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I’m having a hard time making up my mind about Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency.

On one hand, after 33 years of dedicated service to our country in some of the world’s darkest, most dangerous corners, Haspel seems qualified and deserving to lead the agency.

On the other, during her testimony last week before the Senate Intelligence Committee, she failed to reject torture as an interrogation technique as emphatically as some of the senators might have wanted.

For the most part, Republican senators asked Haspel supportive, accommodative questions. But some Democrats were interested in Haspel’s supervision of a secret prison in Thailand in 2002, where at least one al-Qaida suspect was waterboarded.

They were interested, also, in Haspel’s role in the suspicious destruction of videotapes that documented the enhanced interrogation techniques used by the United States after 9/11.

Eventually Haspel rejected the use of torture in the future: “I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership, CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation program.”

Nevertheless, she failed to categorically renounce the use of torture in the past, and she declined to assert that torture is essentially immoral.

But my ambivalence about Haspel reflects our nation’s ambivalence about torture.

On one hand, many Americans reject torture as a matter of moral principle. Haspel’s assertion, however, that the “CIA historically has not done interrogations” didn’t sound right. It prompted me to look up “interrogation programs” in the index of Tim Weiner’s “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.” Haspel is mistaken.

Weiner documents the CIA’s establishment of clandestine prisons in the early 50s to coax confessions from suspected double agents. Two were located in Germany and Japan, but the biggest prison was in the Panama Canal Zone, a place where, according to one source, “It was anything goes.”

Weiner documents also the CIA’s Vietnam-era Phoenix program, which involved the detention and torture of suspected enemy combatants, as well as other programs that used torture, often in violation of U.S. law.

But the CIA has no monopoly on American torture. In his history of the Spanish-American War, James Bradley quotes First Lt. Grover Flint, who described to a Senate panel the regular waterboarding of Filipinos: “A man suffers tremendously; there is no doubt about that.”

So when President George Bush authorized the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques after 9/11, the move over to the “dark side,” as Vice President Dick Cheney put it, wasn’t a very long trip.

Furthermore, for many Americans, the “dark side” isn’t completely indefensible. Haspel and her colleagues at the CIA were desperate to prevent another horror like 9/11. If waterboarding could save thousands of innocent lives many Americans would wholeheartedly support the practice. I might, myself.

It’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: We abhor torture, until we think we need it.

Our American ambivalence toward torture is embodied in the perspectives of two men:

If we think America despises torture, it’s worth noting that we’ve elected a president who is an unequivocal proponent of its use. Trump said, if elected, “I would bring back waterboarding, and I would bring back a hell of a lot worse.”

Trump contrasts sharply with the gravely ill Sen. John McCain, who called upon his Senate colleagues to reject Haspel’s nomination because of “her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality.”

Trump is mistaken about McCain’s hero status. Any pilot with enough courage to fly off an aircraft carrier is already well past halfway to being a hero. Then McCain endured a combat shoot-down and five and a half years of captivity with his honor and spirit intact.

But McCain’s moral authority derives from the torture he suffered at the hands of his North Vietnamese captors. He had more than five years to consider the worst moral outrages that men (or women) are capable of inflicting on one another.

McCain proved that a man can survive torture. What isn’t clear is whether the U.S. can survive if we become unashamed torturers.

John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at jcrispcolumns@gmail.com.

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(29) comments

mocha1

Actually it is torture listening to people calling waterboarding torture.

oldhomey

mocha, the following is an account of waterboarding by a man who was repeatedly water-boarded by the French military in the 1960s. An Algerian-American, he now is a high-ranking research fellow for the U.S. military:

Physical violence usually precedes waterboarding, a sort of softening of the victim’s belly. I was stripped, beaten, deprived of sleep, water and food, and forced to lie on the floor, feet raised with my head slightly below the level of my feet. A piece of soaked cloth was thrown on my face, and fetid water was poured through the cloth to slowly drip into my mouth. This technique causes the fluid to build in your lungs. A key element of waterboarding is the ability to bring the interrogated to the verge of death without actually killing the person. That is what makes a good “interrogator.” I was lucky in this regard; my torturers were masters of their trade.

Waterboarding is often described as a simulated drowning or a technique “to convince the interrogated that he or she is drowning.” There is no way to simulate the lungs filling with fluid and the victim does not need to be convinced physiologically. They are in the process of drowning.

Waterboarding is difficult to understand absent first-hand experience. In order to fully appreciate the exquisite brutality of this human torture, a person must know what it is like to be totally at the mercy of his tormentors, his will broken, stripped of his dignity and humanity, feeling the horrendous pain of the nauseating liquid involuntarily filling his lungs, and the complete loss of hope. In this state, the tortured is assailed with reminders this near drowning will happen repeatedly and will eventually culminate with that promised slow and agonizing death. In spite of my frenzied fight to survive, I prayed so many times for death and the deliverance from pain. Waterboarding is a controlled death; I died multiple deaths, three times each day, for seventeen days.

Waterboarding, like other torture methods, makes you talk. You talk a lot; say anything, absolutely anything to get the torture to stop. You throw up a lot, you talk, you scream like a demented person whenever you can, and you throw up again. You give all the answers you think your torturer wants, and more, but not much is true, precise, actionable intelligence. Torture transforms the victim into a fanatical and fierce opponent. Torture taught me the most corrosive diseases of the soul: hatred and revenge.

Waterboarding is a favorite torture method, because it does not leave visible and apparent lesions. The worst scars are in the mind. Human Rights Watch writes that, “…victims of waterboarding suffer prolonged mental harm for years and even decades afterward.” It took me years to overcome never-ending nightmares and decades to come to grip with the issue at a personal level.

To what degree enhanced interrogation methods produce “actionable” intelligence in our war on terror is open to speculation. But personal experience has convinced me that often the information that is sought is not necessarily the information received. The war on terror is fundamental to American and international security. However, resorting to torture, under any guise or condition, damages our credibility and is anathema to American values and the character of its citizens. Winning the protracted war on terror is heavily dependent upon our national humanity and dictates we explore other means of securing and protecting our national interests.

oldhomey

One wonders if mocha read this instructive description on waterboarding as torture, or if he simply closed his eyes, plugged his ears and started shouting "I don't want to hear about it! I don't want to hear about it!"

kingman10

its more like mocha1 has the attention span of a gnat and can't read anything longer than two sentences. Comprehension is another hurdle for him/her.

awol2009

Haspel is an evil woman that should have been imprisoned long ago for violating terms of The Geneva Convention, along with Dick Cheney, etal from the G. W. Bush era. There were US soldiers in Iraq who performed numerous torture techniques on Iraqi prisoners under the direction of their commanders. These heinous techniques included hooking up batteries to prisoner's genitals, other body areas, shocking them as well as the infamous waterboarding. Some of these soldiers were court martialed and imprisoned for following orders. Heinous torture is not who we are supposed to be, but this ideal died under Cheney with G. W. as his puppet. We are supposed to be better than that, to rise above the uncivilized methods others use. Condoning torture techniques such as what Haspel supervised makes us no better than the uncivilized terrorist and countries we impose our values upon. ISIS was born from our foreign intervention and outright hypocrisy in Iraq and the Middle East.

new2Lax

Looks like Democrats folded again, I guess their elections are more important, how can you back these people. Everyone knows she is in favor of water boarding and black sites. Republicans you know support her but to have Democrats put their integrity on the line to further their careers. I guess you now see what's important to them.

oldhomey

If she is for waterboarding and torture and becomes the CIA chief, she will be at risk of going to jail for lying to Congress. And I hope she will be jailed, if that is how this turns out. I swear, new2, you are a piece of work. You lie about being a bigshot HR man, you can't write a simple declarative sentence, you defend the most crooked human being ever to head our republic, and you favor torture as a national policy. I bet you are just the warmest teddy bear of a grandpa/and or uncle at family gatherings, shrieking about your political views. You will leave quite a legacy for your family, if there is one.

Buggs Raplin

The excuse for torture used by the establishment was 9/11, an inside job by the neo-cons in our own government. Got that? Black operatives in our own government killed 3,000 Americans to gain an excuse for their foreign policy objectives. Osama bin Laden? No proof at all, as even the FBI admitted. If you belief the official version, you're believing in a lie. It was an inside job. The evidence is conclusive, if you'll examine it. There was no plane that crashed at the Pentagon; there was no plane that crashed at Shanksville; the Twin towers and Building 7 were brought down by government explosives. We have since tortured innocent people. KSM was waterboarded 183 times to get him to falsely admit he was the mastermind of 9/11. Hell, I would have admitted I was the mastermind after one waterboarding. The MSM propaganda media is trying to excuse the horrors, the torture we've perpetrated on innocent people. We have tortured. There is NO excuse for it, and I would dam to hell any politician supporting it, or who has supported it in the past, and that includes Ms. Haspel.-Chip DeNure

oldhomey

Ms. Haspel is not a politician. She was a spy for most of her career, the kind who worked in the dark under assumed identities. She is a professional, and she obviously is brave. We don't know what the circumstances were, if she was a willing participant in the waterboarding of prisoners or somebody given command of a unit that had been doing it. Obviously she was not blind to what had happened, so she is not Simon pure in this, but I can't imagine anybody being Simon-pure in the CIA after a long career there. Or in the Senate, or the House. Or in General Motors or the Red Cross. Or in any human endeavor. Everybody is dragging around a few dirty hems in their train. If you're human, at least. And so long as she does not seem to be a long-standing, enthusiastic advocate for torture, I guess I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. I may be thoroughly wrong and rightly castigated, but that is how I feel right now.

Cassandra2

There is NO acceptable excuse for participating in or defending torture. None. We dealt with the "I was only doing my job" argument at Nuremberg.

capedcrusader

Once again Buggs you gain my respect.

Cassandra2

Why the Tribune allows a lunatic like Chip DeNure to keep publishing these fact-free rants is beyond me. He claims there were no plane crashes at the Pentagon or at Shanksville, despite there being video evidence and hundreds of eyewitness accounts. He makes equally ludicrous claims about the Vegas Strip being "raked by gunfire" yet steadfastly refuses to provide evidence.
Chip DeNure is a paranoid, ranting liar with unknown motivation. His paranoia is apparently as limitless as his fevered imagination.

Buggs Raplin

Cassie, there was no jetliner debris at the Pentagon or Shanksville. None. No airplane wings, no fussalage, no enormous plane engines; no miles and miles of wiring; no passenger bodies or luggage. Even the propaganda media reported it in the immediate aftermath. John McWethy at ABC saw no jetliner debris; another reporter said all he saw in Shanksville was a hole in the ground. To scum like Cassandra2, this is all nonsense, because she is all nonsense.

oldhomey

Hmm, I seem to remember seeing press photos the day of the 9-11 attacks with airplane debris on the grounds of the Pentagon where the plane went into the building. In fact, Buggs, I think you can find them on the Internet if you make an effort to see them. I was not certain about what evidence there was at in the Shanksville crash, so I one minute ago Googled "airplane debris shanksville", and up popped hundreds and hundreds of photos of airplane debris at that scene. I guess the "Deep State" rushed out there that morning and planted it into the ground before press photographers could reach the scene. Being members of MSM, the photographers no doubt helped them plant the phony debris before photographing it, so I guess you are absolutely 100 percent correct again. Your lunatic conspiracy theorizing gives you an out on every argument, doesn't it?

Cassandra2

Chippy, you poor, pathetic loser. Your addled brain is so utterly consumed by conspiracy theories that you could not accept reality if you tried. I sincerely hope you get the mental health care you need before you injure yourself or someone else. And I think it is absolutely shameful that the Tribune allows you to continually hold yourself up for public ridicule. They should understand that it's not ethical to profit off the mentally ill.

oldhomey

For me, this was a good column reflecting my own ambivalence. I lean heavily to the side of abhorrence of torture as a tool, particularly since all evidence seems to indicate it is an ineffective tool, and because it invites torture of our own warriors held in enemy hands. On the other hand, I see in this woman an excellent and experienced professional who, it seems to me, would lead the CIA honorably and well, and with the seeming inner strength to stand up to the dangerous president who nominated her. For that alone I would be in favor of her getting the job.

Buggs Raplin

Why not give your name, oldhomey? Why do you hide in anonymity in your excuse for torturers?

kingman10

oh buggs give it up. You back Trump even though you say often you don't, and he pardoned a sheriff and a torturer in Arizona who had many prisoners die while under his watch, and many others suffered. You stood up for that torturer as a righteous man and so did your man Trump. Know who I am talking about? So don't get on your high horse and criticize anyone else about torture, you are not one to judge on this issue.

kingman10

well I guess I shut old demented buggsy up on this issue. Another notch in the old belt. Starting to run out of room.

oldhomey

Would giving you my name change my position? Would it change your estimation of me? Would you in the future use anything and everything you could find out about me as a distraction from what I am actually saying? I don't touch your actual identity, Buggs, and the only information about you that I bring up in my comments to or about you are those bits of information you have offered up yourself about yourself in your comments. Same as you have done with the bits and pieces I have revealed about myself in my comments. And, by the way, I don't excuse torture or torturers. It doesn't work, and it is an invitation to torture our own heroes.

Cassandra2

Chippy, why don't you demand the same purity tests of Mocha, Cougar and the Hoaxer and the rest of the wingnut ranter set?

Cassandra2

Chippy, why don't you demand these same purity tests of wingnuts and bots like Hoaxer and the Cougar or Cxzercock?

Jobaba

In normal times (Oy!) people that commit atrocities get discovered and drummed out if not charged and incarcerated or worse. By the end of WWII all of Hitlers men were experienced professionals. Had she stood up when the time came to be counted, she would have what it takes. She didn't.

new2Lax

All evidence does not indicate it does not work, it depends who you are listening too. Here again, you are limited in your understanding of the research, and that does not surprise anyone. I think these terrorists that use torture could care less about what happens to anyone of their people, they are going to use torture because that's what they do and no one is going to change their minds about it. If you think for one moment they care what we think, you better think again.

kingman10

OMG another idiotic post from new2. He is batting a 1000 on brain dead posts. We in this country used to have a higher moral code than tyrants around the world. We don't compare ourselves to them, we compare ourselves to our humanity, our conscience. That is if you have one, and apparently new2 does not. Trump is in charge of his conscience, anything he does goes.

new2Lax

My guess is if a family member's life was on the line by information that would save them if a terrorist would talk, your mind would be changed instantly. You couldn't water board them fast enough and that's a fact. See where your moral code is then and tell me how you would stick to your moral code. Until you have walked in their shoes, criticizing is easy.

kingman10

you make about as much sense as a person with latter stage of Alzheimers new2. Its been proven that torture doesn't work, gives false information, and is inhumane. Not good enough for ya, look at John McCain and the years he was tortured. Oh that is right, you right wingers only like those who were not captured.

oldhomey

new2, if the U.S. has a policy condoning water-boarding and torture, those are OUR shoes we're walking in, not somebody else's shoes. If we torture, we have to take responsibility for that. Period. If our enemies in the future end up torturing our warriors, you won't have a leg to stand on if you want to condemn them for their brutality and inhumanity, because you, yourself champion brutality and inhumanity. But it is easy for you to shrug it off, I suppose, because there is no chance that you will ever find yourself on the firing line with your own life at risk. Brave man, indeed, with other people's lives.

kingman10

right on homey, and i doubt new2 or any of his family have ever served this country in the military in times of war. He can play fast and loose about torture when he or anyone close to him never served their country in the military in a combat zone. Being responsible and humane can happen even in times of war, but it takes real leadership to make it happen.

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