By Ivan Eland
American national security agencies—such as the Pentagon, State Department and CIA—often complain about congressional oversight, forgetting they are not only supposed to be protecting the U.S. territory and population, but also the way of life of those people.
These agencies are not serving dictatorial regimes, but one of the freest nations in human history—the United States of America. And that free nation has a system of checks and balances and the rule of law, which are still both in operation. And sometimes, to preserve that American way of life, these agencies must use restraint, or if they fail to do so, be restrained. Gina Haspel, the CIA’s deputy director, although perhaps an effective clandestine officer, should not be confirmed as the agency’s director by the Senate in its constitutional role of approving presidential nominees.
Unfortunately, Donald Trump, like George W. Bush, does not mind bending the American system’s laws and norms. During his presidential campaign, Trump openly advocated returning to the torture of terrorism suspects conducted by the Bush administration during the hysteria following the 9/11 attacks. So it’s not surprising that Trump has nominated Gina Haspel to the agency’s top spot. It doesn’t bother the president in the least that she oversaw a secret CIA prison in Thailand where torture was reportedly committed and then was complicit in destroying the videos of such horrendous human rights abuse. Torture—such as water boarding (simulated drowning), but hardly limited to that practice—was practiced by the Bush administration in clear violation of long-standing U.S. and international law.
The bureaucrats at the secretive CIA have mounted an unusual public relations campaign on her behalf and dismissed her involvement in torture as just loyally following orders. Yet more than 100 retired generals and admirals signed a letter, led by former Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Charles C. Krulak, which argues that because of her involvement in torture and destruction of the video she is unfit to lead the CIA. In addition to its illegality, many military personnel oppose U.S. torture because they believe it is counterproductive to getting accurate information, allows enemies an excuse to torture any Americans captured, and makes the adversary’s combatants more prone to fight to the death rather than surrender—thus resulting in more American casualties.
Yet, in a Trumpian-like move, the CIA publicity machine has tried to make us believe that black is white and white is black by astonishingly claiming that Haspel is “committed to the rule of law.” Also, the agency has, despite five congressional requests, refused to declassify her professional biography. Senators would like to see what her role was in the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program after she returned from Thailand to the agency’s counterterrorism center.
Trump seems to be exhibiting some of the same tendencies to flout the law that the flagrantly lawless Bush administration demonstrated. Congress should not further enable such tendencies by confirming a CIA nominee who already shown a blatant disregard of American rule of law.