A torturer at the top

May 24, 2018

The Senate’s confirmation of Gina Haspel to run the CIA — with decisive support from Democrats — is a new chapter in the agency’s deadly history, writes Ryan Gannon.

BY A 54-to-45 margin, the Senate voted to confirm Donald Trump’s nominee Gina Haspel, the current deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency and a longtime agent, as its new director.

Haspel’s nomination met with controversy since she’s notorious for having overseen a secret CIA prison in Thailand during the early years of the “war on terror” under George W. Bush.

Haspel was involved in running the U.S. government’s “extraordinary rendition” program, which enlisted foreign governments to torture prisoners of war in secret locations, away from the eyes of international law.

During his presidency, Barack Obama broke his campaign promise to prosecute hold Bush administration officials responsible for breaking the law with the use of torture. If Haspel had been prosecuted, as she should have been, Trump certainly would have hard a harder time putting her at the top of the CIA.

And now, six Democratic senators broke party lines and voted with the overwhelming majority of Republicans to confirm Haspel’s nomination. So Trump isn’t responsible for this atrocity by himself.

Gina Haspel appears before the Senate Intelligence Committee
Gina Haspel appears before the Senate Intelligence Committee

Probably the most outraged voices in mainstream politics against Haspel were the dissident Republicans, including Sen. John McCain. Most Democrats voted against the nomination — but kept quiet about it, putting no pressure on the Democrats who came out for Haspel.

The six Democrats pushed the number of votes safely over the margin needed for confirmation — giving a green light to torture.


WHILE HASPEL claimed during Senate hearings that the CIA wouldn’t operate outside of the law on her watch, the whole history of the agency — and Haspel’s own history as an agent — says the opposite.

Since its founding after the Second World War under Democrat Harry Truman, the CIA has compiled an ugly history of overthrowing democratically elected governments, carrying out assassinations, funding and training right-wing terrorists and snooping out all forms of anti-U.S. dissent — all to further the interests of U.S. imperialism abroad.

The history of the CIA is rife with abuses of human rights, support for brutal dictatorships, and opposition to the democratic mass movements around the world.

For example, in 1951, when Iran attempted a nationalization program in its oil industry under Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. In response, the CIA collaborated with British intelligence to engineer Mossadegh’s overthrow. They installed the Shah, a brutal dictator who ruled with a police state backed and armed by the United States until Iranians overthrew the regime in the 1979 revolution.

In 1968, the CIA orchestrated the coup that put Saddam Hussein in power in Iraq. Among other things, this led to the devastating Iran-Iraq War from 1980 to 1988, killing over a million people on both sides.

In 1973, the CIA engineered the overthrow of Chile’s democratically elected socialist President Salvador Allende, replacing him with authoritarian Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Tens of thousands of Allende’s supporters, leftists and union members were imprisoned, tortured and killed.

As for Haspel, in 2002, she ran a covert CIA prison, also known as a “black site,” in Thailand. There, as with other CIA black sites in places like Syria, Turkey and Poland, suspected “extremists” captured during the invasion of Afghanistan were extrajudicially held and interrogated, using torture methods such as waterboarding.

Haspel not only oversaw and approved the use of torture on detainees, but she drafted an official cable in 2005 ordering 92 video recordings of prisoners being tortured to be destroyed — a clear example of obstruction of justice.


THESE CRIMES — just a few from the past and present of the many committed by the CIA during its bloody history — fit with Trump’s rhetoric today. During his campaign, he boasted that he would authorize the CIA to waterboard detainees “and a hell of a lot worse.”

Trump is honest about it. During the confirmation hearings, Haspel lied to the senators when she answered questions about whether she would authorize torture again: “The CIA does not today conduct interrogations. We never did historically, and we’re not getting back in that business.”

Haspel claimed that torture during the “war on terror” was an exception, but no one familiar with the CIA’s history will believe it.

Haspel’s black-site operation fits with the real history of the agency and its activities around the world to this day. So why has so much of the mainstream media taken Haspel at her word that the CIA’s days of torture are over?

The New York Times, in an article published the day of her Senate hearing, quoted Haspel as claiming, “My moral compass is strong. I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that I thought was immoral, even if it was technically legal. I would absolutely not permit it.” The statement isn’t challenged in any way by the Times reporter.

Incredibly, other media outlets treated Haspel’s confirmation as...a step forward for women.

Though the U.S. intelligence community is predominantly male, this isn’t the reason it has a long history of human rights abuses. The CIA acts in the interests of the U.S. ruling class — the gender of the person in charge of this project won’t change that goal or the means to achieve it.

With the Trump administration intensifying racist repression of migrants and refugees across the board and recruiting a cabinet of war hawks ready to turn up the U.S. war machine, it’s important that the left respond to Haspel’s confirmation by arguing that she isn’t an aberration from — but a continuation of — the CIA’s brutal history.

During her confirmation hearing, Haspel struggled to answer a question from Sen. Kamala Harris: “Do you believe in hindsight that those techniques were immoral?”

“We got valuable information from debriefing al-Qaeda detainees,” Haspel replied. “I don’t think it’s knowable whether interrogation techniques played a role in that.”

Haspel is more than just a cog in a machine, blindly following orders. Her support for both torture and the destruction of evidence that it took place — which she defended to the Senate Intelligence Community — clearly shows she will do anything to advance U.S. imperialism.

Haspel’s confirmation also further demonstrates the bipartisan support for the U.S. imperial project.

The left will once again grapple with the question of the Democratic Party this November — and in 2020. Haspel’s confirmation is a sweeping indictment, not only of the individuals who voted to confirm her, but of the whole Democratic Party, and a sobering reminder of where its priorities lie.

The left must be clear on who is on our side and who isn’t. Haspel’s confirmation shows plainly that the Democrats can’t be trusted to carry out any sort of resistance against Trump or his hawkish cabinet.

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