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March 28, 2018
President Trump's shameful pick to lead the CIA, Gina Haspel, once ran a black site prison where she oversaw an operation in which human beings were tortured. The New York Times recently reported she ran the CIA’s first “black site” in Thailand where one detainee, Abd al-Nashiri, was severely tortured. She is the wrong choice to lead our nation’s leading intelligence agency. If Haspel is confirmed, we can expect more of the same immoral tactics.
The use of torture has corrupted the CIA for too long. After 9/11, the CIA’s Rendition, Dentention, and Interrogation (RDI) program engaged in “approved” torture practices which included such inhumanities as prolonged standing, removal of detainees’ clothing, sensory deprivation, hooding, prolonged interrogations, use of dogs, shaving of beards, grabbing, poking, or pushing, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, placing detainees in ice water “baths” to induce hypothermia and threatening to sexually abuse or otherwise harm the family members of detainees.
In addition, detainees of the RDI program were also subjected to “unapproved” torture practices that violate the Geneva Conventions and constitute war crimes. These measures include punching, slapping, and kicking detainees, religious and sexual humiliation, prolonged shackling, exposure to severe heat or cold, food and/or toilet deprivation, mock or threatened executions, using dogs to threaten and in some cases bite and severely injure, and taking photographs of these activities, as well as of dead detainees. Other practices involved religiously motivated humiliation and dehumanization such as forcing a Muslim man to crawl on the floor and bark like a dog, or forcing a Muslim man who is deeply concerned about propriety to stand naked before a female interrogator, or forcing a Muslim man concerned about cleanliness and purification prior to prayer to wear a diaper and move about covered with filth.
These actions do not, in any way, align with who we aspire to be as people of faith and good conscience, or as a nation. The hard truth is, they represent some of the worst human rights violations in human history.
As we move into Holy Week and prepare to commemorate the death of Jesus, I believe it is of paramount importance for us to remember that during the last hours of his life, Jesus was also rendered, detained, interrogated, and tortured by the Roman state on charges of treason and insurrection. His crucifixion is a grim reminder that torture violates the values of our faith as well as our nation’s basic values.
As a veteran, I know that using torture puts our own military personnel at risk if they are captured and torture continues to be the primary recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Therefore, the practice of torture makes our soldiers less safe.
According to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s study on the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program in 2012, the CIA’s torture program during the Bush administration was not effective. It resulted in fabricated information, failed to produce intelligence, and elicited information that was already available by other means.
Furthermore, the CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice, Congress, and the Administration in an attempt to justify its use of torture. The agency destroyed videotapes documenting its use of torture (with Haspel’s explicit approval and encouragement) and told detainees that they would be killed in order to prevent information about the abuses from being made public.
As the Trump administration struggles to find honorable leadership rooted in integrity and morality, people of faith must rally against any attempt to put Haspel in power. If we are to be a nation that values life, respects human dignity, and follows international law, we cannot confirm known tortures, abandon those who tortured, or look away from the violence the way spectators did as Jesus hung from a Roman cross. Instead, we must stay awake, keep watch, speak out for justice, and draw a bright moral line in the sand.
Rev. W. Benjamin Boswell is pastor of Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC, a BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz Partner Congregation. He is a US Army veteran and a member of the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture.