“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness…Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” – Joseph Welch
On Thursday the U.S. Senate voted 54 to 45 – with six Democrats voting “yes” and two Republicans voting “no” – to confirm Gina Haspel as the new Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. By doing so the Senate excused and rewarded Ms. Haspel’s oversight of the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program.
In 2002, Ms. Haspel went to Thailand to oversee a CIA black site known as the “Cat’s Eye,” where prisoners were beaten, sleep deprived, held in “stress positions,” locked inside small, wooden boxes, and waterboarded. After the torture program came to light, Ms. Haspel helped order the destruction of videotapes of the torture sessions. During her confirmation hearings Ms. Haspel testified that, in hindsight, the CIA should not have engaged in its “enhanced interrogation program” (the politically correct euphemism for torture). However, during those same hearings she also repeatedly refused to condemn torture as immoral.
To be clear, not only is torture in fact immoral, it also illegal under U.S. and international law. The 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids “cruel and unusual punishments.” Articles 55(c) and 56 of the United Nations Charter, which the U.S. Senate ratified 89 – 2 in 1945, pledges the United States to promote “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.” The Convention Against Torture, which the U.S. ratified in 1994 and amended federal law to implement, requires our nation to “take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction,” and specifically makes no exceptions for “a state of war or a threat of war.”
While 54 United States Senators excused and endorsed torture this week, it is worth remembering it wasn’t so long ago that our government prosecuted and imprisoned people as war criminals for the exact same kind of torture Ms. Haspel oversaw. In 1947, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE) tried Japanese Army interpreter Yukio Asano on charges of of violating “the laws and customs of war” through these specific acts:
Specification 1: That in or about July or August, 1943, the accused Yukio Asano, did willfully and unlawfully, brutally mistreat and torture Morris O. Killough, an American Prisoner of War, by beating and kicking him, by fastening him on a stretcher and pouring water up his nostrils.
Specification 2: That on or about 15 May, 1944, at Fukoka Prisoner of War Branch Camp Number 3, Kyushu, Japan, the accused Yukio Asano, did, willfully and unlawfully, brutally mistreat and torture Thomas B. Armitage, William O. Cash and Munroe Dave Woodall, American Prisoners of War, by beating and kicking them, by forcing water into their mouths and noses, and by pressing lighted cigarettes against their bodies.
Specification 5. That between 1 April, 1943 and 31 December, 1943, the accused Yukio Asano, did, willfully and unlawfully, brutally mistreat and torture John Henry Burton, an American Prisoner of War, by beating him, and by fastening him head downward on a stretcher and forcing water into his nose. (emphasis added)
The IMTFE found Asano guilty, and sentenced him to 15 years hard labor. Seventy-one years later, the United States Senate promoted Gina Haspel to the most powerful intelligence and paramilitary job in the land.
“Let them kill you, but don’t cross the line.” – Hannah Arendt
The Senate’s 54 – 45 vote in favor of Ms. Haspel’s confirmation means she would not have been confirmed but for the six Democratic Senators who voted “yea.”
While it may be true that some of these Democrats cast a vote for Ms. Haspel partly because they face tough 2018 re-election bids (Manchin, Heitkamp), it should go without saying that any job which requires you to endorse torture is not a job worth keeping.
Toomey (R-PA) Wicker (R-MS) Young (R-IN)
Coons (D-DE) Duckworth (D-IL) Durbin (D-IL)
Hassan (D-NH) Heinrich (D-NM) Hirono (D-HI)
Jones (D-AL) Kaine (D-VA) King (I-ME)
McCaskill (D-MO) Menendez (D-NJ) Merkley (D-OR)
Reed (D-RI) Sanders (I-VT) Schatz (D-HI)
Schumer (D-NY) Smith (D-MN) Stabenow (D-MI)
Tester (D-MT) Udall (D-NM) Van Hollen (D-MD)
Warren (D-MA) Whitehouse (D-RI) Wyden (D-OR)