A man crosses the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) logo in the lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

Trump’s CIA choice burdened by Bush-era torture scandal


A little more than a year ago, the New York Times published a no-nonsense lede about a key personnel decision that Donald Trump had just announced.

As a clandestine officer at the Central Intelligence Agency in 2002, Gina Haspel oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and later took part in an order to destroy videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations at a secret prison in Thailand.

On Thursday, Ms. Haspel was named the deputy director of the C.I.A.

The elevation of Ms. Haspel, a veteran widely respected among her colleagues, to the No. 2 job at the C.I.A. was a rare public signal of how, under the Trump administration, the agency is being led by officials who appear to take a far kinder view of one of its darker chapters than their immediate predecessors.

A year later, Donald Trump has gone a step further, moving CIA Director Mike Pompeo to the State Department and elevating Haspel to the intelligence agency’s top job.

In the Obama era, there was a reluctance on the part of the Democratic White House to dwell on Bush-era scandals. The then-president spoke frequently in 2009 about “turning the page” on the previous administration’s alleged crimes, including its embrace of torture.

But as the Trump era got underway, a New Yorker  piece noted, “[T]he past, as Obama well knows, never goes away. With the prospect of American torture looming again, I wonder if Obama regrets his decision. After all, people like Haspel, quite plausibly, could have gone to prison.”

And now Haspel is the president’s choice to be the director of the CIA.

Politico  added last year that Haspel’s experience “includes having overseen a ‘black site’ prison in Thailand where terrorism suspects faced harsh interrogation tactics such as waterboarding, according to multiple media reports.”

That kind of background should represent a screaming red siren in any responsible administration. Trump, evidently, has a very different perspective.

Of course, this is a position that requires Senate confirmation. In a Republican-led chamber, it’s probably fair to say Haspel is likely to succeed. That said, her nomination will be considered by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is led by an occasional Trump critic, retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). The same panel features Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who can sometimes be idiosyncratic on issues such as these, and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), another Trump critic who’s retiring at the end of this Congress.

Watch this space.

Update: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) issued a statement this morning that expressed some concern about Haspel’s background. The Arizona Republican generally doesn’t follow through on concerns such as these, but in a 51-49 Senate, it’s an angle worth watching.

Correction: The reporting on Haspel’s alleged work in Thailand was done by ProPublica, which has retracted its original report.

CIA and Torture

Trump's CIA choice burdened by Bush-era torture scandal