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Senate Puts CIA Back on Torture Track

Photo by Poster Boy | CC BY 2.0

The new CIA Director, Ms. “Bloody Gina” Haspel, is the focus of much of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2014 torture report because she oversaw the waterboarding, etc. of at least two suspects — Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri — at her secret, off-the-books, off shore, off-the-rails CIA dungeon in Thailand in 2002.

Official logs of CIA internet chats show that Ms. Haspel “appeared to raise no objections to the interrogation program,” the New York Times reported May 8. At her May 9 Senate confirmation hearing, Haspel defended her abuse of suspects and repeatedly refused to say that the torture was either immoral or unlawful, claiming instead that the torture had been legal at the time.

Haspel testified that her superiors assured her that CIA’s sickening battery and abuse were all legal interrogation methods and swore that she was following orders approved by her superiors and by lawyers. John Grant  wrote for CounterPunch, “Of course, the holocaust was technically legal, so that kind of argument is widely recognized as garbage.”

Ms. Haspel of course knows that torture is a crime under US and international law which is why she saw to it that 92 videotapes of her “interrogations” were destroyed. Haspel’s destruction of evidence took place in 2005 only days after the Senate committee launched its investigation into the torture regime.

Since Haspel’s oversight of prisoner abuse was not immoral in her view (even though she had the records burned), her testimony under oath never to “allow the CIA to undertake activity that I thought was immoral” is perfectly meaningless. Haspel testified that “under my leadership, CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation program.” This only means that if restarted it will be under a new name, say Preventive Investigation. Then it’s back to having suspects beaten, chained to ceilings and floors, sleep deprived for weeks, doused naked with ice water, confined in crouch boxes for days, waterboarded, and forced to endure rectal feeding.

The Senate committee colluded with Ms. Haspel’s cover-up of these tortures by agreeing that the nominee herself could decide what parts of her 33-year-long CIA career would be made available to its members. Jeffrey St. Clair, editor of CounterPunch wrote in response that the confirmation “hearings were a charade, where the subject determined what documents could be released about her own criminal actions and the Senate passively went along with it — she alone decided what her infatuated ‘interrogators’ could and couldn’t ask her. The culpability for the next torture victims will reside with those who knowing all this put her in power instead of prison.”

Promoted Inside the “Torture Works” Administration

Although torture is a ghastly, inexcusable war crime if US enemies in Iran, or Syria, or ISIS practice it (five US citizens are currently in Iranian prisons), Ms. Haspel’s new boss, President Trump, has said to Sean Hannity, “In my opinion, it works.”

Naturally the Dotard, alliterate and TV-educated, would believe this after watching eight seasons of “24” which celebrated torture in every episode. During the 2016 campaign Trump repeatedly called for “waterboarding and a hell of a lot worse.” Sen. Kamala Harris, D-CA, asked Haspel, “The president has asserted that torture works. Do you agree?” Haspel answered no, but the contradicted herself by claiming that “interrogation” produced useful information.

In January 2017, Mike Pompeo, Haspel’s predecessor at CIA and now the Secretary of State, wrote this resounding denunciation of torture in a letter to the Senate: “If experts believed current law [forbidding torture] was an impediment to gathering vital intelligence to protect the country, I would want to understand such impediments and whether any recommendations were appropriate for changing current law.”

Columnist Maureen Dowd reported that Trump lavished praise on Haspel, tweeting after her evasive testimony, “Gina Haspel did a spectacular job today.” And Dowd reminded readers that “the jackbooted Dick Cheney [reared] his poisonous head to call for the reboot of Torture Inc.” In a May 10 interview on Fox Business Cheney said about his archipelago of torture chambers: “[I]f it were my call, I’d do it again. I’d have them active and ready to go… I think the techniques we used were not torture. A lot of people try to call it that, but it wasn’t deemed torture at the time.”

What Cheney meant is that it wasn’t deemed torture by his administration and therefore wasn’t torture to anyone. If he gets his way, CIA will return to torturing prisoners held in CIA cages incommunicado, indefinitely, and later reward the perpetrators with prestigious promotions for destroying evidence of capital felonies and war crimes.

Cheney, Trump and Pompeo all disregard the likely revenge to be taken against future US prisoners held by groups or state parties in the 14 countries currently entertaining US combat troops. But ordering the torture of suspects comes easy for Cheney. He worked in the Nixon in White House from 1969 to ’75 while the CIA was torturing suspects in Southeast Asia under the Phoenix Program.

Ignorance of the Law

On Weekend Edition May 13, Sen. Joe Manchin, R-WV, said, “She didn’t break any laws. No one said she’s broken a law.”

Wrong. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR, said the Trump administration was orchestrating a “cover-up from A to Z” regarding Haspel’s actions in Thailand. Earlier Wyden accused Pompeo’s CIA of breaking an Executive Order against keeping information hidden to conceal “violations of law.” On Dec. 1, 2015 Human Rights Watch published “No More Excuses: A Roadmap to Justice for CIA Torture” setting out “the main criminal charges that can be brought against those responsible.” And Sept. 9, 2015, Amnesty International declared, “Torture is unambiguously illegal, and the United States’ international legal obligations require accountability and redress.”

The US Torture Statute (18 USC 2340) says, “Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.”

The Convention Against Torture, ratified by the United States in 1994, is a global prohibition against torture that is both absolute and “non-derogable” ¾that is, a law so fundamental to the international legal order that it cannot be set aside or suspended for any reason whatsoever.

The convention also bans states from deporting or extraditing, people where there are substantial grounds for believing they will be tortured, which by definition prohibited the Cheney/Haspel “extraordinary rendition” program which kidnapped and transferred suspects to torture states including Poland, Romania, Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and Syria.

Tell it to the judge

Jeffrey St. Clair asked in his piece, “Who will hold them accountable?” and there is some hope in the International Criminal Court. On Nov. 20, 2017, chief ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked its judges to approve an investigation into alleged criminal abuses by the US military and CIA around the world. CBS News reported that “Bensouda wants to investigate the activities of CIA operatives in secret detention facilities…”

Bensouda said in her request that “[I]nformation available provides a reasonable basis to believe” that US military personnel and CIA personnel “committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations….” The Senate committee’s torture report says for example, “A detainee who had been held partially nude and chained to a concrete floor died from suspected hypothermia at the facility.”

A year earlier Bensouda reported that “CIA operatives may have subjected at least 27 detainees in Afghanistan, Poland, Romania and Lithuania to “torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity and/or rape” between Dec. 2002 and March 2008, CBS News reported Nov. 14, 2016.

This intriguing case is ongoing. This past February 20, a final report on victims’ testimony was submitted to pre-trial ICC judges who “will now assess all representations received from victims, and in due course” issue its decision on the Prosecutor’s request for an investigation.

But justice is slow, and meanwhile as professorLaleh Khalili of the University of London warns, “What [Haspel’s] confirmation … is going to signal is that all of those countries in the world that acted as black sitesas well as those countries that acted as countries of extraordinary rendition …are essentially going to see this as a carte blanche for conducting torture.”

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John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

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