Gina Haspel’s Nomination to Head the CIA: Why the Controversy & What is at Stake?

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
May 2, 2018

The Senate has recently confirmed Mike Pompeo to be Secretary of State, after Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) dropped his objections and several Democrats indicated that they would support the nominee.  The confirmation process for Pompeo’s replacement as head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is not likely to go so smoothly.  It goes without saying that this is an incredibly important appointment. As poignantly conveyed in a recent op-ed by the former Director Michael V. Hayden, having a trustworthy intelligence agency is crucial because it undergirds all of U.S. foreign policy.  Although intelligence gathering inevitably involves legal gray areas, the prohibition against torture is a bright line rule.  When that line was crossed (repeatedly) during the Bush Administration, it caused acute damage to the Agency itself (and to the Department of Defense) but also to the United States’ standing in the world and to the global commitment to the anti-torture norm. The potential appointment of the next CIA Director will send a strong message: Is the United States truly committed to eradicating the use of torture—which is immoral, illegal, and inefficacious—or are we at risk of backsliding into unlawful and discredited policies and practices of the past?

This brings us to President Trump’s candidate to take the helm of the CIA: Gina Haspel, the current Deputy Director and a 30-year veteran of the Agency.  A number of intersecting objections to her nomination have been advanced: (1) she was directly and personally involved in the torture of “War-on-Terror” detainees, particularly in CIA “black sites” around the world; (2) she was instrumental in the destruction of videotapes documenting the interrogation and abuse of detainees in violation of a court order, advice and directives from elsewhere in government, the Federal Records Act, and potentially Title 18, the federal Penal Code; (3) appointing someone so intimately involved in prior policies sends a dangerous message to our allies and the rest of the globe about the durability of the United States’ commitment not to return to the brutal, unlawful, and ineffective interrogation practices that characterized the so-called War on Terror; and (4) her very nomination signals to U.S. intelligence professionals that they can engage in, or cover up, such conduct and face no repercussions at all and even rise in the ranks to positions of leadership.

Read the full post at Just Security