On March 16, I wrote Gina Haspels’s confirmation must be opposed. I’m encouraged to see today that 109 retired admirals and generals agree with me and that they’ve made a pretty much identical argument to the one I presented last month. In a letter they delivered to the U.S. Senate, the former high-ranking military officers echoed my concerns on moral, practical, and national security grounds about elevating Haspel to the directorate of Central Intelligence.
We understand that some well-respected former senior government intelligence officials have spoken highly of Ms. Haspel’s experience and long record of service to the Agency. However, we do not accept efforts to excuse her actions relating to torture and other unlawful abuse of detainees by offering that she was “just following orders,” or that shock from the 9/11 terrorist attacks should excuse illegal and unethical conduct. We did not accept the “just following orders” justification after World War II, and we should not accept it now. Waterboarding and other forms of torture or cruel and inhuman treatment are—and always have been—clearly unlawful. Individuals in the service of our country, even at the lowest levels, have a duty to refuse to carry out such actions. […]
We devoted our lives to the defense of our country. We know that fidelity to our most cherished ideals as a nation is the foundation of our security. The torture and cruel treatment of prisoners undermines our national security by increasing the risks to our troops, hindering cooperation with allies, alienating populations whose support the United States needs in the struggle against terrorism, and providing a propaganda tool for extremists who wish to do us harm. It would send a terrible signal to confirm as the next Director of the CIA someone who was so intimately involved in this dark chapter of our nation’s history.
What they didn’t mention is the likelihood that President Trump nominated Haspel precisely because of her involvement with torturing human beings that were in our custody and at our mercy. The CIA, which is violating protocol by lobbying for Haspel, surely isn’t taking this possibility into adequate account. As an institution, the CIA continues to feel that the people who were part of the torture program either did nothing wrong or that they should be given a pass and not have their careers negatively impacted. I think they’re wrong on both counts, but particularly on the latter point. We can argue about who should be held accountable and to what degree, but we definitely should not promote someone closely associated with torture and covering up torture to the top intelligence job in the country.
If nothing else, this sends a message to the world that we should not be taken seriously on issues of basic human rights. And that’s not a message we can afford to give.