Thursday, May 10, 2018

The good solider Haspel testified

Gina Haspel had her public confirmation hearing for the position of CIA Director before the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday. She's a career professional officer who headed up a torture site in Thailand during the GW Bush era and later had a leading role in ordering the destruction of the videotapes that showed what her agency did to detainees.

One of the oddest things about her nomination to such a public role is that the CIA refuses to declassify most details of her career (claiming agents/assets might be outed). So we are left without any real information about what she's done/her qualifications. The CIA says she's great. It seems to me that in a democracy citizens who are not Senators deserve to know more than that her agency likes her -- a lot more.

Erudite Partner did commentary during the hearing for Pacifica station KPFA; after all, torture is her subject. Here's the audio.

The following reflections are mine, not the resident expert's.
  • The Democratic Senators' questions seemed sharper than they often have been in such settings. New Mexico's Martin Heinrich nailed the key issue, to my way of thinking:

    “I know you believed it was legal... ... I want to trust that you have the moral compass you said you have. You're giving very legalistic answers to very moral questions.”

  • Nothing I heard suggests Haspel has real qualms about the torture program. She's not prepared to say torture didn't serve the project of defeating terrorist enemies -- though the 6000 page classified Senate Intelligence Committee report apparently came to that conclusion.

    “We got valuable information from debriefing of al-Qaeda detainees,” she told Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.). “I don’t think it’s knowable whether interrogation techniques played a role in that.”

  • She said she wouldn't restart the torture program. It was hard to tell whether she was promising to stand up to the bully in the White House. (Trump thinks we didn't torture enough.) She seemed to equivocate.

    “No one should get credit for simply agreeing to follow the law. That’s the least we should expect from any nominee and certainly the director of the CIA,” [Senator Mark] Warner told Haspel ...

  • Perhaps inevitably since we're not allowed to know anything about her accomplishments, she heavily emphasized her identification with the Agency.

    Haspel cited her support from the rank and file in the agency, noting that “they know that I don’t need time to learn the business of what CIA does. ... I know CIA like the back of my hand,” she said. “I know them, I know the threats we face, and I know what we need to be successful in our mission.”

She's such an unfamiliar, opaque figure that I am allowing myself luxury of trying to form a picture of what sort of person she revealed herself to be. (Usually one has more to go on than one hearing, but that's the situation in which we find ourselves.)

I think she's one smart, tough woman who came up wanting to be a warrior, a hero. There's weren't a huge number of venues for a woman with such an ambition when she joined the CIA in 1985. In the Agency, she found her tribe, her vocation where she could fulfill her ambition. She was very good at whatever they threw at her. She seems to equate loyalty to the Agency with loyalty the people of the United States -- without any inkling that there might be any daylight between those two goods. Perhaps that's inevitable in someone whose life has cloistered her within a dangerous, secret, social niche. It hardly seems good preparation to be anything more than a good soldier. But the job of CIA Director necessarily requires some understanding of a messy civilian society -- a society whose preservation is ultimately the only reason that her warrior caste is privileged to exist.

I don't know if she'll be confirmed; the White House apparently had to persuade her not to back out of the confirmation process last week.

The hearing didn't win any trust from me (not that this was ever likely.) A good soldier is a dangerous weapon when the Commander in Chief cares not a fig for law, decency, or morals.


Rain Trueax said...

I don't have an opinion on confirmation as a lot of what she testified had to be behind closed doors. I didn't watch the hearing as I rarely do. The one thing I do think is if she is to be blamed for what she did under legal authority of the time, then when do we charge the President, VP, CIA director of the time, and maybe even head of Justice Department if that person also okayed it as legal for America. She was not making the decisions. If we let the men off the hook and only go after the woman, what does that sound like? And maybe it is misogyny-- that and hate of Trump more than whether she'd be a good director. The thing is if they don't confirm her, who do they confirm? Someone with less knowledge of the work? So much today is partisanship-- on both sides and looking at the real issues isn't part of the game :(

janinsanfran said...

I have to say, I'm underwhelmed by the idea that torture was "legal" when Haspel abetted it. Lots of things are "legal." We're learning it may have been "legal" for corporations to throw money at the Presidents lawyer in the hope of influencing something. There were people in the system who tried to stand up against the unapologetic adoption of a torture program. They lost advancement. Haspel went along, apparently because her institution was going along. She wasn't some lowly grunt then and now they want to make her the boss -- she seems to lack the notion that sometimes a decent person can't go along. Sorry it came out that way for her, but it seems to me she took the bet that tuning out any moral compass would be right (for her), and so she is questioned now and might lose that bet.

Especially if we haven't been further dragged into a war on Iran by the time they get around to voting. Sigh ...

Rain Trueax said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rain Trueax said...

I had to delete my post as I had a mistake on one word... a very important word and used CNN instead of CIA lol Wonder if it was a Freudian slip

i literally have never heard if she actually was there for waterboarding or just let it happen because it was the law. Did she watch it happen? It was such a different time with so much fear. Waterboarding is a lesser torture but I've read some have died under it. They do the same thing to train SEALs or so I read.

I do think this is such a partisan issue that it's hard to get facts. A good example is McCain, who is now saying they should vote against her but he voted for Brennan's confirmation under Obama. Brennan was also involved in the torture program (or so I read). I wonder who would be next and whether they also had a role in waterboarding, as most in the CIA, who know anything about the agency, probably did.

All i can say is I am glad I am not in politics. I am always interested in the political process as it impacts every organization in life. I find how people make their choices interesting in such situations and having been involved in the political organization in a small rural church, I have seen how it works even there. I think our system in DC is pretty corrupt in that most don't care about what is right but more what makes them and their side points. Very disappointing

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