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Who’s Afraid of Gina Haspel?

By On
• In Bellingham,

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.

About Dick Conoboy

Editor • Member since Jan 26, 2008

Dick Conoboy is a recovering civilian federal worker and military officer who was offered and accepted an all-expense paid, one year trip to Vietnam in 1968. He is a former Army [...]

Comments by Readers

Terry Wechsler

May 25, 2018

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.”

Call me a cockeyed citizen journalist, but wouldn’t this have been a good post to submit BEFORE SHE WAS CONFIRMED?

Asking for a friend.

Terry Wechsler

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Dick Conoboy

May 26, 2018

Terry,

Point taken. OK, you are a cockeyed citizen journalist!  [For the record - I am joking].

Other point also taken.

I cannot dispute your friend’s question/observation, however, I don’t think that my voice necessarily would have swayed an equally morally deficient congress.  The vote on her confirmation came up a bit more rapidly than I had expected so my intent became to go on the record given my background in the intelligence field.  One can only do so much.  Your friend might also ask about all those thousands  who have had careers in intelligence and the reason for which they chose not to speak at all, even now. 

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Michael Riordan

May 26, 2018

Powerful stuff, Dick, especially coming from someone like you who was deeply involved in Army intelligence. Thanks for writing it, however belatedly.

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John Kole

May 26, 2018

Dick, thanks for your service. I am not a believer in torture. I value Gina Haspel as a qaulified civil servant who stood in good stead with the majority of the vote in the Senate. That’s how it works and has always worked.

John Kole

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Dick Conoboy

May 27, 2018

John,

Just because a bunch of senators saw fit to vote for her does not reverse her questionable past and her involvement in torture.  We can do much better than this woman.  Moreover, on this holiday when we remember and thank our soldiers, we ought to be aware that our participation in illegal torture programs violates the law, international and constitutional,  and puts our own troops in grave danger when they are captured and the enemy says to the world, “The US tortures so why can’t we?”  How do we answer that?

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