The Golden Rule: Waterboard Trump

The centuries-old rule of a morally just society is the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is simple, direct, to be applied to individuals, and increasingly now, policymakers, when they are in jeopardy of invalidating its ethical underpinning for the meaning of peace, equity, and yes, democracy itself. Trump is off to a good start in its extreme violation, specifically on the issue at hand, where there is no wiggle room for escape. Either you believe in torture (waterboarding, in this case) or you do not—and by calling waterboarding a form of non-torture is hardly an escape hatch from moral opprobrium.

I turn to Matthew Rosenberg’s New York Times article (Feb. 3), “Haspel, Had Leading Role in Torture,” which reports on Gina Haspel’s elevation this past week to the No. 2 slot, as deputy director, of the CIA. He writes that in 2002 she “oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and later took part in an order to destroy videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations at a secret prison in Thailand.” (Unlike Watergate, this is one instance where the cover-up is not worse than the crime itself.) One of the detainees, Abu Zubaydah “was waterboarded 83 times in a single month, had his head repeatedly slammed into walls and endured other harsh methods before interrogators decided he had no useful information to provide.”

This IS America, the moral nation, now on its way to Greatness, and, by his general statements, and acceptance of Haspel to such a high post, Trump’s own predilections in the matter. Despite a presumed formal ban, torture is back in vogue, disguised as its opposite, in the desiderata of the administration, and just as presumably, in the offing, when the first opportunity is found, at one with hate-filled monstrosities of dystopian visions already present. It is not only I. who in articles in CP last week warned of where America is presently (with complicity of Democrats, in full enlistment), in the aggressive belligerence shown the world, but here is Francois Heisburg, a senior advisor to the French Foundation for Strategic Research, who said: “In the Trump world there are no sunny uplands, just darkness and hatred.”

Rosenberg points out the respect Haspel enjoys (knowing full well her record) in intelligence and government circles: “The elevation of Ms. Haspel, a veteran widely respected among her colleagues, …was a rare public signal of how, under the Trump administration, the agency is being led by officials who appear to take a far kinder view of one of its darker chapters than their immediate predecessors.” This last was not for want of trying on the predecessors’ part, Obama never setting out to clean house at CIA, and those officials, like Clapper, who said he was “very pleased” with Haspel’s appointment, and Morell, “I applaud the appointment,” make clear as much. Thus, Rosenberg continues: “Over the past eight years, C.I.A. leaders defended dozens of agency personnel [i.e., under Obama] who had taken part in the now-banned torture program, even as they vowed [much to their consternation?—mine] never to resume the same harsh interrogation methods. But President Trump has said repeatedly that he thinks torture works.”

This is splendidly to the point, for it raises the question of the relationship between Obama and Trump. Banning torture was rather late in the day for the former, with no specific repudiations and disavowals, nor of course punishments (Obama enjoyed good relations with the CIA and the intelligence community, as in NSA’s campaign of surveillance at home, eavesdropping on foreign leaders, like Merkel, abroad). Too, how different in moral and functional equivalents is torture from Obama’s signature in counterterrorism, armed drones for targeted assassination? None that I could find, cementing both, in terms of legacies, as moral monsters. Could Trump, so early in his administration, have gotten away with this much, had not Obama provided the structure of foreign relations and contempt for the law—intervention, regime change, nuclear modernization, treatment of detainees, favoritism shown corporate wealth, all aspects of an interrelated framework of war-corporatism—that he did?

Trump, despite his earlier superficial criticism of CIA, gives away the show on essentials when he appointed Pompeo as the agency’s director, who, as the reporter notes, “has said that waterboarding and other techniques do not even constitute torture [how long the barrier remains?—mine], and praised as ‘patriots’ those who used such methods in the early days of the fight against Al Qaeda.” Where the Democrats here, laying down on the railroad tracks in silent submission? As for Haspel, “who would certainly fall within Mr. Pompeo’s description, [s]he played a direct role in the C.I.A.’s ‘extraordinary rendition program,’ under which captured militants were handed over to foreign governments and held at secret facilities, where they were tortured by agency personnel.” Much of her career was spent under Obama.

She ran the CIA’s “first overseas detention site in Thailand,” where Zubaydah was tortured, “the recordings stored in a safe” there until 2005, her “cable carrying the destruction orders”—the kind of footsie carried on by both Obama and Trump in the name of patriotism. Resistance to her promotion, comparative silence: Chris Anders, of the ACLU, was one of the few voices raised against her. Devin Nunes, chair of House Intelligence, quoted in Rosenberg, praised her as “the first woman to serve as deputy director and said that she had ‘impressed us with her dedication, forthrightness, and her deep commitment to the intelligence community.” So much for the vile garbage emanating from Washington, an utterly corrupt system administered by both parties. Torture is presently against the law, for how long one can only speculate.


This raises the question, applicable to Trump and his predecessors (for he cannot be examined in a vacuum), of the connectivity in America of power, wealth, and fascism, possibly from the time of Truman onward, and certainly, from Reagan onward. I have said as much in previous CP articles, but this Haspel business drives home the point, of the darker side of US politics and government, and now, with the gathering of the clan of Billionaires under Trump, even less reason to think things will be different, from torture to the dismantlement of regulation with regard not only to corporate practice but also elementary safeguards to the nation’s health and well-being. America is fast crumbling into a boiling cauldron of hate, selfishness, and combativeness, Trump the perfect articulator, implementer, further executioner of capitalism in high spirits laboring almost gleefully under the aegis of Thanatos, an instinctual desire for death, taking on mythopoetic proportions in light of destructiveness already wrought on the world and in contemplation for the future.

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at