

In the background stands the prolonged Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, which produced a landmark, though still very incompletely revealed, report of CIA direction and administration of horrendous torture applied to over 100 detainees, many in foreign “black sites,” after 9/11. The investigation exposed twisted CIA and Department of Justice “legal” advisories “authorizing” patently illegal torture practices, including allowing a captive to freeze to death. (I refuse to use the euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques.”)

In the wake of the Senate report and so many other corroborated and even openly admitted confirmations of CIA torture, one might hope that the prospective new CIA chief would be free of the shameful tint of torture.

Instead, Trump has offered up the current deputy CIA director, Gina Haspel, about whom Senator Rand Paul’s spokesperson summarized: “…Gina Haspel was instrumental in running a place where people were tortured. According to multiple published undisputed accounts, she oversaw a black site (in Thailand) and she further destroyed evidence of torture. This should preclude her from ever running the CIA.” Alberto Mora, general counsel to the Department of the Navy from 2001 to 2006 said, “Trump is an enthusiastic supporter of torture. That part of her record was probably made known to him and he probably saw that as a good thing.”

In February 2017, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights asked German prosecutors to issue a warrant for her arrest, raising the bizarre if unlikely possibility that the head of the CIA could be arrested on torture charges if she sets foot on German soil!

Last week the Center for Victims of Torture conducted an urgent nationwide conference call to ask for maximum pressure to stop the Haspel nomination. CVT is asking all of us, beginning April 9, to call both of our senators every day until the Haspel votes are completed. The simplest method is to call the US Capitol switchboard, 202-224-3121, and ask for Durbin and Duckworth. Or call directly to Durbin’s office (202-224-2152), or Duckworth’s (202-224-2854).

In addition to opposing the Haspel nomination, we should insist that this confirmation process at least include publication of classified CIA records on her actual conduct in Thailand and in the destruction of CIA torture tapes. At the moment her backers are escorting her through private meetings with senators to “make her case” behind closed doors, and even senators like Schumer and Feinstein have wavered in their condemnation of her record. 

We can guess that Durbin and Duckworth will vote against this nomination. Indeed, Duckworth has stated “supporting torture should disqualify people from having the privilege of serving the American people in government ever again, but apparently Donald Trump thinks it merits promotion.” Nevertheless, in the coming two to three weeks, much will be made of Haspel’s supposed new thinking on torture, her excuse of just obeying orders and her “qualifications and sterling record,” so we need to strengthen our senators’ resolve and keep them aware of our grave concern.

The ugly prospect that we face is of a reigning Trio of Torture including the President, Secretary of State and CIA Director.

Bob Clarke

President, Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights