Friday, May 11, 2018

Gina Haspel's House of Waffles

After Gina Haspel's weasel-worded performance at her Senate hearing for the CIA directorship this week, the only surprise (besides her arrogance, that is) is the fact that so many lawmakers are still "waffling" over whether to confirm her to the post.

It's not because Haspel supervised torture sessions, including waterboarding, at a secret black site prison in Thailand and later destroyed the video evidence of same that the senators are wringing their hands, or pretending to. It's because she refused to be straightforward about whether she has a moral code or not. She refused to acknowledge that while torture may once have been deemed "legal" by the Bush administration, it has always been inherently immoral. She refused to admit there could even be a gap between bad law and basic morality.

This has put many politicians and corporate media pundits into a quandary, at least insofar as their own public personae are concerned. If only she'd groveled a little and said she has a few regrets for her war crimes, the wafflers (mainly liberals but also a smattering of conservatives) would feel free to wash their own hands of the sordid past, in which many of them were complicit at the time, if only by their very silence. They desperately want to look forward, not backward. But they can't. It's all nasty old Trump's fault, you see. 

If Barack Obama was able to successfully appoint torture apologist and architect (if not actual practitioner) John Brennan to lead the agency, and then later to suppress huge classified chunks of the Senate's report on CIA torture, redact Haspel's name, and instead classify Brennan, Haspel and their co-workers as "patriots who tortured some folks," then who are liberals to defy his conventional wisdom? Who are they to possibly sully Obama's carefully manufactured reputation as he rakes in the big bucks on the speaking circuit?

Their dilemma is that Trump is simply not capable of being as glib and discreet as Obama was in deploying the sadism and protecting the sadists in grand old circumspect American tradition. Trump has bellowed on more than one occasion that he'd love to bring back torture as official US policy rather than just continue outsourcing it, as Obama quietly did, to other countries. 

So if the Democrats make too big a public stink about Haspel and refuse to give her the job, it will be a slap on the wrist to Obama himself and a betrayal of all that the Democratic Party now stands for: unquestioning allegiance to the "intelligence community" as the manufactured foil to the Trump presidency.

The real unexamined issue is the existence of the CIA itself, which has operated as an unaccountable rogue state since its inception nearly three-quarters of a century ago.

How big a monster is it?

Well, when President Harry Truman said he never lost a minute's sleep over his atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but rued the day he created the CIA in 1947 through the National Security Act, you get the picture. Right from the very start the agency has operated without the "moral code" the Senate now pretends to insist upon for its leader. It has operated far outside the rule of both domestic and international law, toppling foreign governments and killing leaders and "meddling" in the elections of war-torn Europe and beyond.  

So to ask Gina Haspel whether she's developed a moral compass since her benighted torturing days is like asking Jack the Ripper if he has a good bedside manner.

An excerpt from Plain Speaking, Merle Miller's oral biography of Truman:  
Merle Miller: Mr. President, I know that you were responsible as President for setting up the CIA. How do you feel about it now?

Truman: I think it was a mistake. And if I'd know what was going to happen, I never would have done it....the President needed at that time a central organization that would bring all the various intelligence reports we were getting in those days, and there must have been a dozen of them, maybe more, bring them all into one organization so that the President would get one report on what was going on in various parts of the world. Now that made sense, and that's why I went ahead and set up what they called the Central Intelligence Agency.
 But it got out of hand. The fella ... the one that was in the White House after me never paid any attention to it, and it got out of hand. Why, they've got an organization over there in Virginia now that is practically the equal of the Pentagon in many ways. And I think I've told you, one Pentagon is one too many.
Now, as nearly as I can make out, those fellows in the CIA don't just report on wars and the like, they go out and make their own, and there's nobody to keep track of what they're up to. They spend billions of dollars on stirring up trouble so they'll have something to report on. They've become ... it's become a government all of its own and all secret. They don't have to account to anybody.
That's a very dangerous thing in a democratic society, and it's got to be put a stop to. The people have got a right to know what those birds are up to. And if I was back in the White House, people would know. You see, the way a free government works, there's got to be a housecleaning every now and again, and I don't care what branch of the government is involved. Somebody has to keep an eye on things.
And when you can't do any housecleaning because everything that goes on is a damn secret, why, then we're on our way to something the Founding Fathers didn't have in mind. Secrecy and a free, democratic government don't mix. And if what happened at the Bay of Pigs doesn't prove that, I don't know what does. You have got to keep an eye on the military at all times, and it doesn't matter whether it's the birds in the Pentagon or the birds in the CIA.
Since the Senate never even put its own legal rubber stamp on the creation of the CIA, the supposed accountability that Gina Haspel and her agency owe to our publicly elected representatives is just so much fiction, and it always has been. Housecleaning? Sure, if you count giving war criminals and other miscreants a lick and a promise, or if your idea of hygiene is sweeping dirt under the rug. The only cleaning up our elected officials ever seem to do is cleaning up on the fund-raising circuit, or in whatever realm of legalized bribery the Supreme Court has seen fit to allow.

As the great socialist muckraker Upton Sinclair once so saliently observed, our two political parties are nothing but "the two wings of one bird of prey."

So I predict Haspel's eventual, albeit as narrow as decently possible, confirmation, with much hand-wringing and pragmatic posturing. Blue Dog Democrats will vote her in to placate their Trump Country bases and the more "progressive" Dems will say Nay, particularly if they have their eyes on the Oval Office. If and when one of them does win the highest office in the land, he or she can pretend the hand-wringing (or wing-fluttering) never even happened. We must look forward, not back, as Gina Haspel either continues her unaccountable ways or retires to much fanfare and a generous pension and a gig on cable "news" shows and an advisory role in some awesome Hollywood spy movies and TV series glorifying the CIA.

So far, according to CNN's "whip count" for Haspel, the vast majority of Senate Democratic birds are still undecided, with only the hawkish Joe Manchin of West Virginia declaring himself firmly in favor.  Bernie Sanders has sliced his own waffle right down the middle, tweeting soggily and jingoistically: "We need a new CIA director who is committed to the rule of law and will heed the advice of U.S. military leaders who vigorously oppose torture and uphold the values that have made us a great and respected nation. Ms. Haspel is the wrong choice to lead the CIA."  The other progressive Senate lion, Elizabeth Warren, declares herself a No or a "Likely" No.

Pass the syrup along with the blank ammunition.


mistah charley, ph.d. said...

I believe Bloody Gina when she promises the CIA won't torture prisoners any more. The torturing will be done by other countries' secret police, or by private contractors.

May the Creative Forces of the Universe stand beside us, and guide us, through the Night with the Light from Above - and have mercy on our souls, if any.

Bill Sprague said...

I lived in DC for 41 years. CIA? The people I knew who worked there lived out in Paris, Virginia (the 'HUNT' country) and were quite wealthy and were quite proud of their jobs and their 2nd homes. They were patriotic liars then and I'm sure they still are. amerika is filled with liars and idiots who elected trumpf despite his bragging that he could grab pussy. Locker room talk? Never heard that and I was actually in a locker room...

Jay–Ottawa said...

Here's a moral standard I bet you never came across in Ethics 101: "Army Field Manual FM 2-22.3." Never mind the moral codes set down by Hammurabi, Plato, Confucius, Aristotle or Kant, or your favorite spokespersons for God-direct communications, like Moses, Aquinas or Calvin. Well, at least have them move over in the pantheon of moralists to make room for the Pentagon's field manual FM 2-22.3. That paperback, and not the writings of the above moralists, serves Gina Haspel as bedrock morality in her job at the CIA.

(BTW, Wiki's summary of "Interrogation Methods" is worth a look in case you ever need to know what's up the sleeve of interrogators following your rendition.)

And now, from yesterday's hearings, Senator Kamala Harris's (D-CA) attempt to locate the source of Haspel's morality, specifically, the limits of squeezing fellow human beings when collecting intelligence, and Haspel's response about the moral standard to which "we" should hold ourselves:

Kamala Harris: So one question I have not heard you answer is, do you believe that the previous interrogation techniques were immoral?
Haspel: Senator, I believe that CIA officers to whom you refer—
Harris: It’s a yes or no answer. Do you believe the previous interrogation techniques were immoral? I’m not asking do you believe they were legal; I’m asking do you believe they were immoral?
Haspel: Senator, I believe that CIA—
Harris: It’s a yes or no answer.
Haspel: —did extraordinary work to prevent another attack on this country given the legal tools we were asked to use.
Harris: Please answer yes or no. Do you believe in hindsight that those techniques were immoral?
Haspel: Senator, what I believe sitting here today is that I support the higher moral standard we have decided to hold ourselves to.
Harris: Can you please answer the question?
Haspel: Senator, I think I’ve answered the request, the question.
Harris: No, you have not. Do you believe the previous techniques, now armed with hindsight, do you believe they were immoral? Yes or no?
Haspel: Senator, I believe that we should hold ourselves to the moral standard outlined in the Army field manual.
Harris: Okay, so I understand that you have not answered the question, but I’m going to move on.

Rosa Kleb said...

The Senate has always been a not-so-secret safe house.

Karl Kolchak said...

Bernie Sanders is one of the wafflers--says all you need to know about the American political system. There IS no "left" anymore. If A-Bomb Harry were still around they would savage him the way they savaged the likes of Dennis Kucinich.

Erik Roth said...

These three worthy sites in general can all be found on the Sardonicky Blog Roll off to the side, but here are their specific reports on this terribly depressing and totally distressing reality:

"In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."
~ George Orwell

“Nowadays, anyone who wishes to combat lies and ignorance and to write the truth must overcome at least five difficulties. He must have the courage to write the truth when truth is everywhere opposed; the keenness to recognize it, although it is everywhere concealed; the skill to manipulate it as a weapon; the judgment to select those in whose hands it will be effective; and the running to spread the truth among such persons.”
~ Bertolt Brecht

voice-in-wilderness said...

Given the reality that three presidents have now supported official torture by the U.S. government, I decided to engage in a fantasy. I imagined myself a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, asking Gina Haspel if she would submit to waterboarding as a way for the Committee to be sure that she was answering truthfully and fully. The only uncertainty is just how she would say "no"!

voice-in-wilderness said...

One more thought on Gina Haspel. I think she is a good example of what Hannah Ardent meant by "the banality of evil" -- that monstrous deeds are done by seemingly ordinary people in a bureaucracy. That leaves the question of whether Haspel was willing because she lacks empathy and conscience or has a conscience and did it out of conformity and self-interest. In either case we have had successive presidents willing to exploit these people as torturers, bombers, snipers, and organized other destroyers of humans. And we've had Congresses willing to do the equivalent of sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting la-la-la, I can't hear you.