President-elect Donald Trump's nomination of Rep. Michael Pompeo (R-Kan.) sends a crystal clear message that Trump was telling the American people the truth when he said that he would bring back the torture program and do "a hell of a lot worse." Pompeo himself said that CIA officers who engaged in torture "are not torturers. They are patriots."
The only conclusion one can draw is that Trump intends to return the CIA to the dark days of the Bush administration. And this is despite the fact that torture is illegal under the Federal Torture Act, the United Nations Conventions Against Torture, and the McCain-Feinstein Amendment.
Pompeo's nomination was something of a surprise. Although he supported and endorsed Trump during the Republican primaries, he was not a player in the campaign, he is not one of the more prominent members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), where he served only three years, and he was not among the names being circulated among "people in the know" in Washington for CIA Director. But Trump apparently likes West Point graduates, who are more likely to say, "Yes, sir" than they are to say, "Mr. President, let me tell you why that's a bad idea." Pompeo is a yes man with credentials. He graduated first in his class at the U.S. Military Academy, and then went to Harvard Law School before going into business and politics.
Pompeo also has towed the Tea Party line on national security issues since being elected to Congress in 2010. He called NSA whistleblower Ed Snowden "a traitor" and in an interview on C-SPAN added, "he should be brought back from Russia and given due process, and I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given a death sentence."
Pompeo was a member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, where he said that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had "failed to lead," despite the fact that his committee's leadership had found that the former secretary had done nothing wrong related to Benghazi. And he wants to keep the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay open, calling it "the right option for American security" and "an important asset that must remain open." He said after a visit to Guantanamo that he had seen the detainees there and that he wants them "right where they are."
Further afield, Pompeo has said that he supports dragnet surveillance against American citizens, including NSA interception of all U.S. metadata, voicemails, emails, and text messages. He wants this information housed along with "lifestyle information" on Americans in a database that would be accessible to all U.S. law enforcement, something more akin to Orwell's Big Brother than any other politician has put forth.
He criticized his Congressional colleagues for rolling back some of NSA's warrantless wiretapping programs in the aftermath of the Snowden disclosures, and added that the lone wolf attacks in San Bernardino in 2015 were a result of Congress not allowing NSA to do its job. Pompeo apparently has never commented publicly on the civil liberties and legal questions at play when a U.S. intelligence agency spies on American citizens.
So what can be done about a far-right activist CIA director serving a far-right president and being overseen by far-right Congressional committees? For us average citizens, not much, unfortunately.
But there are some things we can do. We can write our members of Congress and demand that they hold the CIA and its new director to both the letter and the spirit of the law. Torture is illegal. That isn't going to change. If the CIA engages in torture, its leadership must be brought to task. If the Justice Department won't file charges against torturers and those who order the torture, then maybe foreign courts will, just like Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, who filed charges of human rights violations against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. We can write, speak out, and march against human rights and legal violations. We can initiate direct actions. And perhaps most importantly, if we have standing, we can sue, bog the CIA down in litigation, and force as much of the information as possible into the glare of the public spotlight.
Pompeo's nomination is a bad thing. But it's not the end of the world. We just have to be ready for a fight.
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