Freedom from Torture - Our view – Gina Haspel is unfit to lead the CIA

Our view – Gina Haspel is unfit to lead the CIA

Freedom from Torture is deeply concerned at President’s Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) because of her alleged oversight of CIA torture and destruction of the evidence.

Speaking before the start of confirmation hearings in Washington, Sonya Sceats, Chief Executive of Freedom from Torture, said:

Lamentably, this hearing is probably the closest Gina Haspel will ever come to trial for her alleged role in overseeing and covering up CIA torture abroad.

The vote represents a colossal test of moral rectitude for America’s Senators. The repercussions will be global, including for Britain’s MI6 which has been in bed with the CIA on torture before and has deep links with Haspel.

Even if she promises to reject torture in future, her confirmation as CIA Director would be seen across the world as a sign that America’s legislators are stepping into line behind Trump’s abhorrent pro-torture views. This would be a dire setback for traumatised survivors and the cause of torture prevention everywhere.

Gina Haspel reportedly oversaw the use of various torture techniques on detainee Abd al Rahim al Nashiri when she was head of a secret CIA ‘black’ site in Thailand in late 2002.

During his detention there he was subject to so called “enhanced interrogation techniques”, waterboarding, forced nakedness, and confinement in small coffin like boxes. Our medical and legal experts would have no difficulty in identifying these methods as torture. 

Surely Gina Haspel could have stopped this torture – but she didn’t. She later played an active role in the 2005 decision to destroy the videotapes that recorded the torture sessions.

Gina Haspel has been promising Senators that she would not endorse torture in the future but does anyone really believe she would block it if President Trump demanded it?

The international dimension

Many people might think that Gina Haspel's nomination is a purely American matter. Not so. There is an absolute ban on torture in international law. When it signed the UN Convention on Torture the US agreed to abide by this ban. Appointing Haspel as CIA Director would effectively signal that the Convention on Torture counts for little for the US government.

This disregard for hard-fought international standards has been exacerbated by the ignorance of and contempt for the Convention expressed by President Trump. During his election campaign he said Don’t tell me it doesn’t work—torture works – a sentiment he has repeated since his inauguration.

Now he is defending Gina Haspel on the grounds that: “My respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she is too tough on terrorists”. But is it right that she is being held to account for her participation in a discredited organised programme of torture.

Should Gina Haspel’s appointment be confirmed – and at this stage, there is a good likelihood that it may not be – US lawmakers would be sending a message worldwide that using torture is right and acceptable. Imagine how such a message will be received by the dictators and strongmen that the US counts among its allies, and also among its foes. If the US is allowed to torture with impunity, they might think that they can get away with it too. 

Freedom from Torture is also concerned about Gina Haspel’s influence over the British intelligence establishment. Ms Haspel has twice been posted to London and was CIA London station chief between 2014 and 2017. Over the years she has developed deep connections with MI6. There was a joint operation between agencies in 2004 when Libyan dissidents were captured and rendered back to torture in Libya – a case which is still being examined by our courts and by the UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee.

Freedom from Torture believes Gina Haspel should be facing trial not triumph at the helm of the most powerful intelligence agency in the world.

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