The nomination of Gina Haspel to lead the CIA has yielded an important public benefit: Another reckoning with our government’s shameful practice of torture — and a renewed declaration that torture is is a gross violation of American values.
Torture is also an ineffective way to extract information from a captured terrorist.
Ms. Haspel, a 33-year veteran of the agency, has spent much of her career in clandestine service. Critics have pointed to her role overseeing a CIA secret prison in Thailand in late 2002. Before she arrived, a high-value al-Qaida member was tortured extensively at the black site, by waterboarding and other methods. Waterboarding continued during her time in charge. Moreover, she was responsible for the destruction of videotapes of torture sessions.
The details of these incidents may never be fully known to the public.
Movies and TV shows exaggerate the idea that a committed jihadist will break under the pressure and reveal the secret plans for an imminent attack. And some CIA officials, such as Ms. Haspel’s former boss Jose Rodriguez, have contended that “enhanced interrogation techniques” yielded worthwhile information that “saved American lives.”
But the prevailing view among seasoned professionals and top military officers is best expressed by James Mattis, the former Marine general who serves as secretary of defense: “Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers. ... I do better with that than I do with torture.” It’s a folksy way to make a good point: Why should we shame and diminish ourselves as Americans for something that does not work?
Whether or not she becomes CIA director, Ms. Haspel’s record on torture has lastingly compromised her, just as the practice of torture has lastingly tainted the ideals of our great nation.
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