Torture Isn’t an Impediment to a Career in Washington

Please, motherfuckers. Fucking, fucking please stop acting like anything other than confirmation is going to happen with Gina Haspel.

When Barack Obama nominated John Brennan to be the director of the CIA, the vote to confirm him in March 2013 was 63-34-3. Brennan had been the third-ranked CIA official during the time of the torture used on supposed al-Qaeda detainees in the few years after 9/11, many of them completely innocent (although it doesn’t matter if they were innocent or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed). He claimed he didn’t like it, but he didn’t actively oppose it.

Most of those voting against him were Republicans because they thought he might go soft after the Senate Intelligence Committee released its report on “enhanced interrogation,” as we quaintly called torture. But voting for him were Democrats who are currently on the Senate Intelligence Committee – Ron Wyden, Dianne Feinstein, Mark Warner, and Joe Manchin – as well as independent Angus King. After the release of the report, Brennan refused to condemn the torture (except for waterboarding) and essentially said we got “useful” intel because of torture, something vigorously denied by many others.

In May 2006, the Senate voted 78-15-7 to confirm Michael Hayden as the director of the CIA, with most Democrats voting for him, including Feinstein and Warner (Wyden was a “nay” on this one). Hayden had been the Deputy Director of National Intelligence and, it turned out, had lied to the Senators during his confirmation hearing about the extent of the torture program, but his knowledge of and involvement in it wasn’t an impediment to his getting the job and it wasn’t an impediment for the Democrats who voted for him.

There has been no reckoning in this country for the systematic and officially-approved program of torture, including direct torture by the CIA, as well as the rendition of detainees to countries where they would be tortured. When the Senate Intelligence Committee’s much-redacted report came out in 2014, it was met with outrage on the right that we’d dare question the brave souls in our intelligence community who were beating trussed up pregnant women in hopes that it would squeeze some tiny bit of info out of them. Torture, Guantanamo, and Abu Ghraib did more to create terrorism than they ever did to stop it. Listen to the incredible podcast from the New York TimesCaliphate, to hear how we were and are essentially punching ourselves in the face with the stupidity of our violence.

A real reckoning would involve an acceptance across most of the political spectrum that we were wrong. It would involve apologies and compensation. It would have involved prosecutions if Barack Obama hadn’t been so misguided as to think moving on would get him some cooperation from Republicans. Instead, not only did he not prosecute, but he fucking nominated John Brennan to be CIA director.

And, of course, we have wannabe-tough politicians proclaiming how much they love torture, how we ought to torture more, how it wasn’t a mistake and giant fucking wound on the decrepit soul of our fading nation.

Of course, Gina Haspel is going to be confirmed as CIA director, even though she was in charge of a CIA black site in Thailand where prisoners were tortured, even though she ordered the destruction of videos of torture in a cover-up that she laughably described as having been done because of the “security risk” of revealing the officers who were on them.

Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris admirably tried to get Haspel to answer a question about whether she thought the torture was “immoral,” which Haspel evaded. But we long ago decided that we didn’t care about the morality or legality of it. We long ago decided that those who participated in and all those who allowed torture to become part of arsenal in our foolish “War on Terror” might even be rewarded for their heinous actions.

So fuck it. Why not Haspel? This is who we are because we’ve done nothing other than wave a finger and say, “Promise us you won’t torture.” Which I always thought was the promise in the first place.

Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on May 9, 2018, on The Rude Pundit, a website featuring commentary by Lee Papa.  It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Papa.

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