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.


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