Torture, Trump, And Haskel: Reigniting A Failed Program?


“When ISIS is doing things that nobody has ever heard of since medieval times. Would I feel strongly about waterboarding? As far as I’m concerned, we have to fight fire with fire.”

Aside from the faulty grammar, there is something deeply wrong with Donald Trump’s approach and understanding of enhanced interrogation techniques, which are less politically correctly known as torture. Since the beginning of his tenure, the US president has suggested that torture “absolutely works.” The widespread use of torture was banned in 2015 by the US Senate. However, Trump is seeking to reintroduce it on the flimsy grounds that the Islamic State is free to commit atrocious acts and the US is not allowed. In Trump’s dangerous worldview and deeply disturbing toddler-like approach to international affairs, if one person is allowed to do or have something then the US should get to, as well. In the midst of Trump’s ongoing feud with his own intelligence agencies, Trump appointed Gina Haspel as the new deputy director of the CIA. On the 22nd of February, the Department of Justice began to challenge her appointment – a challenge that will result likely in the first assertion of the state secrets privilege under the Trump administration.

Nonetheless, on the 22nd of February, the CIA received a new deputy director – Gina Haspel. Ms. Haspel has a questionable past. For instance, she served as chief of staff to Jose Rodriguez, the leader of the CIA’s Counter-terrorism Center from approximately 2002 to 2004 and is reported to have run a CIA “black site” in Thailand as part of a US program that used torture after the 9/11 attacks. These positions make her directly involved in the CIA’s notorious rendition, detention, and interrogation program. As part of that program, the CIA forcibly disappeared people, sent them to be tortured in other countries, and operated secret prisons where detainees were subjected to beatings, painful “stress positions,” extreme sleep deprivation and cold temperatures, confinement in coffins, waterboarding, and anal rape or what the CIA called “rectal feeding,” all of which violated US and international laws that prohibit torture, as well as cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

In addition, she reportedly aided Rodriguez in destroying nearly 100 videotapes depicting torture of the first two black-site detainees, a fateful event that inadvertently sparked the Senate intelligence committee’s 2014 landmark investigation into the detentions and interrogations. This allegation was recently confirmed by former CIA Director Michael Morell. As such, her appointment introduces a dangerous new agenda.

Trump’s declarations about the need to torture arose in late January. Most of the world has forgotten the statements and dismissed them as impossible ravings. However, Trump’s wholehearted belief that ‘torture works’ and his continuous restatement of this fact is constructing a new reality. The more often this statement is made, the more it resonates in the minds of his supporters and the quieter the dissenters become. What Trump believes torture achieves has never actually been stated. If torture is supposed to source verifiable information, Trump has clearly never learned that torture certainly encourages people to talk, about anything and everything they can so it stops, which are often the things that the tortured individual believes that their captors want to hear. The use of torture, much like the travel ban, validates the attitude pervasive in certain sectors that the US is against the Muslim world. Therefore, why turn to the US for help if they are going to torture you in order to discover whether you are a spy or not? Forcing people to choose between a rock and a hard place, as it were, is no policy for peaceful cooperation.

Sliding back into torture is the exact opposite of progress. This eye for an eye mentality will never result in peace. Instead of punishment and deterrence, we need to look at the causes of the despondency. Only after we discuss the complaints of those that are attracted to terrorist groups can we cut off their followers. Torture will only make the situation worse. Congress cannot stop Haspel’s appointment because it does not require Senate confirmation; the attempt of the Department of Justice might succeed. But, the public and members of Congress should be more vigilant than ever in conducting oversight of this secretive agency, by way of questioning their acts and statements, if only to avoid a recurrence of its recent history of lawbreaking and abuse.