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10 Reasons Health Professionals Should Oppose Gina Haspel as CIA Director

Sarah Dougherty, JD, MPH on April 27, 2018



On May 9, the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a confirmation hearing to consider Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to head the CIA. A fair hearing is impossible, given the agency’s campaign to ensure Haspel’s promotion and conceal her involvement in its post-9/11 torture program. However, what’s known is already disqualifying: Haspel supervised waterboarding and other torture at the first CIA “black site” in Thailand, helped destroy videotapes and other evidence of crimes, and helped feed lies about the “effectiveness” of torture to Congress and to two presidents.

Torture thrives on secrecy, and it is no accident that the CIA refuses to make public Haspel’s record of torture – let alone declassify the torture program or allow its victims to speak. Promoting Haspel to CIA director would be an affront to those victims and an unconscionable reward for committing grave human rights violations. More immediately, it would pose a dangerous risk of a return to torture under President Trump, with repercussions around the world.

Here are 10 reasons to #BlockHaspel:

  1. Torture is illegal.
    Torture is one of the most serious human rights violations and is absolutely prohibited at all times. There are no exceptions that would permit its use, including war, public emergency, or orders from a superior officer. This ban is part of the U.S. Constitution, federal and state law, and international treaty obligations. It is also a peremptory norm of international law, meaning it is legally binding on all states, even non-signatories of international treaties prohibiting torture.

  2. Torture is ethically prohibited.
    Preventing torture of those in custody is integral to the ethical duties and culture of the health professions. For example, the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics states that “Physicians must oppose and must not participate in torture for any reason.” Similarly, the American Psychological Association and the American Nurses Association condemn torture and prohibit participation in any form.

  3. Torture enables other violations and undermines the rule of law.
    Torture is intimately linked to breaches of the rule of law. Secrecy, lack of transparency, and due process violations are all red flags — including incommunicado or secret detention, lack of transparency concerning detention location, failure to get before a judge, lack of charges, forced confession, secrecy of evidence, lack of access to lawyers, lack of access to doctors, and lack of prosecutions for torture. In addition, torture is often part of multi-tiered crimes, such as abductions and extrajudicial executions.

  4. Torture endangers national security.
    Interrogators and intelligence professionals recognize that torture is not only ineffective in gaining accurate intelligence, it is also counterproductive. It damages national security by weakening alliances, threatening intelligence cooperation, disrupting military efforts, degrading military and intelligence integrity, enhancing enemy propaganda, damaging U.S. standing abroad, and undermining foreign policy goals and coherency.

  5. Torture is morally abhorrent.
    Torture violates human dignity and degrades both victim and perpetrator. It applies the brute force of the state to people at their most vulnerable, using them “as pawns to be manipulated through their pain.”At its essence, torture aims to destroy people psychologically and to damage the physical, emotional, and social well-being of individuals and entire communities.

  6. Torture causes severe pain or suffering.
    Torture causes severe pain or suffering in its victims, which can be mental, physical, or both. The CIA’s methods were specifically intended to psychologically incapacitate detainees through the infliction of pain and to produce feelings of extreme helplessness, fear, horror, and distress. These methods included waterboarding, sleep deprivation, isolation, beatings, restraints and shackling, stress positions, suspension, sensory deprivation and bombardment, temperature manipulation, and sexual assault and humiliation – and many of these torture techniques were used at the black site Haspel ran.

  7. Torture causes profound mental and physical harm.
    Health professionals who evaluate and treat survivors see the clinical effects of torture, which often produces profound and long-term symptoms and disabilities. Physical health consequences include damage to the organs, brain, head and neck, chest and abdomen, genitals, nerves, skin, bones, and teeth from blunt force trauma and other injuries. Psychological consequences include post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression as well as anxiety disorders, somatic complaints, sexual dysfunction, psychosis, and neuropsychological impairment.

  8. Torture destroys intimate and social relationships.
    Torture not only harms the minds and bodies of individuals, it also damages their cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning. This can destroy their ability to function in society, rupturing “intimate relationships between spouses, parents, children, other family members and relationships between the victims and their communities.” Survivors may also feel a deeply isolating sense of stigma and shame as a result of their torture.

  9. Torture complicity compromises and degrades health professionals.
    In the CIA program, health professionals participated in torture, including doctors, psychologists, nurses, and physician assistants. Two psychologists – James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen – developed the techniques and tested them in Thailand, including under Haspel’s supervision. This included the waterboarding of detainee Abd Al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Health professionals were also involved in monitoring torture sessions, generating data on the effects of interrogation and detention, and treating detainees for the purpose of torture. Their presence was used to legitimize and sanction torture, extending to the policy authorization of these practices.

  10. 10. Torture has a permissive effect around the world.
    The CIA torture program not only violated U.S. laws, values, and traditions, it entangled more than 50 countries around the world. The use of torture by the United States weakens respect for the absolute prohibition against this crime, undermines the ability to champion human rights abroad, and sends a message that torture can be committed with impunity.

Health professionals have long been in the vanguard of the international effort to eradicate torture and ill-treatment, and they play a leadership role in redressing the consequences of torture, providing medical, mental health, and other services to survivors of torture.

Torture violates everything health professionals stand for, as individuals committed to advancing health and well-being.

Haspel was part of a systematic policy of torture, and health professionals should oppose her confirmation. In addition, all records regarding Haspel’s involvement in torture and destruction of evidence must be declassified to enable senators to review her precise role in torture, and to ensure she accurately answers questions in the hearing.


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