Nomination of Torturer for CIA Director Reflects Spy Agency’s Anti-Democratic Dangers

Nomination of Torturer for CIA Director Reflects Spy Agency's Antidemocratic Dangers

Part 2 of journalist Robert Scheer’s discussion with TRNN’s Ben Norton. He says torturers like Donald Trump’s nominee Gina Haspel reflect how the CIA makes Americans less safe, despite bipartisan political support for the violent spy agency.

Story Transcript

BEN NORTON: It’s the Real News. I’m Ben Norton.

This is Part 2 of our discussion with Robert Scheer, who is the editor in chief of Truthdig, and a longtime award-winning journalist. We are discussing the Senate confirmation hearing for Gina Haspel, who is likely going to be the next CIA director. Under former president George W. Bush, Haspel oversaw the use of torture at a CIA black site in Thailand, and the destruction of evidence that proved that that torture happened. We’re going to continue our conversation where we left off last time, discussing the scandal of President Trump nominating a torturer for the next CIA chief.

ROBERT SCHEER: I want to say something about the Senate committee, also. They did, by the way, you mentioned that I was once the editor of Ramparts magazine. The reason that the Senate Intelligence Committee was formed to do the kind of surveillance of the CIA is that Ramparts magazine, followed by others and people like Sy Hersh, we were able to expose that the CIA was violating its charter, it was interfering in domestic politics, it was engaging in fundamentally anti-democratic activities, small d democracy. And so we did some prizewinning, wonderful journalism at Ramparts, and they went after us. And the response of some very good people in Congress, most notably Sen. Frank Church from Idaho, was to begin to try to control that agency and make them accountable.

So you have the Senate Intelligence Committee trying to do that around torture, and what happened has been forgotten here in these hearings. But the fact is that their operation and trying to assess what the CIA did was invaded by the CIA. Their files were broken into. They were denied. We were lied to while they were doing their own work. So the members of that committee are quite familiar with how devious and corrupt the CIA has been. And to now go along, and there will be Democrats going along, unfortunately. You know, and Leon Panetta, who covered for the CIA, was a Democrat. And Barack Obama, by the way, made the decision, Barack Obama sent John Kiriakou, who you mentioned, to prison. Two and a half years. They wanted to get him for 40 or 50 years. Because he told the truth about torture, he was going to be punished. They didn’t punish a single person who did the torture, who authorized the torture. They all got off scot-free thanks to Barack Obama.

Well, there are plenty of Democrats now, including some on the committee, who are going to give a pass to this woman. And they’ll justify, oh, she’s promised not to do it again. But this is a really depressing moment. It means we’ve lost the main idea of the U.S. constitutional experience, which is power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and accountability is the name of the game. And if you can hold your secret agencies accountable, you’ve lost it. And that’s why George Washington, in his farewell address, warned about the, you know, warned us against the impostures of pretended patriotism.

And what Ray McGovern represented, and John Kiriakou, is real patriotism. Defending their country for its values, and what is it, and the lives of its people. And these other people are pretended patriots. They believe violence and power and destroying people, and destroying others without justification, they think that’s their right. Their right, because they have power. And that’s what this woman has done in her life. She was put into a position of extreme power over other human beings. And she said, yeah, we can waterboard them, and we can torture them in every which way, and make them stand in stress positions. And you know what, she took it upon herself to follow the orders, like the good German. That’s her defense. She was following orders, instead of becoming a whistleblower and doing what Snowden, who worked for the CIA, doing what McGovern did, and Kiriakou, telling us the truth. No, she went along with what she had to know was an illegal order.

The Congress and the courts were trying to look into what happened with this torture. Her supporters said, destroy the tapes. She admits that, and she went ahead and destroyed it. And never told us that she disclosed them. She destroyed evidence of the most profound crime that’s happened in modern history.

BEN NORTON: Yeah. Well, unfortunately we’re winding up here. We don’t have too much time left. But I’m wondering if you can briefly comment, you raised a few points. One, it’s interesting to see how the Democratic Party has begun portraying the CIA as part of the resistance, if you will, against Donald Trump. And now we see what the CIA represents is torture, extrajudicial violence, killings, et cetera. So there’s that aspect of it. And then additionally-.

ROBERT SCHEER: It’s true of the FBI, also. Remember, it was the FBI that tried to get Martin Luther King to commit suicide, and wanted to destroy him, OK. So you know, these are agencies that have a history of trying to destroy democracy. And yet you’re absolutely right. The Democrats are so angry about what happened the election, want to use the secret police agencies to go after anybody, on any basis.

You know, if we had time, we could go into the incredible contradiction of all of Russian hysteria, because we just had an example, on a related issue, where a foreign government, Israel, was able to dramatically influence our election. Netanyahu spoke to Congress, denounced this treaty of arms control with Iran, very dramatically influenced it. What happens, this guy gets to be president, Donald Trump. And he does he doesn’t do Russia’s bidding. He does Israel’s bidding, and Saudi Arabia’s bidding, and destroys this treaty. You know, if there was foreign meddling in this election, it doesn’t seem to have effectively come from Russia. It came from Israel, and I guess Saudi Arabia. And by the way, Saudi Arabia is where 15 of the 19 hijackers came, with legal documents, from Saudi Arabia to destroy the World Trade Center and to attack the Pentagon. Saudi Arabia, which is now in great favor with this president. And we don’t hear anything from the CIA or the FBI about their dangerous influence, or Israel’s, for that matter, in our politics.

BEN NORTON: Yeah, and of course we have an e-mail released by WikiLeaks from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which a U.S. intelligence analyst acknowledges that Saudi Arabia, and also another U.S. ally, Qatar, supported ISIS, along with Al Qaeda. But unfortunately we don’t have too much time left here. I’m just curious, if you can comment, in the Senate confirmation hearing, Gina Haspel claimed that she will no longer use torture in the future under President Donald Trump, as she had previously done under President George W. Bush. Of course, during his presidential campaign Donald Trump not just joked but actually promised that he would use torture. He even pledged to kill the family members of suspected terrorists. Can you respond to her claim, Gina Haspel’s claim, that she suddenly she has a change of heart and will not use torture in the future?

ROBERT SCHEER: What you want from somebody running that agency is honesty and integrity. This woman has proven that she is a liar, by definition. Just first of all, Donald Trump is an idiot. He is saying torture is effective. Let’s have more of it. It will make us safer. Gina Haspel is somebody who knows from experience that they did not get any usable information. On the contrary, they got lies, they got garbage. And the good investigation of what happened on 9/11, to the degree that there has been one was done by, you know, an FBI agent who was mystified that torture didn’t work. By the way, the FBI refused to go along with the program, as John Kiriakou has pointed out, and withdrew, because they said, you’re, you’re not doing effective investigation.

So Gina Haspel was in a position to inform the American public, the American president, hey, this torture that we claim was effective and necessary, and in fact wasn’t really torture, was just enhanced interrogation, really was a monstrosity, and it gave us bad information. It didn’t give us any [inaudible]. She never told the president of the United States that. She never told the American public that. And she’s now going to be trusted, this proven liar, this proven master of deceit, is now going to be trusted to be head of the entire CIA? So even the people on the analysis side, who come up with, challenge this narrative and come up with the independent information that challenges the push towards more violence, they’ll be silenced by her, because she’s in charge of the whole agency, including potential critics. And we’re supposed to trust her?

What evidence is there in her 33 years in this agency that she ever acted with courage? Why wasn’t she a whistleblower? She witnessed torture. She witnessed violation of laws. She witnessed lying about it. She was in the agency when they lied to the people making Zero Dark Thirty that said torture, that movie told the American people, which is why, maybe, one of the reasons so many Americans, I think it’s two thirds, think torture is a great thing, and is necessary. But they were lied to by the CIA. She was in a high position. She was an expert on the torture. And when the CIA, with, by the way, a Democrat in [inaudible] lied to these filmmakers, to the screenwriters of Zero Dark Thirty, said torture was necessary to capturing bin Laden.

So that was a big lie. She went along with it. It was on a very high level. Knew they were lying. The report is lying to filmmakers, lying to the American public. She never said a word in opposition to it.

BEN NORTON: Well, unfortunately we’ll have to end our discussion there. But we were joined by Robert Scheer, who is a longtime award-winning journalist. He is the editor in chief of Truthdig, and also a longtime columnist. We were speaking about Gina Haspel who is the new nomination for CIA director. Thanks for joining us, Bob.

ROBERT SCHEER: Thank you.

BEN NORTON: Reporting for the Real News, I’m Ben Norton.