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Gina Haspel and the Normalising of Torture

by Kit

This all happened by accident. This isn’t who we are. We didn’t mean it. Honest.

Gina Haspel is almost certainly going to be the next director of the CIA. This shouldn’t happen, but it will.

For those unfamiliar: Haspel was deputy head of the Agency under now-secretary of state Mike Pompeo. But that wasn’t her first job. She also oversaw the CIA torture programme in a secret black-site in Thailand. In 2005 she was promoted (probably because she’s really good at torturing people), and was then in charge of the CIA’s global network of torture sites.

This makes her a terrible person, but probably quite a good CIA agent.

Just to be clear, this is not a theory a rumor or a smear. Nobody debates these facts. This was her job. She supervised torture camps.

The response in the press is pretty disheartening, to be honest. Or, at least would have been, before reading the news and being outraged became my full-time unpaid job.

NBC said it makes her a “controversial” figure.

This story, from CNBC, went with a beautifully disgusting headline:

Trump picks Gina Haspel as first female CIA director—her history with torture could hamper her confirmation

Her “history with torture” doesn’t mean she should be in prison, doesn’t mean she’s an inhuman monster, doesn’t even make her exempt from government office, no. It just might be a bit of a complication. Like a drunk-driving conviction or an affair with a porn star. Torturing people is an embarrassing faux pas.

CNN reports:

She could be the first woman ever to run the CIA

…deciding to headline her genitalia rather than her long history of breaking international law. I would suggest “She could be the first torturer to ever run the CIA” as a better headline. It is, unfortunately, not true…but that’s never stopped CNN before.

The HuffPo at least has the sense to be seemingly undecided about it, just not in the way that you’d think:

Gina Haspel’s dark past makes her a complicated figure for feminists to support.

“Complicated” to support, is an interesting phrase. Some might have gone with “impossible” or “morally repugnant”. Trying to turn this into some kind of ethical quandary for feminists is offensive. Rather like the Guardian’s pitiful attempts to show the sympathetic side of the soldiers in the Abu Ghraib torture pictures.

Speaking of The Guardian…our trusty friend has a new story on Haspel today…its headline?

Gina Haspel must atone for her past to become CIA director

They don’t exactly say how one “atones” for a past as a professional torturer, but then this is The Guardian. There’s not to reason why, there’s just to puff out comfy certitude.

It refers to the detention and torture of people who were never charged or faced trial as “one of the darker chapters in modern US history”…which feels so much like simultaneous under and over statement, it’s actually hard to correct.

It’s NOT one of the darker chapters in US history, ancient or recent. But only because of everything else The Guardian refuses to report on. Torturing a few hundred people is nothing compared to starving 500,000 Iraqi children to death, when you think about it.

The Western press tend to talk about torture as if it was a temporary blip, an accident. A speed bump on our moral high-road. It is none of those things. The West LOVES torture, we have a long tradition of it. The CIA wrote handbooks on it in the 1960s. America tortured people for decades before they got caught. They claim to have stopped now, but they would have claimed they never started…before the leaks happened. It’s almost certainly still going on. Believing otherwise is just naive.

Our side tortures people. People who probably don’t know anything and never did anything.

…not that being guilty or having information justifies torture. That’s the rhetorical trap the media sets around torture. The debate about “effectiveness”.

We don’t ban torture because it doesn’t work, just like we don’t eat babies because it’s expensive and we don’t ban slavery because it’s really hard to find good chains. Even addressing the pragmatic angle is inappropriate. Torture is wrong, and a civilised society does not question that fact.

Of course, the “moral ambiguities” around torture are only for our side. The other side have no ambiguity. If they use torture – even only allegedly – then they are evil. Assad’s (thus far theoretical) torture prisons are one of the reasons we should invade Syria. (You remember, Amnesty International recreated one using echo-location). Unfounded accusations of torture have been levelled at Cuba and Venezuela over the years too.

It’s “torture” when they do it, you understand. Not “enhanced interrogation”. It’s “not who we are”, but it IS who THEY are.

For all that, Barack Obama remains the only modern leader to publicly admit to the use of torture. Remember that when the pronouncements about “our enemies” start flying around.

We have documented, and confessed, cases of using torture. Assad and Putin, Tehran and Beijing, Venezuela and Cuba, do not.

And the people who carried out this torture? They’re getting promoted.

Imagine Putin admitted the FSB tortured Chechens who had committed no crimes, and then appointed one of the torturers as head of the FSB. Would our press demand he “atone” for his dark past? Would we call him a “controversial” figure? Or would there be long editorials about Russia “thumbing their noses at international norms”?

Gina Haspel is a war criminal. The Hague was literally made for people like her. But she will never be charged, she will never be tried, she will never be hanged. Because she’s one of OUR monsters, doing dark deeds for our side. She will face no reckoning from us, instead we ask only that she “atone”, whatever that means.

It is so easy to forgive the crimes of the monsters you create.


  1. Freedom Fighter says

    We have to also remember that the Assad regime actively participated in the US “extraordinary rendition” process and was where many people were taken to be brutally tortured.

    This fact is conveniently forgotten by the low-information drones that make up much of the (so-called) “alternative media”.

    Remember what former CIA agent Robert Baer said:

    “If you want a serious interrogation, you send a prisoner to Jordan. If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria.”


  2. mark says

    Haspel should “atone for her past” the same way Irma Griese did. At the end of a six foot length of rope.

    Of course, this will never happen. The United Snakes is far too busy giving lofty sermons and pious lectures to the rest of humanity about their human rights failings.

    • reinertorheit says

      The country that holds a School Shooting once-weekly can hardly be expected to care much about the arbitrary torture and murder of captives.

  3. Reblogged this on Eléctrica in the Desert and commented:

    Let this be where we stop them. Let’s go no further. We must hound her relentlessly, daily, making it impossible for her to function. Set up 24 hour protest sites as close to the Justice Dept, Congress, and the White House, her home and her church as we can get. Everyone who deals with her, every university visit, every lecture, every meeting, every member of her personal staff gets flooded with public outrage. WE SAY NO, WE SAY NO AND WE KEEP SAYING NO.
    Reblogging on Electrica in the Desert

  4. milosevic says

    Trying to turn this into some kind of ethical quandary for feminists is offensive.

    Only if you believe the marketing campaign, and imagine that “feminism” is something other than a career vehicle for upper-middle-class white women.

    If Hilary Clinton can be a feminist hero, why can’t Gina Haspel?

  5. Stu says

    Tonight’s 6 o’clock News completely ignored Fatima Boudchar’s description of torture by the CIA which was published in yesterday’s NYT.

    Even more disgustingly this guardian article https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/10/fatima-boudchar-abdel-hakim-belhaj-rendition-uk-government-apology gives an account of her ordeal yet omits the torture completely.

    Here is the NYT article https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/08/opinion/gina-haspel-questions-cia.html

    “I have no idea how long I was in the Thai secret prison because no one would let me sleep. The cell was white and stark, with nothing in it but a camera and hooks on the wall. The masked abductors were waiting. I was terrified. They chained me to the hooks. Because I was midway through my pregnancy, I could barely move or sit.

    Some of what they did to me in that prison was so awful I can’t talk about it. They hit me in the abdomen just where the baby was. To move me, they bound me to a stretcher from head to toe, like a mummy. I was sure I would shortly be killed.”

    • mark says

      They have done far worse than this.
      One poor devil at Bagram was stripped naked and chained up in a standing position in a freezing dungeon and just left there for 17 days till he was eventually just found dead of starvation, dehydration and hypothermia.
      And that doesn’t even scratch the surface.

  6. Alan says

    It seems Miss Haspel has spent her life pursuing what gives her satisfaction within a system that rewards such pursuits. I imagine if she hadn’t given her ‘talents’ in service to the state, she would be languishing within some facility for the criminally insane. The barbaric system that allows such ‘talent’ to flourish has no regrets as do the cowardly apologists who believe themselves to be journalists.

    • Peter says

      It’s Ms Haspel, please. Show some respect.

      Kit’s article is spot on.

    • mark says

      Why not?
      The Orange Baboon can’t get enough of “beautiful” torture.
      There’s no problem unless you blow the whistle on torture. Then you get stripped naked and thrown in a cell for 35 years.
      Carry out the torture and you get promoted or become a talking head on Fox News.

  7. stevehayes13 says

    The crime of torture falls under universal jurisdiction. Haspel may never face trial in the US, but she may well need to be very careful about any foreign visits.

    • Jake O says

      Don’t be ridiculous – the empire rules – she will never be touched

  8. Harry Stotle says

    Philip Zimardo gives a fascinating talk on Abu Ghraib in particular and torture in general – he suggests why you can’t have torture unless ‘good’ people are prepared to do ‘bad’ things, and how they are conditioned to make this transition. A lot of his ideas stem from the Milgram experiment.

    Needless to say these power processes are not purely a US phenomena, although the US must be world leaders given the way power and threat is at the heart of their foreign policy.

    • milosevic says

      Why would one assume that imperialism’s hired thugs, killers, and torturers are “good people”?

  9. Edwige says

    “The West LOVES torture, we have a long tradition of it. The CIA wrote handbooks on it in the 1960s”

    In the first draft of ‘Meet the Parents’, when Ben Stiller was waiting in Robert De Niro’s study he was meant to look around and see a copy of the CIA torture manual on the bookshelf. When the CIA saw the script (as is routine practice) they objected and the studio acquiesced (as is routine practice) – although the replacement with photos of De Niro meeting various people like the Mujahideen may not in retrospect have been much of an improvement from the CIA’s point of view.

    Of course, anyone wanting to know more about the CIA and torture needs to read Douglas Valentine’s ‘The Phoenix Programme’. Ken Burns devoted about 8 minutes of the 900+ minutes of ‘The Vietnam War’ to Phoenix.

  10. USAma Bin Laden says

    Torture is evil …. unless Americans (or their democratic allies) do it.

    In that case, torture is just a “complication,” and the only real debate should be about its effectiveness–not its criminality.

    Welcome to the world of American Freedom and Democracy!

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain says

    Torture is as American as apple-pie, A-bombs dropped on civilians, ditto napalm, and sanctions that DELIBERATELY kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. The US, either the ruling regimes, or doughty private citizens in the barbaric games before a good ole lynching, or the USA’s masses of death-squad stooges spread across the world, have ‘tortured folks’ since the 17th century. Very often the torture is to the death, and one operative from the CIA’s massive Operation Phoenix torture program in Vietnam once observed that he could not recall a single victim who survived.
    To make out that Haspel is some sort of deviation from the American norm is bizarre, utterly fake, fake news. She’s a true blue American of the type that has terrorised the world for decades, and only grows ever more savage, crazed, and bloodthirsty.

  12. We have a war criminal running this country as we speak. Essentially using ethnic cleansing to lower population numbers by targeting the unemployed and disabled, sick and elderly. It makes me angry that people are so blind to it. This that do know however seem to think that it’s OK because it’s always been that way… I will not idly stand by and watch our country be raped by elitist silver Spooners. We must stand against them

  13. Fair dinkum says

    The One Per Cent avoid getting their hands dirty by employing cold blooded psychopaths and mercenaries in suits.

  14. Cellophile says

    Fine, deeply important piece of journalism. Imagine trying to have this presented and discussed in schools in our schools.

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