April 17, 2024

CIA nominee refuses to call torture ‘immoral’

Senate urged to reject Gina Haspel as CIA director

Should Americans brace themselves for more reports of torture in the war on terror? This is what opponents of Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee as head of the CIA, fear. Physicians for Human Rights issued a stinging press release:

“Torture is illegal, immoral, and profoundly harmful, not only for its victims but for all institutions involved. Promoting Haspel to CIA director would cement impunity for torture and weaken the United States’ longstanding commitment against this crime. To uphold the progress that Congress has made to put this dark chapter to rest, the Senate must now follow through by rejecting Haspel’s nomination.”

Haspel, who is currently the acting director, was interrogated by Senate Intelligence Committee as part of the nomination process. She was studiously evasive on the topic of the morality of torture. Here is an excerpt from her interchange with California’s Senator Kamala Harris:

Harris: “Do you believe that the previous interrogation techniques were immoral?” 

Haspel: “Senator, I believe that the C.I.A. did extraordinary work to prevent another attack on this country, given the legal tools that we were authorized to use.”

Harris: “Please answer yes or no. Do you believe, in hindsight, that those techniques were immoral?”

Haspel: “Senator, what I believe sitting here today is that I support the higher moral standard we have decided to hold ourselves to.” 

Harris: “Could you please answer the question?”

Haspel: “Senator, I think I’ve answered the question.”

Harris: “No, you’ve not. Do you believe they are immoral? Yes or no?”

Haspel: “Senator, I believe we should hold ourselves to the moral standard outlined in the Army Field Manual.”

It was a sterling performance in both evasion and legal positivism. It does not inspire confidence that the CIA – and its doctors, nurses, medics and psychologists — will, for better or worse, become choir boys.

Senator John McCain, who was a victim of torture himself in the Vietnam War, said “Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.” But former Vice-President Dick Cheney declared his support for Haspel. “I think the techniques we used were not torture. A lot of people try to call it that, but it wasn’t deemed torture at the time. People want to go back and try to rewrite history, but if it were my call, I’d do it again.”

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