Gina Haspel’s Fluid Moral Compass

I expected to dislike Gina Haspel, but be impressed with her competence (the same view I always had about John Brennan). But she did not come off as competent in her confirmation hearing, in large part because the lies surrounding her career cannot be sustained.

Let’s start with the questions she didn’t answer (usually offering a non-responsive rehearsed answer instead). She refused to say:

  • Whether she believes, with the benefit of hindsight, torture was immoral.
  • If a terrorist tortured a CIA officer, whether that would be immoral.
  • Whether the torture program was consistent with American values.
  • Whether she oversaw the torture of Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri.
  • Whether she was in a role supervising torture before she became Jose Rodriguez’ Chief of Staff.
  • Whether she pushed to keep the torture program between 2005 and 2007 (see that question here).
  • Whether she would recuse from declassification decisions relating to her nomination.
  • Whether Dan Coats should oversee declassification decisions regarding her nomination.
  • Whether she has been alone with President Trump.
  • Whether she would tell Congress if he asked her for a loyalty oath.

She also answered that she didn’t think torture worked, but then hedged and said she couldn’t say that because we got evidence from it.

She did answer one question that went to the core of her abuse when she participated in the destruction of the torture tapes. She said she would consider it insubordination today if an officer bypassed her for something as substantive as destroying the tapes, as Jose Rodriguez did. But she as much as said she would have destroyed the tape much earlier, because of the security risk they posed to the officers who appeared in the videos.

Then there was the logical inconsistency of her presentation. Several Senators, including Mark Warner, Dianne Feinstein, Ron Wyden, and Kamala Harris, complained about the selective declassification of information surrounding her confirmation. Haspel explained that she had to abide by the rules of classification just like everyone else. Not only was that transparent bullshit on its face (as Harris noted, the CIA released a great deal of information that revealed details of her operations), during the course of the hearing she provided details about her first meeting with an asset, Jennifer Matthews’ life and assignments, and a counter-drug program that also must be classified, and yet she was willing to simply blurt them out.

Perhaps most remarkable, though, is a key claim she made to excuse the destruction of the torture tape.

She claimed she did not recall which of the long list of entities that opposed the destruction of the torture tape she knew about at the time. That includes a move by Carl Levin to form a congressional commission to investigate torture. But on several occasions, she said that because the torture was covered in cable traffic, no other evidence needed to be kept.

That assumes, of course, that both the specific CIA cable and CIA cables generally are a fair rendition of any event CIA does (it’s not; in this case, and some videos were destroyed before the reviews finding them to match).

But when the Senate Intelligence Committee did a 6.700 page report based on the cables CIA used to describe their own torture, CIA wailed because SSCI didn’t interview the individual officers. Haspel effectively suggested that cables, in the absence of the torture tapes, would be sufficient for a congressional commission. Yet when Congress used cables to do an investigation of torture, CIA then claimed that was invalid.

When asked whether torture was moral, Haspel instead repeatedly insisted she has a sound moral compass. Except what her testimony made clear is that her idea of moral compass has everything to do with what is good for the CIA and its officers. It has absolutely nothing to do with traditional moral values. That’s not actually surprising. That’s what we ask of clandestine CIA officers: to break the rules normal people adhere to, in the name of serving our country, and to remain absolutely loyal to those whose lives are exposed in doing so.

Except today, Haspel proved unable to move beyond the fluid moral compass of a CIA officer to adopt a more stringent moral code of an official serving a democracy.

22 replies
  1. SpaceLifeForm says:

    I think she did a great job today.

    She revealed ‘stuff’, and really helped her cause to avoid dealing with Trump for much longer.

  2. Trip says:

    Trump wants to use torture. He will go down a list until he has found someone willing to do it, if Haspel isn’t confirmed. This is who we are now. A country whose leader endorses torture, recommends the death sentence for drug dealers, and admires despotic world leaders who abuse human rights.

  3. yogarhythms says:

    H’s inablility to articulate an ethical prinicple which doesn’t change rather is applied to real life situations which are always fluid is the crack shining light into a dark narcisistic mind. The palace chose her for a reason. Nov 6th 2018 is the day registered voters may register thier opinion for ethics held by canidates for office. If you are not registered your opinion will not be counted.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Nicely done, as was the twitter feed.  Haspel is at the edge of the Peter Principle as the CIA’s No. 2.  She appears to be an effective executive officer, but that also demonstrates that the CIA disdains to wrestle with its past, an attribute present at its creation.  To make her captain of the ship, heading into high seas and a plunging barometer, is to invite comparisons with Captain Queeg.

    As you say, an agency head has much different responsibilities than a field officer, even if she thinks her desk work is a slam dunk.  It’s where the buck stops and the leadership begins on such matters as compliance with law, and in juggling the conflicting goals of agency effectiveness, compliance with executive demands, and political and legal accountability.  Ms. Haspel has demonstrated that she is unequal to the task.

    The list of unanswered questions is icing on the cake.  Would she answer differently if she were required to stand on her tiptoes for a day, then dowsed with cold water for twenty minutes, and asked to speak into the microphone while staring into the eyes of a hungry Doberman and an Alsatian?  Would the answer be different just because there were no tapes?

  5. TheraP says:

    Gina Haspel participated in robbing our nation of its moral compass, when it comes to the treatment of prisoners on her watch.  Her prisoners had no recourse to justice.  Their whereabouts was unknown.  No UN human rights authority visited the prison to check on the welfare of the incarcerated.  There was no set of charges.  No trial.  No jury.  No one to defend them.  These prisoners were tortured!  Alone, cold, sleepless, their bodies (and souls!) mistreated in the worst possible ways.  Gina followed “orders” – as if the torture rooms and practices were just another bureaucracy she oversaw.

    Gina stole their souls.  And never looked back.  Except to make sure the evidence was destroyed.

    The crimes here are multitudinous:  experimentation on humans; failure to provide for the welfare of prisoners; mistreatment and outright torture;  obstruction of justice; war crimes; crimes against humanity.

    And the Trump White House, already bereft of moral authority or a moral compass, has the arrogance, the insolence, the sadism, to inflict such a criminal upon our nation.

    Imagine a bank deciding to put a bank robber in charge of its entire banking system!  Or suppose its new CEO had acted to protect bank robbers.  Or suppose it’s a promotion from bank robber to police chief.

    Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.  So obedient Gina, who can treat torture as just another part of a bureaucracy she oversees, is the perfect COMPLICIT accomplice for a sadistic Trump, who demands loyalty to himself. (Rather than to the Constitution.)

    Gina Haspel is manifestly UNFIT.  And if the Senate confirms her, so are they.

  6. Avattoir says:

    OTOH, I don’t think this country can truly bottom out in terms of degradation unless we install a torture fan at the CIA and get right back to the horrors ASAP.

    And, of course, when Manchin went all Hey Yeah! to Haspel during today’s session, no senator on either side uttered a word, because Joe’s just the concierge to ease her path.

  7. GKJames says:

    Isn’t the issue about the tapes’ destruction the fact that an Article III court had ordered the evidence to be preserved? The question to Haspel: Do you believe that you, and the CIA as an institution, get to decide which laws and court orders it should obey? And if your answer is no, do you agree you should be prosecuted for unlawfully destroying evidence?

    • bmaz says:

      Well, yes, absolutely. But, even without that, it was criminal obstruction via destruction because there were pending detainee commission cases and detention review cases that the tape evidence was not just pertinent to, but I would argue was exculpatory evidence to. The destruction of the tapes, and the conspiracy to do so, was not just immoral, it was flat out  criminal.

      • GKJames says:

        And Obama gave ’em all a pass. Maddening. A nation of laws, indeed. (And that’s not even getting into the psychopathology underpinning the creation of torture porn in the first place, and the destruction of which had little to do with the protection of CIA people and everything with the knowledge that the enterprise was criminal.)

        • bmaz says:

          Exactly. It was never about protection of CIA agents, they could easily have been digitized and the evidence preserved. That argument is just silly. It was about the specter of what was depicted as to the sadistic and illegal torture.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Absolument.  ID’s would have been digitally redacted.  As with the pictures of Abu Ghraib – pictures are always worth more than a thousand words – the tapes were destroyed because of what they depicted the US Government doing.  That and the criminality they documented on the part of those who did and authorized it.

        • orionATL says:

          the obama pass to the cia is something i have not forgiven and will not forget in evaluating his presidency. the president had a chance to change cia behavior for the better to the great benefit of the nation and he failed to take advantage of it.

          i think the best that can be said of the president is he thought he could best reign in the cia thru better discipline instituted thru john brennan. but obama and brennan are gone, the corporation’s mindset has not changed, and a new president, with the same bad judgement, cowboy predilections, and indifference to the danger of sanctified violence as v-p cheney, has come to power.

  8. NorskieFlamethrower says:

    The destruction of evidence in the face of the Article III order should be the first question posed by every senator to this slimy little weasel. The fact that no one pounded this home is more than a little discouraging.

  9. Mary G says:

    The thing that bothered me the most was her legalistic use of “CIA officers” when she said she would never allow torture to be used again. So contractors, like the  psychologists who came up with the torture, and other countries, such as Pakistan, can still be used when rough stuff is needed?

    • Trip says:

      Good catch on the hair-splitting, @Mary G. How about private mercenary groups like those run by E Prince?

  10. pdaly says:

    I was thinking, and Stephen Colbert verbalized it tonight, that Haspel’s frequent use of the phrase ‘promise never to resume’ hides the fact that the torture never stopped.

    I’m thinking. too, of Jeff Kaye’s investigations into Appendix M of the U.S.’s new version of the Army Field Manual, which contains a black box of enhanced interrogation techniques.

  11. Webstir says:

    Wow. That old quote by Marshall in Johnson v. M’Intosh is chillingly revealing in this context. We’re not, nor ever have we been a nation that applies it’s laws objectively. Witness: “Conquest gives a title which the Courts of the conqueror cannot deny, whatever the private and speculative opinions of individuals may be, respecting the original justice of the claim which has been successfully asserted.” Power is always asserted subjectively. Objectively, GH should be in prison. But for the subjective application of the law over the last three presidencies, she’s an Eichmann. Untouchable until a presidential conqueror subjectively  decides to begin enforcing the objective statutes and treaties.

    Nation of laws my #$%*ing @$$. All we are is a nation that’s done a bang up PR job by rationalizing away the fact that we are governed by vicisitudinal cults of personality.    

    • TheraP says:

      Think of the amount of torture done under slavery.  Think of how our Constitution first deemed enslaved human beings as only 60% of a Person.

      Our legacy of slavery and the abominable treatment of Native Americans stands as further evidence of what you’ve written above.  Our current incarceration of black Americans, the way they are mistreated by the police, the fact that we have become the most imprisoning nation on this earth, that imprisonment is even a “business” where you can buy stock in them, that the amount of solitary confinement itself is torture…

      We have much to atone for.  I am heartsick and ashamed of my US “birthright.”

  12. orionATL says:

    the old magnetic compass, associated by analogy with “moral compass”, was sensitive to the direction “north” and hence to change in direction by vitrtue of its attraction to the weak magnetic signals of the earth’s magnetism.

    to operate reliably, that compass had to be encased in brass and to be kept away from any sizeable ferrous metal objects lest its needle be attracted by the greater pull of nearby iron.

    by analogy, i think it likely that haspell (or any other cia director appointed now) is certain to have her/his moral compass readily distorted by powerful pull of an executive branch where a president, a national securrity advisor, and a secretary of state agree on the use and utility of torture.

    in this context it might be useful to ask:

    who in the whitehouse, and with what motive, selected haspel as the director-nominee (and then whispered in the president’s ear)?

    might haspel have been chosen, in fact, for her malleability and prior experience with torture?

Comments are closed.