Repeating History?

Don’t Reward Gina Haspel for the Torture of Muslims

After 9/11, America lost its way. Have we found it since?


John Moore/Getty

After the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, America’s political leaders wrestled with the nation’s soul. Sadly, some of them lost their moral compasses, and set us on a dark path that we are still coming to terms with today, nearly two decades later. That day was particularly painful for us and the entire American Muslim community because not only were we grieving for the loss of life on 9/11 but we were doing so even as our community faced extreme backlash, and then profiling, surveillance, detention and deportations.  

Men stripped naked, diapered, and shackled to the ceiling; brutally beaten, shivering in unheated and dark concrete boxes and stuffed for hours in boxes the size of small dog crates. These are the horrifying images of the CIA’s “interrogation” program.

It is often said that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it—and with President Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel, a prominent figure in the torture program, to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, America is sending a dangerous message that our country is at risk of doing just that. Her nomination is a deeply troubling turn of events that has drawn opposition from the left and the right—from military leaders, veterans to human rights advocates and faith leaders.

According to reports, Gina Haspel was a senior operative in the CIA’s so-called enhanced interrogation program, a program that used torture and abuse against Muslim men in an effort to extract intelligence from those the CIA believed wanted to do America harm. Thanks to rigorous oversight work by the Senate Intelligence Committee we know that so-called enhanced interrogation did not make us safer. In fact, it did the opposite, and in brutal fashion.

Haspel reportedly was in charge at a “black site” in Thailand where one detainee had been subjected repeatedly to waterboarding, and she may have had an off-site position of responsibility over the same secret prison when another detainee was waterboarded nearly to death, stuffed into coffin-shaped (or smaller) confinement boxes for almost 300 hours, and forced to endure sleep deprivation, beatings and more.

What message does it send to the American people, to our allies, and our enemies—and most importantly, to the President who has openly embraced torture—to confirm to lead the CIA someone so deeply complicit in torture?

As immigrants and naturalized U.S. citizens, to our families and to millions of other families, America has meant hope. America has meant opportunity. While this administration continues to implement policies attacking our community, and other immigrant and communities of color, we hold fast to a different vision—a vision also held by the framers of individual freedoms and equal protection under the law.

The American people deserve to know who their senators are considering to confirm to lead one of the most powerful and secretive agencies in the world. The only substantive information the CIA has so-far let the public see about Haspel and her more than 30 year career at the CIA, is a skeletal timeline and an eight-page memo that purports to clear her of fault in the destruction of video tapes documenting torture sessions. And according to one Senate intelligence committee member, the memo is “highly incomplete, raising far more questions about Haspel than it answers.”

The Senate has a clear decision to make: Vote to confirm a nominee and promote someone who was a significant figure in one of our nation’s darkest chapters, and signal to the world that the U.S. may well re-open it. Or send the unmistakable message that this chapter is closed; that the United States has learned from its mistakes and won’t repeat them.

Our faithful senators can send that message and reject torture by opposing Haspel as the next director of the CIA.