President Trump recently announced the unceremonious departure of yet another White House official as he publicly fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and nominated CIA Director Mike Pompeo as his replacement. Given the president’s proclivity for the sort of ratings-grabbing twists that leave even the most central figures in his narratives out of the loop, it is fitting that one of his most jarring staff shake-ups came in the form of an early morning tweet informing the outgoing secretary of his dismissal.
In true Trumpian fashion, the tweet crammed a month’s worth of incredible revelations into a single news cycle that was ill-equipped to tackle all 280 characters.
Questions were raised about the circumstances surrounding Tillerson’s abrupt firing and the nomination of a “loyalist” in his stead. Pompeo’s candidacy for the country’s foremost diplomatic position stoked further controversy in the wake of his stated support for regime change abroad. Still, perhaps the most startling of the tweet’s declarations was the promotion of current Deputy CIA Director Gina Haspel to the position of director.
If confirmed, Haspel could become the first woman in CIA history to hold the position and bear full responsibility for any crimes against humanity committed by the CIA.
The CIA has a long history of conducting morally and legally dubious operations ranging from assassinations and the toppling of foreign governments in its earlier days to the post-9/11 torture program which rattled the international community in 2014.
Torture is prohibited by the constitution, a litany of domestic statutes, and international legal documents ratified by the United States such as article five of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, article seven of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, articles three and 31 of the Geneva Convention, and the Convention against Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. However, from 2001 until 2007, the Bush administration authorized the use of known torture tactics as methods of “enhanced interrogation” to advance the War on Terror. Enhanced interrogation was intended to coerce suspected terrorists into giving up strategic intelligence despite the general consensus that torture does not work.
The true extent of Haspel’s role in the administration and conduct of torture in the CIA is still unknown to the public as much of the information surrounding her work in the agency is classified. What is known is that, in compliance with this torture program, Haspel—or “Bloody Gina,” as she was known to her subordinates—ran a CIA prison in Thailand where she oversaw the enhanced interrogation of inmates and assisted in destruction of video evidence of their torture.
The Thai prison was later closed and the program disbanded after the release of a Congressional report detailed abuses of power by the agency, including the organization’s use of torture tactics and attempts to derail governmental oversight.
Despite Haspel and the CIA’s clear violation of international law, no authorities responsible for the implementation or conduct of torture were ever charged or brought to trial by the United States—largely because the enhanced interrogation was state sanctioned. Thus, far from being reprimanded for her war crimes, Haspel has continued to climb the ranks of the CIA and now may very well be poised to fill its top spot.
However, because torture is jus cogens—“the highest standing in customary law”—perpetrators of this crime against humanity are “subject to international jurisdiction.” And so, Haspel faces possible incarceration in Germany as officials are currently reviewing a request for warrant of her arrest by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.
Haspel’s prohibition from Germany would ultimately be little more than a symbolic gesture so long as she refrains from visiting the country. Still, the fact that a recognized international criminal may be placed at the helm of one of the world’s most powerful, secretive, and controversial organizations is immensely alarming.
President Trump has already professed a desire to reinstate torture tactics, and his nomination of a known torturer as CIA director may give some credibility to his campaign promises.
The confirmation of a complicit, if not enthusiastic, administer of torture will revert the United States back to a time, which, shamefully, was not so long ago, when the international code of conduct was but a suggestion and humanity an afterthought.
Unfortunately, it appears that Haspel is headed towards a bitter, but probably successful bid for instatement, as opponents of her confirmation are fierce but limited in number.
Meanwhile, proponents of Haspel portray the deputy director as a seasoned and hard-working veteran of the agency and potential feminist icon. So long as female empowerment is characterized by a woman’s ability to waterboard with the best of them, I suppose they are right.
If Gina Haspel’s resume illustrious resume of overseeing and covering up war crimes is topped off with being the first female director of the CIA, it will be one small step for woman and one giant regression for mankind.