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Trump brazenly endorses the use of torture while defending CIA nominee

The president claimed Democrats opposed Haspel's nomination because she was "too tough on terror."

President Trump defended the use of torture on Monday while claiming acting CIA Director Gina Haspel did nothing wrong in overseeing a controversial black site program after 9/11. (CREDIT: CNN, screengrab)
President Trump defended the use of torture on Monday while claiming acting CIA Director Gina Haspel did nothing wrong in overseeing a controversial black site program after 9/11. (CREDIT: CNN, screengrab)

President Trump defended the use of torture on Monday while tweeting his support for acting CIA Director Gina Haspel, his pick to officially head up the agency.

“My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists,” Trump tweeted, referring to criticisms of Haspel’s tenure overseeing a black site CIA prison in Thailand after 9/11, where detainees were subjected to brutal torture, including sleep deprivation and waterboarding. Haspel was later involved in the CIA’s destruction of some 100 videotaped recordings of those interrogation sessions.

“Think of that, in these very dangerous times, we have the most qualified person, a woman, who Democrats want OUT because she is too tough on terror,” Trump added. “Win Gina!”

Haspel, nominated by Trump in March to run the CIA, is set to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. If confirmed, she’ll replace former CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who was recently confirmed to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.

Trump’s tweet comes on the heels of reports that Haspel, over the weekend, attempted to withdraw her nomination for CIA director. According to the Washington Post, Haspel was concerned about the “potential damage to the CIA’s reputation and her own” that her upcoming Senate Intelligence hearing might inflict.

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“Taken aback at her stance, senior White House aides, including legislative affairs head Marc Short and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, rushed to Langley, Va., to meet with Haspel at her office late Friday afternoon,” the Post reported. “Discussions stretched several hours, officials said, and the White House was not entirely sure she would stick with her nomination until Saturday afternoon, according to the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.”

The president’s willingness to overlook, if not outwardly endorse, torture as a method of interrogation is disturbing, although largely unsurprising. Trump has previously supported the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation” methods to extract information, despite a wealth of information that proves it doesn’t work.

During his 2016 presidential bid, Trump claimed that “torture works.” He referred to waterboarding as a “minor form” of torture and said that, as president, he would reinstate it along with other techniques that were “a hell of a lot worse.”

Trump has also justified the use of torture by military and intelligence officials by arguing that “if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway for what they do to us.”

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As NBC News noted in January 2017, even the architects of the post-9/11 torture program have condemned Trump’s support of the techniques used at black sites and prisons — such as the one Haspel ran in Thailand in 2002, which was code-named “Cat’s Eye.”

“The whole premise of the original program was that the techniques did not fit the legal definition of torture,” former CIA general counsel John Rizzo told MSNBC last year. “[Torture] was illegal then, and it’s illegal now […]. So to hear the President of the United States use that word in an affirmative way, I found that remarkable.”

If Haspel is confirmed as CIA director, it could pave the way for Trump to reinstate or green-light further questionable interrogation methods moving forward — a fact that has not escaped the Democrats and Republicans who see Haspel’s nomination as the White House’s implicit endorsement of illegal torture.

“Those who run our government have a duty to the American people to ensure that their organizations are free of corruption,” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R) wrote in an op-ed for Politico in March. “We are a nation of laws, where transparency and accountability are supposed to be paramount. …Haspel participated in a program that was antithetical to the ideals of this country. She destroyed evidence in defiance of our ideals. I simply do not believe she should hold the post to which she has been nominated.”