California Forum

Gina Haspel ran a prison where people were tortured. She should not direct the CIA

The United States Senate should reject the nomination of Gina Haspel to be the director of the Central Intelligence Agency because her of role in running an illegal “black site prison” in Thailand where torture occurred and for participating in the destruction of documents about it.

President Barack Obama made the decision not to prosecute those responsible for torture, apparently in an effort to get the country past this terrible episode in American history. I think this was a mistake because such prosecutions would have sent an unequivocal message condemning torture and held accountable those who planned and implemented it. Instead, one of those thought to be responsible now has been nominated to head the CIA.

There should have been criminal prosecutions of those who planned and carried out torture. At the very least, someone responsible for torture should not lead the CIA.

Many reports have documented the brutal torture engaged in at these black site prisons and at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A report of the Senate Intelligence Committee, released in December 2014, describes horrific, sadistic brutality inflicted on prisoners. It also leaves no doubt that both United States criminal statutes and international treaties were violated.

The 499-page report describes in detail what was done. It is sickening and saddening. The report tells of a man chained to a wall in the standing position for 17 days and of detainees kept awake for nearly 180 hours in standing or stress positions. The report documents repeated waterboarding, which international law has long defined as torture, including one man who was waterboarded 183 times.

It tells of detainees being immersed in ice baths and of the killing of an Afghan, Gul Rahman, who died of suspected hypothermia in November 2002 after he was beaten, stripped naked from the waist down and left chained to a concrete floor in near-freezing temperatures. The report details forced rectal feeding, which is described as intensely painful and obviously is enormously degrading; it is rape.

Those responsible repeatedly have denied that anything wrong was done. Former Vice President Dick Cheney said that the Senate Intelligence Committee report was “full of crap.” He has said that he would “do it again in a minute.” “People have been very concerned about waterboarding, calling it torture,” Cheney said. “First of all it was not deemed torture by the lawyers, and secondly it worked.”

Cheney and other apologists for torture could not be more wrong.

As to the claim that the torture worked, the Senate Intelligence Committee report carefully refutes this and describes how all of the relevant information was gained from other sources. In fact, it long has been thought that torture is unlikely to produce useful information. Those being tortured will say anything to end the pain.

But even if the torture gained useful information, it still was illegal and wrong. No lawyers can authorize violations of statutes and international law. The Federal Torture Act states that whoever “outside the United States” commits or attempts to commit torture shall be imprisoned for not more than 20 years “and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.”

The Act defines torture broadly as an “act intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering upon another person within his custody or physical control.” Additionally, the United States is one 156 nations that have ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

After 9/11, Gina Haspel went to run a black prison site in Thailand where al-Qaida suspects were taken for questioning. It is known that individuals were waterboarded there. It also is known that in 2005, Haspel encouraged the destruction of 90 videotapes of what had occurred and these then were destroyed.

This occurred after Congress had learned of the videotapes and called on them to be preserved. Moreover, as Sen. Rand Paul has observed, Haspel never has repudiated the use of torture.

Haspel’s role in this should disqualify her from heading the CIA. We all should be truly ashamed of our government for having engaged in such behavior. It will make it far harder to insist that other nations follow international law and refrain from such conduct. How can the United States insist that other nations respect the law when they have American prisoners, when we so blatantly violated the law with these foreign prisoners?

It is for precisely this reason that there should have been criminal prosecutions of those who planned and carried out torture. At the very least, someone responsible for torture should not lead the CIA.

Erwin Chemerinsky is dean and professor of law at the UC Berkeley School of Law. He can be reached at echemerinsky@law.berkeley.edu.

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