Trump picks 'actual torturer' for CIA head, proposed secretary of state 'a recipe for war'

The tortuerer and the war-monger: Gina Haspel and Mike Pompeo.

Human rights advocates expressed outrage on March 13 after US President Donald Trump nominated deputy director Gina Haspel to be the next CIA director — despite her leading role in running a CIA black site where detainees were systematically and gruesomely abused, writes Jessica Corbett for Common Dreams.

Haspel has been slated to replace current CIA director Mike Pompeo. Trump has tapped Pompeo to replace just-sacked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Maya Foa, director of the London-based Reprieve, said: “Haspel was one of President Bush’s torturers-in-chief and she is simply not fit to hold an office that requires, at its very heart, a commitment to uphold the values of the Constitution.

“This is another example of Donald Trump’s backward-looking reliance on people and methods that have failed.”

A profile published by the New Yorker last year, after Trump appointed her as deputy director, detailed how, in the early 2000s, “Haspel was a senior official overseeing a top-secret CIA program that subjected dozens of suspected terrorists to savage interrogations, which included depriving them of sleep, squeezing them into coffins, and forcing water down their throats”.

In Thailand, Haspel oversaw the “brutal interrogations” of at least two detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. “Zubaydah alone was waterboarded 83 times in a single month, had his head repeatedly slammed into walls, and endured other harsh methods before interrogators decided he had no useful information to provide,” the New York Times reported.

ProPublica investigation published last year detailed how Haspel “was more deeply involved in the torture of Abu Zubaydah than has been publicly understood, according to newly available records and accounts by participants”.

In one exchange described in a book written by an interrogator, Haspel accused Zubaydah of “faking symptoms of physical distress and psychological breakdown,” and supposedly said to him: “Good job! I like the way you’re drooling; it adds realism. I’m almost buying it. You wouldn’t think a grown man would do that.”

Haspel also played a role in the destruction of video evidence that depicted US agents torturing detainees at the CIA’s secret prisons. In 2005, the NYT notes, “Haspel was serving at CIA headquarters, and it was her name that was on the cable carrying the destruction orders”.

“The concealment of those interrogation tapes, which violated multiple court orders as well as the demands of the 9/11 commission and the advice of White House lawyers, was condemned as ‘obstruction’ by commission chairs Lee Hamilton and Thomas Keane,” Glenn Greenwald pointed out at The Intercept. 

Greenwald did not express surprise at Haspel’s appointment, instead pointed out that “this isn’t a radical departure for CIA”, considering the agency’s pro-torture history.

Last year, the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights filed a legal intervention with German authorities, hoping to obtain an arrest warrant for Haspel. This was based on her role in facilitating and trying to conceal torture at CIA black sites.

To officially take over the agency, Haspel will need to undergo a confirmation hearing with the US Senate, where she’ll likely face some tough questions.

At the same time, John Queally at Common Dreams that picking Popmeo to be the new Secretary of State was condemned by critics as a "recipe for war".

Of all the reasons to be concerned about Trump’s nomination of the outgoing CIA director, experts on March 13 warn that a higher risk of a US-initiated war with Iran should be top of the list.

In reaction to Pompeo’s nomination, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) said Trump’s nomination of Pompeo “could have profound implications for the fate of the Iran nuclear deal and the prospect of a new war in the Middle East.” 

Jon Rainwater, executive director of Peace Action, also expressed grave concerns. “By tapping Mike Pompeo to be Secretary of State,” said Rainwater, “Trump is handing over the reigns of US diplomacy to one of the most hawkish members of his administration.

“For all of Tillerson’s flaws, he served as a check on Trump’s more hawkish positions. With Pompeo, Trump’s worst instincts on Iran and North Korea will be reinforced.”

In November 2016, CNBC noted, Pompeo warned that the Iranian government was “intent of destroying America”, characterised the nuclear deal forged by the Obama administration as “disastrous”, and said he was looking forward to “rolling back” the agreement.

At a time when Trump has repeatedly threatened to rip up or nullify the deal, Rainater said Pompeo’s “extreme policy views threaten to gut US diplomatic capacity further by making war the go-to option rather than a last resort”.

Given that Pompeo has suggested military strikes would be more effective than diplomacy in relation to Iran, NIAC said there were “serious questions about his fitness to serve as America's top diplomat”.

NIAC president Trita Parsi said appointing Pompeo as head of the State Department was “a recipe for war”. 

Trump explicitly cited Pompeo’s thinking on Iran when he was asked by reporters on March 13 about Tillerson’s ouster.

“We disagreed on things,” Trump said of the outgoing Secretary of State. Trump said he thought the Iran deal was “terrible”, but that Tillerson thought it “was okay”.

Trump added: “With Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process. I think it’s going to go very well.”

For those concerned about Pompeo’s aggressive and hawkish positions, however, it’s not at all clear the results will be anywhere near very well.

“Unfortunately,” NIAC warned in its response, “the net effect of Pompeo at State may not just be the further isolation of America and ... it may result in a dramatic escalation of tensions in the Middle East and a war with Iran.”

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