The United States has been committed to holding individuals responsible for serious human rights abuses, including and especially torture, since the Nuremberg trials and before. President Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel as Director of the CIA undermines this American tradition, and confirms that US government officials can get away with committing torture, and even be rewarded for it.
A free people cannot accept this. It threatens the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, and confirms that US secret agents can torture when they want to.
Ms. Haspel headed up the CIA’s black site in Thailand when Abd al-Rahim Al-Nashiri was rendered there in 2002. Flight logs indicate he was probably aboard the Smithfield, NC based aircraft N379P, flown for the CIA by Aero Contractors.
Al-Nashiri told the Red Cross he was kept naked and shackled in Thailand, threatened with sodomy and with the arrest and rape of his family. He was also repeatedly subjected to mock drowning.
Another prisoner, Abu Zubaydah, was held alongside Al-Nashiri and tortured at that secret prison. Zubaydah begged for mercy as he was brought close to drowning 83 times, slammed into walls by the head, and kept in a coffin-like box.
Torture and rendition violated the constitution, federal and state law, and international criminal law when this program was established after September 11, 2001, notwithstanding the discredited legal opinions offered by then White House Counsel John Yoo. Yet so far, no federal, state or local investigation has held those responsible to account by administrative, legislative or judicial action.
If secret agents of the U.S. government kidnap, detain and torture people without due process of law, they should be held accountable and punished. If instead torturers are promoted, all of the human rights laws in the world cannot protect people from abuse at the hands of the US government.
Haspel was directly involved in destroying evidence of her crimes. The CIA videoed the al-Nashiri and Zubaydah torture sessions. In his book Hard Measures, former CIA official Jose Rodriguez says Haspel drafted the cable he signed ordering destruction of the Thai torture session videos. “The cable left nothing to chance. It even told them how to get rid of the tapes. They were to use an industrial-strength shredder to do the deed.”
Nomination of Haspel as CIA Director sends a message: torture committed at the behest of the U.S. President will be rewarded. If Haspel is confirmed, Americans’ human rights are in jeopardy. And the United States will stand against the values of many of our closest allies, who consider torture barbaric and counter-productive. And let’s be clear, the rendition program that Gina Haspel helped to execute swept up individuals with no connections to terrorism.
Our political leaders have assured us that torture is now illegal, and won’t be repeated. But it was already against the law in 2001, and how can we believe it won’t be repeated if Gina Haspel is CIA Director?
How will we know if the CIA does resume this harmful program? Senator Richard Burr said immediately after Haspel’s nomination that she “has the right skill set, experience and judgment to lead one of our nation’s most critical agencies.” This statement, coupled with Senator Burr’s successful efforts to hide the full text of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture, means we cannot rely on Congress to hold the CIA accountable if it tortures again.
Haspel is no longer under cover, which was the CIA’s argument for keeping secret the parts of the Senate torture report that deal with her. Burr should declassify all documents relating to her role in the CIA’s torture program, and oppose her nomination. The public deserve to know the full extent of her involvement.
North Carolina state and local leaders have been told for years about our state’s leading role in torture, most recently through hearings held by the blue-ribbon citizens’ panel, The North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture, whose full report is due in September. Officials know that Zubaydah and Al-Nashiri were just two of at least 49 prisoners tortured on flights by Aero Contractors that originated in North Carolina. Sadly, they have kept their heads firmly planted in the sand, refusing to open investigations or take action to prevent our public airports from being used as torture infrastructure.
North Carolina could be used again by a future US torture program under Haspel’s leadership. Only transparency and accountability for our past role can prevent this.
Michael J. Struett is an associate professor of Political Science in the School of Public and International Affairs at North Carolina State University.