Editorial: On Gina Haspel and Trump’s apparent ambitions to become torturer-in-chief

Gina Haspel, center, who is President Trump's nominee to lead the CIA, walks past TV cameras as she heads to a meeting on Capitol Hill on Monday.
(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee to direct the Central Intelligence Agency, ran one of the agency’s infamous “black sites” in Thailand, where at least one suspected terrorist was waterboarded during her watch. She also drafted the order to destroy more than 90 video recordings of interrogation sessions with Al Qaeda operatives.

Her role in these incidents has naturally led some lawmakers, particularly Democrats, to question whether she should run the CIA. On Monday, however, President Trump tried to convince his 50 million Twitter followers that Haspel “has come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists.”

That’s a particularly offensive way of putting it because of its implicit suggestion that opponents of torture — who deserve our thanks and admiration — are actually putting us in danger because they are soft on terror. But the statement is entirely of a piece with his campaign statements that “torture works” and that, if elected, he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”


Although torture — including what the George W. Bush administration euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques” — violates U.S. and international law, as well as treaties such as the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Trump’s comments suggest that such practices are not safely consigned to the past and that he does not, in fact, consider the mistreatment of suspects to be out of bounds.

Torture, after all, is not just inhumane and immoral but also illegal — we can’t afford to write off Trump’s statements as empty blather.

Like so much of what the president says, it’s hard to separate the grandstanding, pandering and posturing from the serious stuff. But on a subject so fundamental to America’s image in the world and its self-image as well — because torture, after all, is not just inhumane and immoral but also illegal — we can’t afford to write off Trump’s statements as empty blather.

Before Haspel can be confirmed as director, she needs to explain clearly and convincingly to the Senate and the American people what her role was during that shameful period in history. She must also repudiate torture as indefensible and give the Senate unequivocal assurances that even if Trump were to order the resumption of such odious and illegal practices, she would refuse to comply.

If she cannot meet those basic requirements at her hearing Wednesday, her appointment should be rejected.

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