Gina Haspel, Trump’s nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), will face tough questions this week about her role in a so-called “black site” where detainees were subjected to waterboarding and other forms of torture, USA Today is reporting.
The CIA Torture Program
After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the administration of then-President George W. Bush authorized the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” – or torture, depending on whom you ask – such as waterboarding, during which water is poured over a restrained victim’s mouth and nose in order to simulate drowning.
In 2009, Barack Obama issued an executive order outlawing waterboarding and other forms of torture.
In 2014, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued a declassified 500 page summary of its report on the use of torture post-September 11. The report concluded that torture in general, and waterboarding specifically, does not work and that no intelligence gained from tortured detainees led to the saving of any American lives.
Nevertheless, Donald Trump said in a January 2017 interview that he believes that torture “works” and would bring it back if the CIA director and defense secretary wanted to do so.
Haspel, a career CIA agent with over 30 years in the agency, was assigned to oversee a so-called “black site” in Thailand (a “black site” being a secret site where secret operations take place). Under her watch, at least two Al Qaeda terrorists, members Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah, were waterboarded at that site.
— Jason Leopold (@JasonLeopold) August 5, 2017
As it turned out, those waterboarding sessions were videotaped, with 12 of them specifically showing Zubaydah’s torture. According to a February 2017 Washington Post report, Haspel herself authorized the destruction of those tapes.
A ‘Referendum On Torture’
According to Salon writer Matthew Rozsa, Haspel’s confirmation hearing this week isn’t so much about Haspel’s qualifications to oversee the agency, but rather a “referendum on torture.” Christopher Anders, the deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office, told the magazine that appointing Haspel would set a bad precedent.
“If confirmed by the United States Senate, that would be the first time in the history of the United States Senate (we believe) that somebody with an operational role in the use of torture would be confirmed to any position in the entire federal government.”
Haspel’s Future In Doubt
Whether or not Haspel will be confirmed to head the CIA remains unclear. As of this writing, Republicans own a 51-49 majority in the Senate, which means she has enough votes to be confirmed if every Republican votes for her and if no Democrats vote for her. However, at least two Republican votes aren’t likely to be hers. Rand Paul of Kentucky has already vowed not to vote for her because of her role in the torture program. Similarly, John McCain of Arizona is sick and may not even make it to Washington to vote; and even if he does, McCain himself was tortured in Vietnam as a prisoner of war and is believed to be unlikely to vote in Haspel’s favor. No Democrats have said they intend to vote for Haspel.
Similarly, more than 100 retired admirals and generals have sent a letter to the Senate, saying that if America tortures its prisoners of war, it encourages foreign governments to torture Americans.