The appointment of Gina Haspel to the position of the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is a legal and moral disaster for the United States. Her involvement in the torture of prisoners at a black site in Thailand is not forgivable in any sense of the term. We now have at the head of the CIA, a woman who has broken the law, is incapable of empathy, works from a dangerously limited frame of reference and makes changes only when confronted by the more powerful or, as we may see in the future, whistleblowers. Haspel herself is a cipher, a female Mark Zuckerberg. Watching her testify before congressional representatives revealed an almost total lack of affect, similar to that of Zuckerberg, except for occasional lip twitches and a cheek tic. The word automaton comes to mind. I surmise that there is not much daylight at all between her person and the groupthink at CIA. It took me almost three decades to shed a large part of my Army-learned frame of reference. That should give readers a clue.
I was trained in infantry operations and in intelligence collection in the mid-1960s, when the Geneva Conventions were, as far as I experienced, presented as the law of the land. I was also trained in collection techniques by the Army much in the same manner as Gina Haspel would have been by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). At no time did I receive any instruction or winking at the rules with respect to violation of conventions on torture. With my personal relationships with Army interrogators in Vietnam and my own training on interrogation techniques, I was told time and time again that torture was not only illegal but ineffective in the face of relying on sophisticated questioning techniques. Torture was no more than lashing out and revenge taking.
I do not know what Haspel was taught about torture several decades after I entered the intelligence services. However, the international conventions had not changed to authorize torture so my assumption is that Haspel had neither the moral compass nor the willingness to judge or the capability to interpret treaties that become U.S. law, without the likes of former Department of Justice attorney, the detestable John Woo. His legal gymnastics attempted to justify torture as desired by President Bush, Vice-president Cheney and other high-level White House and Pentagon officials.
When CIA chief of station in Beirut, Bill Buckley was kidnapped in 1984, tortured and eventually murdered by Hezbollah the CIA roundly condemned their actions. His colleagues were said to have wept openly when presented with a gruesome videotape of a broken Buckley. Similarly LTC Rich Higgins, while working for the United Nations in Lebanon, was taken in 1988 by the Shia group Amal, tortured and hung [I saw the photo] with a similar outcry from the United States. As an analyst in the POW/MIA Office, I read the debriefings of many of the U.S. pilots who were downed over North Vietnam, captured and tortured. All of these actions, condemned by the United States, were eventually recreated by the U.S. for use against terrorism suspects based upon twisted and absurd legal positions invented by Woo.
Most people in the United States have no idea what the CIA does. Few people really understand what intelligence means. Nor for that matter, does most of the government in Washington. The public gets bits and snatches from the so-called news, whose information is often worse than being told nothing at all. With no information, limited information or bad information, usually gleaned by movie sensationalism and the blathersphere, the citizen/voter is unable to make an informed judgment. Congress abrogates its oversight precisely because nothing is demanded of them by an ignorant public. Those who oppose the likes of Haspel point to the torture issue but even that is only a small part of the problem.
I would like to see the CIA revert to more of what the mission and functions were 4-5 decades ago: primarily intelligence collection and analysis outside of the United States. The organization has become too much of a paramilitary force with dark corners into which nobody can see, even at the highest levels of government. Plausible deniability is the key to understanding this – if you don’t tell the top government executives, they can deny knowing. Unfortunately, I do not see Haspel desiring or being able to put any of the toothpaste back in the tube. She is too much a daughter of the system. A reconstitution of the CIA would be a long, deliberative process that requires leadership from a deeply committed president and a similarly committed Congress. That will not take place under the present presidential watch as it certainly did not take place under the past four decades of presidential watches. Congress has totally ignored its oversight responsibilities.
I will not sleep well with Haspel in charge. You should not either.