The Trump administration has been experiencing a large amount of turnover. Whether or not that is simply aggressively pursuing the right staff for long-term success or a sign of chaotic and impulsive leadership, I won’t speculate.
But due to the recent departure of Rex Tillerson, President Trump has decided to nominate CIA head Mike Pompeo for secretary of state. To fill Pompeo’s place, President Trump has nominated Gina Haspel, who has been serving as deputy director of the CIA.
However, neither nominee’s confirmation is ensured, and there is very good reason for this. The CIA’s recent history of torture and allegations from Haspel’s time running a black site in Thailand are excellent reasons that the Senate should refuse to confirm Haspel as the next head of the CIA.
First of all, this shouldn’t be viewed as a partisan political issue, although the media is likely to paint it that way. Prominent Republican Senators such as John McCain and Rand Paul have voiced their opposition to so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques, with Paul going as far as saying he will filibuster the nominations of Pompeo and Haspel.
The Democratic party has its failings on the issue, such as President Obama deciding not to hold people accountable for torture. Neither party is wholly bad on the issue of torture, but neither political party is innocent either. To pretend otherwise would be incredibly dishonest.
Though it is honestly the least important reason torture should be opposed, it is worth noting that torture is ineffective.
There are simply too many variables to account for to ensure that any intelligence received as a result of torture is accurate. Any person being questioned may or may not be a terrorist, and if they are a terrorist they may or may not have useful information. And even if they do have useful information, they may or may not talk, and if they talk, they may or may not be telling the truth. The motivation to lie only increases when the person being questioned becomes more and more desperate to end whatever torture they are being subjected to.
There is also logic to the argument that when the United States does something as morally reprehensible as torture, anti-American sentiment around the world becomes more widespread. In other words, far from helping America in the War on Terror, torture might hurt America’s cause.
However, this is not even the most important critique of torture. The most important critique of torture is that it is illegal under both American and international law.
Courts have ruled that numerous amendments in the Bill of Rights protect individuals from torture. Furthermore, the United States is bound by international law against the torture of prisoners. If torture is reprehensible and wrong when America’s enemies do it, it is just as wrong when America does it. Just because terrorists will resort to barbaric means does not mean America should.
All of this brings me back to Haspel, who has frequently been described as someone who played a role in the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program. Further, she was involved in the destruction of tapes of waterboarding that took place at the CIA black site that she was briefly in charge of in 2002.
At the very least, this is troubling enough that the Senate ought to block her nomination until her records on her involvement in the CIA torture program have been declassified.
It is not enough for America to simply admit wrongdoing. America must, at the very least, not promote people like Haspel who have played a role in attempting to cover up American torture.
It would be incredibly hypocritical to condemn other countries and groups for committing human rights violations while giving people who worked to conceal human rights violations committed by Americans even more power.
Do not support people like Haspel. Otherwise, the American government risks becoming more like the people it condemns than anyone should be comfortable with.