Home > Uncategorized > The Democrats Cave on Torture – posted 5/20/2018 and published in the Concord Monitor on 5/23/2018

The Democrats Cave on Torture – posted 5/20/2018 and published in the Concord Monitor on 5/23/2018

I think Jeanne Shaheen has been a good senator. I have voted for her numerous times both when she ran for governor and as a senate candidate. In any long political career it is likely there will be troubling votes and Shaheen has made some. But, for me, her vote, along with five other Democratic senators, for Gina Haspel as CIA Director is the worst.

It was the votes of six Democratic senators that assured Haspel would become CIA Director. Three Republican senators – Rand Paul, Jeff Flake and John McCain – all opposed Haspel’s nomination. McCain was too ill to vote but was very much on record. Without the Democrats, Haspel’s nomination would have lost.

Why is the Haspel choice so disturbing? While there is much we do not know about her career as an intelligence operative because it remains classified, we do know that Haspel was in charge of a secret black site prison in Thailand known as Cat’s Eye from October to December 2002.

She oversaw the interrogation and three-time waterboarding of a Saudi detainee named Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Nashiri is a suspect in the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000 in which 17 U.S. sailors died. Captured in Dubai, he was handed over to the CIA. The CIA first rendered him to Afghanistan and then flew him to Thailand. He is currently detained in Guantanamo.

After her stint in Thailand, Haspel, a career CIA officer, returned to the agency’s Counterintelligence Center where she worked for two more years while the torture program was at its height. According to the 2014 Senate torture report, at least 119 men were tortured in this time period. In her CIA Director confirmation hearing, Haspel refused to specify her role in torture during these two years.

In a 2014 book, Company Man, John Rizzo, a longtime senior CIA lawyer, wrote that Haspel was in charge of the interrogation program and was responsible for the incommunicado detention and torture of potentially dozens of men. Rizzo recorded that Haspel ran the interrogation program. Supporting Haspel’s nomination, in early May this year Rizzo revised his view and said Haspel did not “run” the torture program. Rizzo would not say why he changed his mind.

In 2005, as chief of staff to the Director of National Clandestine Services, Haspel participated in the destruction of 92 videotapes documenting the torture and interrogations conducted against Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah. Sen. Tim Kaine pointed out that Haspel wrote a cable directing the CIA to destroy the interrogation videotapes, effectively destroying evidence.

There is important information in the public domain about Haspel’s actions. Jeremy Scahill, an investigative journalist for the Intercept, has reported on information provided by an American doctor and Naval Reserve Officer, Dr. Sandra Crosby. Dr. Crosby did extensive medical evaluation of almost 20 men who were tortured in U.S. custody, including Nashiri.

Dr. Crosby, who is now a professor of public health at Boston University, wrote Sen. Mark Warner, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to oppose Haspel’s nomination. Dr. Crosby wrote:

“I urge Senator Warner to oppose Ms. Haspel, who did not have the courage or leadership to oppose the Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program.”

While some of the techniques remain classified, Dr. Crosby listed a number of torture techniques that were used against Nashiri.

  • suffocated with water (waterboarding)
  • subjected to mock executions with a drill and gun while standing naked and hooded
  • anal rape through rectal feeding
  • threatened that his mother would be sexually assaulted
  • lifted off ground by arms while they were bound behind his back (after which a medical officer opined that shoulders might be dislocated)

On May 7, in a briefing to Senate Intelligence staffers, Dr. Crosby described the torture graphically:

“The terror of being kept naked in pitch-black, shackled to the ceiling while music blared, covered in urine and feces while insects crawled on their bodies, in dank cells that were freezing cold or unbearably hot. The horrific conditions in between interrogations were in some cases as bad as the interrogation. These torture methods were inflicted for hours and days, for weeks at a time, over the course of years. The men became disoriented with no sense of when the abuse would stop. Some of the men wished for death.”

Dr. Crosby is one of the only health professionals to have ever talked to Nashiri about his torture. She concluded:

“He is irreversibly damaged by torture that was unusually cruel and designed to break him. In my over 20 years of experience treating torture victims from around the world, including Syria, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mr. al-Nashiri presents as one of the most severely traumatized individuals I have ever seen.”

Torture, such as the actions committed against Nashiri, violates the U.N. Convention against Torture and is clearly illegal under international law. Because the U.S. has signed and ratified the Convention, torture is always illegal under U.S. domestic law as well.

In her public testimony at her confirmation hearing, Haspel refused to renounce torture, her role in its use and she did not condemn the practice of waterboarding. When questioned by Sen. Kamala Harris, she explicitly refused to say that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” she oversaw at the black site in Thailand were immoral.

After her hearing, in a statement explaining why he would vote against Haspel, Sen. John McCain said:

“Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.”

By promoting someone so intimately engaged with torture, the Trump Administration is almost guaranteeing such crimes will be committed in the future because there has been no reckoning with the past abuses. It is likely the CIA will see Haspel’s elevation as vindication of both torture and its efforts to obscure history.

Considering Trump’s unmatched amorality, his support for Haspel is hardly surprising, but Democrats did not have to go along with the President in this appointment.

The failure of the six Democratic senators to oppose Haspel reflects a lack of values. There is no more fundamental moral issue than torture. Torture is a dividing line between modernity and medievalism and yet these Democratic senators voted the wrong way.

This vote speaks to a core identity problem for mainstream Democrats: their failure to stand for anything. They believe being opposed to Trump is enough. Worse still, on this critical issue of human rights, they are not even against him.

A part of the problem goes back to the Obama Administration and their politics of impunity toward torture. Obama said he would not punish torturers because he was looking forward, not back. What this means is a willful decision not to punish wrongful acts and a total lack of accountability.

In fairness, it must be acknowledged that Americans have demonstrated a bi-partisan inability to tackle torture that goes back at least 50 years. The Phoenix Program in Vietnam, teaching torture to Latin American militaries, and the George W. Bush-era torture have all ultimately been swept under the carpet. The historian Alfred McCoy calls it “public forgetting”.

Torture is evil. The Haspel vote undermines respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law. The vote sends a horrible message about American values to the rest of the world.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Pat Dawson
    May 20, 2018 at 2:10 pm

    I’m not sure we have a commitment to human rights…we have a commitment to appearing to have a commitment to human rights. As time goes on, we continue to be all about appearances and have less and less depth or commitment to any of our values. We do, however, seem to have a deepening belief in American exceptionalism and the sense that we are the biggest, baddest beast on the planet and all should now down.

  2. steveacherry
    May 20, 2018 at 10:31 pm

    Good piece YH.

    Sent from my iPhone

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