US Politics

In Gina Haspel’s CIA, a Return Looms To Its Dark Past

Following Mike Pompeo's nomination as Secretary of State, Gina Haspel is slated to be the first female to head the Central Intelligence Agency. Ms. Haspel's leadership, however, has raised questions about what a CIA under her would look like due to her involvement in CIA's use of torture tactics.


On Tuesday March 13th, President Donald Trump made history by choosing Gina Haspel to be the first woman to lead the Central Intelligence Agency. If confirmed by the U.S Senate, she would replace Mike Pompeo, who was nominated to be the next Secretary of State after President Trump fired Rex Tillerson. Haspel currently serves as the Agency’s Deputy Director and brings a record of 33 years of working in the intelligence community. She has earned praise from high ranking former intelligence officials from the Obama Administration. “I think Gina will be excellent as director” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said; echoing Mr. Clapper, former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell also praised Ms. Haspel “she is widely respected throughout the agency and she will be welcomed in the new job by both current and former employees.”

However, not everybody is singing Ms. Haspel’s praises. In 2013, California Senator Dianne Feinstein stopped CIA Director John Brennan from promoting Ms. Haspel to Director of Clandestine Services for her role in leading the CIA’s controversial “enhanced interrogation” torture program at one of the CIA’s infamous “black sites” in Thailand. This particular black site oversaw the brutal and controversial technique of waterboarding that makes detainees feel like they are drowning causing them great physical distress. She was said to overseen waterboarding as many as 83 times in one month during her clandestine service in Thailand. The procedures’ constitutionality is questionable at best. Upon taking office, President Barack Obama outlawed the procedure, while President Donald Trump has expressed a desire to see the waterboarding policy return. Jameel Jaffer the former deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union referred to Ms. Haspel as “literally a war criminal.” Senator John McCain, himself a former prisoner of war from his service in Vietnam was tortured using the procedure is firmly against waterboarding; he called into question Ms. Haspel’s past record on torture and called for a thorough examination of it during her confirmation hearings.

Ms. Haspel’s nomination to lead the CIA will assuredly reignite a familiar debate pitting national security against civil liberties and human rights  as the U.S struggles to fight terrorism while maintaining its moral leadership around the world. Mr. Trump has not shown much of an interest in moral leadership so Ms. Haspel’s appointment doesn’t come as a surprise. With allies in both the State Department and the Oval Office, the incoming CIA director will have more free reign to follow her hawkish agenda that risks the Trump administration of making the same failed mistakes of the past. The tactics of “enhanced interrogation” have not proved to necessarily curb terrorism; under the Obama administration there were no terrorist attacks and Osama Bin Laden was brought to justice, without the need to revert to the Bush administration’s policy. Images of disgraceful human rights abuses by U.S soldiers from the Abu Ghraib prison and the continued operations carried out at Guantanamo Bay could resurface in Ms. Haspel’s time overseeing the agency, once again hindering America’s international leadership and eroding its credibility abroad. Needless to say the confirmation hearings will bring with them a slew of debates over Ms. Haspel’s credibility and a re-examination of U.S. torture tactics in the recent past.

Andy Laub is the Director for Partnerships and North Korea Analyst at Political Insights. He also serves as the International Chapters Director for Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. Andy received his Master of Science in Global Affairs from New York University.

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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