Nominee to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Gina Haspel arrives for a meeting with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
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Is Torture Immoral or Not? What Say You, Ms. Haspel?

By George Cassidy Payne

According to the New York Times, in late 2002, Gina Haspel was dispatched to oversee a secret C.I.A. prison in Thailand code-named Cat’s Eye. While she was there, C.I.A. contractors waterboarded al-Qaeda suspects including Abd al-Rahim al-Nashir, the man accused of orchestrating the bombing of the American destroyer U.S.S. Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000.

Based on her compelling testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Haspel clearly believed that she was following the law when she authorized these “practices.” She stated that her principals were well thought out and that she had the authority to make these decisions. Besides, the president, the Attorney General, and most members of Congress actually ordered them to be done in the name of national security.

But torture is not wrong because it is illegal. Torture is illegal because it is wrong. Classified programs, oaths of allegiance, and upholding professional conduct will not make an immoral act/program justifiable- not even when it is deemed perfectly legal by lawmakers such as presidents and senators.

Haspel may be a bureaucrat of remarkable intellect, unswerving loyalty, and self-evident leadership poise, but simply following orders has nothing to do with moral accountability.  Apartheid was legal in South Africa. The Gestapo obediently followed orders in Germany. It was legal for Kim Jong-un to execute family members and feed their remains to dogs. Less than 100 years ago it was legal in certain parts of America to lynch a black person for trying to vote. Even Osama bin Laden reinterpreted Islamic theology in order to make killing other Muslims legally acceptable to Allah.

Since the Spanish Inquisition the same tactics used under Haspel’s watch have been considered torture and immoral. Today, this belief has been codified into international law. Torture is wrong because it contaminates the intentions of anyone trying to pursue moral truth.

With that said, it does not matter if Gina Haspel believes the C.I.A always follows the law. Does the CIA follow the Truth? We know that she followed orders without questioning them. But does she believe that torture is immoral today? That is the main issue. What say you, Ms. Haspel?



About the author

George Cassidy Payne

George Cassidy Payne is a freelance writer and domestic violence counselor. He has theology degrees from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, NY and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.


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  • I say you’re clueless. If waterboarding is torture, then we torture our Navy Seals, because waterboarding is done to them for training purposes. What say YOU, Georgie Porgie?

    I hope Gina has a list of names of people who are trying to use this issue politically, and if you and/or your relatives get captured by terrorists and the best method of freeing them includes waterboarding another terrorist, she looks the other way.

    On the other hand, I hope she also has a list of us supporting waterboarding and if we and/or our relatives get captured by terrorists and the best method of freeing us involves waterboarding or even more severe techniques, she gives the go-ahead.

    • Thank you Tex2 (why not use your real name?), I am glad you took time to read my article and offer your feedback. I do wish that you had something original to add to the conversation. One ex Green Beret makes news out of being waterboarded and all of a sudden it’s not torture anymore. Now we get to hear people like you regurgitate his pronouncement as if its gospel truth.

      As long as we are using other peoples ideas, here is what Secretary of Defense Mattis said: “I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers, and I do better with that than I do with torture.”

      Without a doubt, these detainees were tortured. They were denied sleep, put in coffin sized boxes, subjected to the elements, physically beaten, threatened in other ways, and probably a lot worse than we will ever know. And what about due process? Does that not matter any more? Are not all men and women endowed with certain inalienable rights? Your view is not only undemocratic, it borders on the most grotesque form of fascism.

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