President Donald Trump's appointment of Gina Haspel as deputy director of the CIA is the clearest sign yet that the president has come down on the side of those at the Agency who were the architects of the Bush-era torture policy. Haspel was a protege of Jose Rodriguez, the CIA's notorious former Counterterrorism Center (CTC) director and, according to The Washington Post and The New York Times, she was the chief of the secret prison where Abu Zubaydah and others were tortured. Furthermore, the Times reports, it was Haspel who ordered the destruction of video tapes showing the Abu Zubaydah torture sessions, on orders from Rodriguez.
Described in the media as a "seasoned intelligence veteran," Haspel has served in the CIA for more than 30 years, both at Headquarters and in senior positions overseas. CIA director Mike Pompeo lauded her "uncanny ability to get things done" and said that she "inspires those around her." Maybe. But many of the rest of us called her "Bloody Gina," and we kept our distance.
Trump could have chosen anybody to be deputy CIA director. Perhaps recognizing the fact that Pompeo has only four years of peripheral intelligence experience (he did two terms on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as a junior member and has no other professional intelligence experience), the president thought he ought to appoint somebody who could be the adult in the room. Previous presidents have done the same thing, naming career analysts or operators to the position. But nobody in recent memory has brought as much baggage to the position as Haspel.
It was Haspel who was Rodriguez's handpicked warden of the first secret prison the CIA created to handle al-Qaeda detainees. It was Haspel who oversaw the staff, including discredited contract psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the notorious pair who came up with the torture techniques and who actually carried out torture on prisoners. It was Haspel who videotaped the torture of Abu Zubaydah. And it was Haspel who carried out her master's instructions to destroy the tapes, despite being specifically told by the White House Counsel to preserve them.
I would call that "obstruction of justice" and "destroying evidence." And the last time I checked, those were felonies.
It is a travesty that somebody like Haspel would be rewarded with the second-most-important position at the CIA. But what is worse is the message that Trump is sending to the CIA workforce: Engage in war crimes, in crimes against humanity, and you'll still get ahead. Don't worry about the law. Don't worry about ethics. Don't worry about morality. We'll take care of you. You can still make it to the top.
Haspel's appointment is also an insult to the likes of Defense Secretary James Mattis, the retired four-star general who told Trump to his face that torture doesn't work, and to Pompeo himself, who said in his confirmation hearings that he was opposed to the torture program and would not reinstate it, even if ordered to do so by the president.
The appointment also signals Trump's willingness to provoke a fight. Christopher Anders, the deputy director of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union, told The New York Times that the appointment left him "gravely concerned." Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in 2013 objected to Haspel's temporary appointment as director of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, the Agency's operations directorate, thus denying her the position on a permanent basis. Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.), the ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), said that while he appreciated Haspel's "many years of service at the CIA," he wanted assurances that she intends to comply with the spirit and letter of the law banning torture. She has yet to make any public statement.
The SSCI will have a chance to weigh in on Haspel's nomination. But don't expect much in the way of leadership there. The Democrats on the SSCI have been complicit in many of the CIA's worst programs since the September 11 attacks, including the torture program and secret prisons. I seriously doubt that Democrats will mount much of a challenge to her.
For the rest of us, the message is clear. If Trump wants to bring torture back, he will have the infrastructure and staff in place to do it. We have to remain vigilant.
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