Saturday, March 17, 2018

CIA, Torture, Trump, Obama and Hypocrisy: Gina Haspel

Jeb Bush called Donald Trump a chaos candidate. Trump has been a chaos President with his public attacks on his hires and resulting constant personnel turnover. People like Trump thrive within organizational disorder.

Trump's recent firing of Secretary of Stae Rex Tillerson (did Tillerson think he'd get away with calling his boss a f***** moron) and possible reassignment of CIA Director Mike Pompeo to Secretary of State made some people point out Trump's crappy managerial style. Trump may nominate CIA deputy director Gina Haspel to replace Pompeo as CIA head. Haspel evidently oversaw and directed some torture. She destroyed the records of torture at CIA "black sites" during the George W. Bush administration. 

Gina Haspel is set to become the first female director in the 70-year history of the CIA. But smashing that glass ceiling will depend on offering the US Senate a convincing explanation about her dark past. More than a decade ago Haspel reportedly oversaw an infamous secret CIA prison in Thailand where a terrorism suspect, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was waterboarded, a process that simulates drowning. She is also said to have drafted orders to destroy video evidence of such torture, which prompted a lengthy justice department investigation that ended without charges

Some Trump opponents believe that Trump's endorsement of Haspel is horrible, wicked, evil and very bad. They claim that Trump's selection means that America now endorses torture. Bad Trump. There's at least one problem with this argument. When President Obama took office he could have turned Federal government machinery against the torturers. That move would have been moral if politically and perhaps even personally dangerous. President Obama and Attorney General Holder decided against that. As Adam Serwer points out:

Before Obama even took office, he announced his belief that “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards” on torture. That set the standard for Obama’s tenure, as all avenues of accountability for Bush-era torture were curtailed. 

A Justice Department inquiry into interrogators who broke even the “acceptable torture” guidelines ended with no charges. Civil lawsuits from former detainees were blocked when the Obama-era Justice Department invoked the state secrets doctrine. An internal Justice Department review of the torture memo’s authors concluded they had not committed professional misconduct when they worked backwards to justify the Bush administration’s use of torture in defiance of laws against it.

 Even a proposal for a South African-style “truth and reconciliation” commission was rejected. All avenues for any form of accountability for torture—criminal, civil, even professional—were blocked by Obama-era officials. Even an episode in which the CIA spied on Senate staff in an effort to stonewall an inquiry that ultimately found CIA torture ineffective, and then lied about having done so, ended with little more than an apology.
We live in a #metoo moment when people rightfully get upset not just with the rapist or harasser who has risen to positions of power and authority over the years while raping and harassing co-workers or subordinates BUT ALSO with the people inside the institution who knew all about the bad behavior but protected and promoted the malefactor.

So there is no reason for me to be outraged at Haspel's possible ascension to CIA Director when President Obama had it within his power to stop Haspel and people like her, but chose not to do so. Maybe he thought it was too hard. Maybe he decided to spend political capital elsewhere. Maybe he was scared of the fight. Maybe deep down inside he didn't give two s***s about torture. Dunno. But I know he didn't even try. Looking from the outside that is either cowardly or venal.

Torture is wrong. Every last single person in the military, the intelligence agencies, and the elected political branches of government who committed torture, covered it up, pretended not to know about it, and who gave orders for torture should have been fired, arrested, charged and convicted. They should be in prison. Some should probably have swung from the end of a rope or been lined up against a wall.

But let's be honest here. That's not the belief of the Beltway elite, regardless of whether they have a D or R behind their name. No one really cares. If you don't believe torture is wrong then there's no reason to be angry about Haspel's possible promotion. And if you do believe torture is wrong as the previous Administration claimed to, there's even less reason to be peeved about Haspel's possible promotion. What little chance there was for justice already evaporated when Obama and Holder decided to see no evil.

So it goes.
As John Kiriakou points out, The Obama Justice Department sent him to prison for disclosing CIA torture. The Trump Administration is going to reward Gina Haspel for covering it up.

But while I went to prison for disclosing the torture program, Haspel is about to get a promotion despite her connection to it. Trump’s move hurts morale among CIA officers who recognize that torture is wrong. It comforts people at the agency who still believe “enhanced interrogation” is somehow acceptable. I spoke with a senior officer this past week who said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” There’s an attitude of defeatism among opponents of torture. 

Do we Americans want to remain a nation that tortures people, like North Korea, China and Iran? Are we proud of the era when we snatched people from one country and sent them to another to be interrogated in secret prisons? Do we want to be the country that cynically preaches human rights and then violates those same rights when we think nobody is looking? Our country cannot afford that. We cannot look the other way. We cannot reward the torturers. Gina Haspel has no business running the CIA.
Some might wonder why this even matters. Most of the the impacted people are non-citizens. It matters because it is very difficult to justify and tolerate torture and abuse and murder by state actors in one arena without unwittingly and unwillingly doing it in another. How many police officers or prison guards or private bodyguards are former military personnel? How many of them receive training and equipment from the federal government? How many contractors and mercenaries do work formerly done by soldiers? If we say it's okay to torture a foreigner with a "funny" sounding name why wouldn't it be okay to torture a black citizen who also has a "funny" sounding name? It's the exact same logic after all. Police brutality and torture are two sides of the same coin. Torture destroys the concept of a bill of rights. Torture is poison to fair trials and ultimately to truth itself. Both Trump and Obama agreed that Haskel should not be fired or charged for her crimes.

What's your take?

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