All American Torture: Bipartisan Republican & Democrat Assault On Human Rights


Democrats’ Abject Surrender On Torture Is Nearly Complete

By Marcy Wheeler
The HuffPost (3/15/18)

In the same tweet he used to unceremoniously fire Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump announced the twin nominations of CIA Director Mike Pompeo as Tillerson’s replacement and CIA veteran Gina Haspel as the new head of the nation’s premier intelligence agency. Haspel, the CIA’s current deputy director, now stands to become the agency’s first female director, despite the fact that she previously supervised a CIA black site where detainees were tortured and was later implicated in the destruction of video evidence of those interrogations.

The news of her nomination was met with mild skepticism by some Democratic senators, but assuming she doesn’t get bottled up behind an impasse over Pompeo, nothing suggests her eventual confirmation is in serious doubt.

While Haspel might be preferable to some hackish alternatives ― either Pompeo’s continued tenure or the nomination of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) ― her confirmation would also represent the culmination of the Democrats’ failure to categorically oppose torture.

Back in 2002, Haspel oversaw the black site in Thailand, where Abu Zubaydah, the man incorrectly thought to have masterminded Sept. 11 attacks, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who was allegedly behind the USS Cole attack, were tortured. It was long unclear whether Haspel oversaw just the waterboarding of Nashiri or also the 83 waterboards that Abu Zubaydah endured, long beyond the time he had agreed to talk, though new reports from ProPublica and The New York Times say the latter man was tortured before her time at the helm.

At key moments, Democrats missed their chance to move the country beyond torture.

What’s not in dispute is Haspel’s role in the cover-up: Once Abu Zubaydah and Nashiri were shipped to their next stop in a series of black sites, Haspel started her multiyear campaign to destroy the videos that showed their torture, which indisputably contradicted written authorizations and records. Defying the warnings of multiple Democrats, the director of national intelligence and several judges, Haspel in November 2005, as chief of staff for the director of clandestine services, sent a cable ordering officers to stick the tapes into an industrial-strength shredder.

Torture and cover-up

America continues to suffer the consequences of those twin acts, the torture and the cover-up. The torture program, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s massive torture report, provided little useful intelligence, and in notable cases sent officers chasing false leads for months. Numerous detainees (including both Abu Zubaydah and Nashiri) were tortured beyond their ability to provide reliable intelligence. The country’s embrace of torture inflamed the same Muslims we needed as allies to fight terrorism.

And because of both the torture and the cover-up, the U.S. has failed to achieve justice for either the USS Cole or for Sept. 11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah remains warehoused in Guantanamo Bay, and Nashiri’s own trial has ground to a halt after his defense team discovered their privileged conversations were being spied on.

But Haspel, who advanced from line manager overseeing the imposition of torture to chief of staff for the cover-up, continues to thrive, now poised to run the agency whose reputation she attempted to preserve by destroying evidence.

Democratic complicity in torture

To be clear: Republicans bear the bulk of the blame for promoting torturers while those who objected were ousted. Former President George Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney instituted the program, and outspoken torture fan Trump is the guy sponsoring Haspel’s promotion to lead the agency (after she was denied a promotion during the Obama administration).

But at key moments, Democrats missed their chance to move the country beyond torture.

After all, Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama was the first to elevate someone with involvement in the torture program. Even after political pressure about torture prevented Obama from naming veteran CIA officer John Brennan director in 2009, the career CIA official rehabilitated his reputation (in part by overseeing the drone killing program from the White House), and ultimately got the CIA director post in 2013.

That same year, Dianne Feinstein ― then chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee ― nixed Brennan’s attempts to make Haspel director of the agency’s clandestine services. But Brennan got his revenge when he, with Obama’s backing, thwarted Feinstein’s efforts for a fulsome declassification of the torture report she fought to complete. Brennan didn’t even face consequences for having staffers from the Senate Intelligence Committee spied on.

Feinstein’s failure to declassify key details of the torture report ― notably, including the real names or even pseudonyms for the officers involved ― is one thing that prevented an airing of precisely what Haspel did when she was confirmed as deputy director last year. Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wrote a memo for colleagues describing Haspel’s role in the torture program, but the document remains classified, even as Haspel’s champions boast of her successes.

And now not even Feinstein herself is categorically opposed to Haspel’s nomination. “It’s no secret I’ve had concerns in the past with her connection to the CIA torture program and have spent time with her discussing this,” Feinstein said in a Tuesday statement. But she seems inclined to drop her past concerns about a torturer’s continued promotions in favor of competence leading the agency. “To the best of my knowledge she has been a good deputy director and I look forward to the opportunity to speak with her again.”

It may well be, as her supporters argue, that Haspel is the best, most competent, least politicized nominee we’re likely to get from Trump.

But that’s true as much because of what happened under Obama as under Trump. John Brennan’s success, even as critics were sidelined or imprisoned, paved the way for Gina Haspel.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog and is the author of “Anatomy of Deceit.” Follow her on Twitter at @emptywheel.

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(Commoner Call cartoon by Mark L. Taylor, 2018. Open source and free to use with link to )


Gina Haspel Should Be Arrested – Not Put In Charge Of The CIA

By Vincent Warren
The Guardian (3/16/18)

We’re on the brink of a full-throttled return to officially sanctioned US torture. Our impulsive president has said he wants to bring back waterboarding “and a hell of a lot worse” and has now named Gina Haspel as the new CIA chief. Haspel personally oversaw torture at a CIA black site in Thailand, and she even seemed to relish the role.

Haspel also oversaw George W Bush’s rendition to torture program and, unsurprisingly, many in the intelligence community that are connected to the US torture program are now leaping to her defense, saying that she shouldn’t be penalized now for just following orders back then.

Former CIA Director John Brennan, who supported rendition to torture and famously said, “we do have to take the gloves off in some areas,” this week vouched for Haspel’s “integrity” and told an interviewer, “don’t forget that the detention-interrogation program was authorized by the president of the United States and deemed lawful by the Department of Justice.”

For those who were tortured in the CIA program she oversaw, that harm is remains present today. They are still at Guantanamo and have had no justice, no care, and no redress.

Former CIA chief General Michael Hayden said in defense of Haspel, that she did “simply everything that the agency, the agency’s directors and the nation asked her to do.”

While it is certainly not unusual for people who’ve overseen and participated in crimes against humanity like torture and genocide to be recast by their supporters as dutiful public servants, there are, in addition, two deeply disturbing trends – one old, one new – embedded both in the naming of Haspel to the position and her defenders’ characterizations of her.

Always illegal. Period.

Torture is illegal under US and international law in all circumstances, and human rights organizations like mine have been strongly pushing for those who ordered or committed torture after 9/11 – including the president – to be held accountable in US and international courts.

Yet Haspel’s defenders are loathe to admit that the practice she participated in was concerning, much less illegal. So defending Haspel as a duty-bound functionary when it comes to torture but a vibrant leader with great integrity when it comes to everything else seeks to erase the illegality and the depravity of the practice of torture as well as the well-deserved disgrace that must always travel with those who have practiced it.

But beyond that, there is another, more current problem, and that is the president himself. Trump, who is lining up with authoritarian rulers and tin-pot dictators around the world, has no use for the rule of law. He is impulsive, reckless, and astonishingly self-focused. …

(Vincent Warren is executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.)

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“Bloody Gina” Haspel’s Disqualifying Record Of Wanton CIA Torture

By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan
Democracy Now! (3/15/18)

On Monday, President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by tweet. Despite the scores of administration officials who have been ousted, escorted out or simply left, Trump is still managing to make an indelible mark on the federal government, installing scores of conservative judges to lifetime appointments, gutting hard-won regulations and slashing vital social safety net programs. In the same tweet in which he fired Tillerson, he announced two promotions: CIA Director Mike Pompeo would be his new secretary of state, and Deputy CIA Director Gina Haspel would replace Pompeo to head the spy agency. Haspel’s career at the CIA spans more than three decades. Her work is shrouded in secrecy, but two things are well-known: She ran a CIA “black site” where people were brutally tortured, then she helped cover up the torture through the destruction of videotapes, against presidential orders.

“Was it moral, and was it ethical, and was it legal? Very clearly no. But Gina and people like Gina did it, I think, because they enjoyed doing it. They tortured just for the sake of torture, not for the sake of gathering information.”    — CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou

These alone should immediately disqualify her for confirmation by the U.S. Senate. “Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would, in a heartbeat,” Trump boasted from the podium at an Ohio campaign stop in November 2015. He repeated the pledge throughout his campaign, and while president. He suggested a slew of other techniques, including the execution of family members in front of interrogation suspects as an inducement to talk. If Trump gets his way and installs Gina Haspel as CIA director, he will have someone with direct, hands-on experience with torture, a leader in the George W. Bush administration’s notorious torture program.

Crime & coverup

In 2002, Gina Haspel ran a CIA torture center in Thailand, where al-Qaida suspects were brought to be interrogated. The best-known victim at that site is Abu Zubaydah, who was subjected to a horrific array of torture techniques, all technically authorized through a series of legal memos written by lawyers in the Bush-Cheney administration. Waterboarding, constricted confinement in a box for long periods of time, humiliation, forced feeding through the rectum and numerous other painful procedures were used. [NOTE: Recent reporting by ProPublica has shown Haspel was not at the Thailand torture site at the time of Zubaydah’s torture, however she was there at the time of other torture incidents. The blocking of release of investigative reports by the Obama administration has led to needless confusion on some details of the Haspel story. — Ed.] In 2005, working as chief of staff to Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., the head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, Haspel drafted a memo that he sent ordering the destruction of 92 videotapes of those very torture sessions she led, despite a White House directive not to destroy them.

John Kiriakou, a 14-year veteran of the CIA, blew the whistle on the Bush-era torture program and, for speaking out, was imprisoned for two years. He is, to date, the only U.S. official jailed in relation to Bush’s torture program. “We did call her Bloody Gina,” Kiriakou said on the “Democracy Now!” news hour. “Gina was always very quick and very willing to use force … there was a group of officers in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, when I was serving there, who enjoyed using force. Everybody knew that torture didn’t work.” Kiriakou asked, “Was it moral, and was it ethical, and was it legal? Very clearly no. But Gina and people like Gina did it, I think, because they enjoyed doing it. They tortured just for the sake of torture, not for the sake of gathering information.”

Obama enabling

After President Barack Obama’s election, the torture program was dismantled, but those who authorized it, those who oversaw it and the torturers themselves all avoided prosecution. “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” Obama said in 2009.

“This is where we Europeans come in,” human-rights attorney Wolfgang Kaleck told us on “Democracy Now!” He is founder of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, and last year asked German prosecutors to issue an arrest warrant for Haspel for her role in the torture program. “Torture has to be prosecuted everywhere in the world. We have a number of laws in Europe, and we used these laws in the last 15 years to file numerous criminal complaints in numerous jurisdictions against the torturers of the U.S. … the interesting result of our network’s legal work is that the torturers of the U.S. are not untouchable anymore. They have to take care where they travel.”

Kaleck said of Haspel: “We decided to target her last year, because as a deputy director, she is traveling a lot around the world. We think it’s important that the judicial authorities in Germany, in other European countries, try to investigate her role in Thailand and elsewhere, and that they are prepared — if Gina Haspel travels to our countries — that they arrest her. Notorious torturers shouldn’t be allowed to travel freely through Europe.”

Republican Sen. Rand Paul has already said he will oppose her. Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, has called the Bush torture program “one of the darkest chapters in American history.” All senators should close the book on torture now and vote to oppose Gina Haspel’s confirmation.

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  • Jeremy Scahill: Gina Haspel Should Be Answering for Her Torture Crimes, Not Heading the CIA —  Trump has tapped CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel to replace outgoing CIA Director Mike Pompeo, after Pompeo was named to succeed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. Haspel was directly involved in the CIA’s torture program under George W. Bush. She was responsible for running a secret CIA black site in Thailand in 2002 where one prisoner was waterboarded 83 times and tortured in other ways. But she enjoys broad support, including from the intelligence community and Democrats in the Senate. For more, we speak with Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of The Intercept. Link to Story, Transcript and 11-Minute Video


Edward Snowden Takes On Liz Cheney Over Torture Links To Trump’s Pick For CIA


By Mary Papenfuss
The HuffPost (3/6/18)

National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has jumped into the fray over Donald Trump’s pick to head the CIA and her role in the CIA’s waterboarding program.

Current CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel was reportedly involved in a controversial CIA “black site” operation in Thailand that involved waterboarding detainees, and she was accused of destroying evidence of the gruesome operation. A number of legislators have raised concerns about Haspel. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has said he won’t confirm the “head cheerleader for waterboarding” to replace Mike Pompeo, who has been tapped by Trump to become secretary of state after the firing of Rex Tillerson.

“Listen, you can defend torture or you defend the Constitution. Not both. To defend torture is to attack the Constitution.”

Snowden joined the debate Thursday on Twitter, knocking down glowing reviews of Haspel by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.). Cheney said Haspel has “spent her career defending the American people.” She said Paul, on the other hand, is “defending terrorists.”

Cheney is the daughter of Dick Cheney, the former vice president under George W. Bush, who blasted Snowden as a “traitor” after the NSA contractor released secret documents about the agency’s extensive surveillance of U.S. citizens and world leaders. Snowden was granted asylum in 2013 in Russia, where he currently lives. He faces treason charges in the U.S.

Snowden shot down as “an easily demonstrable lie” Liz Cheney’s claim that “enhanced interrogation” techniques were no different than those that some members of the U.S. military were subjected to as part of their Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) training. Cheney also claimed the tactics led to valuable intelligence. A 2014 Senate investigation found that torture led to no useful intelligence.

Snowden also pointed out grim details of CIA torture discovered by investigators, such as agents “assaulting” inmates with food when they went on hunger strikes. The Senate report revealed what investigators termed “rectal rehydration” using tubes filled with ground-up, uneaten meals. …

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