The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Gina Haspel, Torture Supervisor, Confirmed Head of the CIA

The US is what the US is. And what the US is is a nation whose leaders commit mass murder and assassination with impunity, and which rewards those who do either, or both.

This bit from the Intercept on one of Haspel’s victims speaks loudly.

“I have evaluated Mr. Abdal Rahim al-Nashiri, as well as close to 20 other men who were tortured as part of the CIA’s RDI [Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation] program. I am one of the only health professionals he has ever talked to about his torture, its effects, and his ongoing suffering,” Dr. Sondra Crosby, a professor of public health at Boston University, wrote to Warner’s legislative director on Monday. “He is irreversibly damaged by torture that was unusually cruel and designed to break him. In my over 20 years of experience treating torture victims from around the world, including Syria, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mr. al-Nashiri presents as one of the most severely traumatized individuals I have ever seen.”

Warner, of course, supported Haspel, because Warner is scum. Competent scum, according to people I trust who know him, but scum.

The US and those it elects have been very clear to the rest of the world. They support the Iraq War and torture and always have. In 2004, when George W. Bush was re-elected, everyone knew about the torture, and by then the fact that Bush had lied about WMD was becoming clear as well.

The New York Times, which helped lie the US into Iraq, kindly did not release a story showing that the Bush administration was spying on Americans until after the election. They explicitly said they were worried he might lose if they ran it. Despite all their caviling over the years, when it mattered the NYT was for illegal war and torture. That’s who the NYT is when the chips are down, and it’s only when the chips are down that it matters.

The bottom line is that Americans and their leaders are really, truly, okay with illegal wars and torture whenever the decision has to actually be made–and today, American leaders showed that they do not even feel any actual remorse, or even think that torturing was a mistake that matters.

This is just who the US is.

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  1. nihil obstet

    I received lots of emails and calls for me to contact my Congresscritturs to oppose Haspel’s nomination. I didn’t. On the one hand, her confirmation hurts the remnants of my moral and spiritual belonging to the nation, that we could do such a thing. On the other hand, she does in fact represent the CIA accurately — it is a despicable, incompetent organization that should, as JFK is reported to have said, “be splinter[ed] into a thousand pieces and scatter[ed] . . . to the winds.” She is the evil face of an evil entity.

  2. coloradoblue

    As Dr. King said:

    “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

    If he were alive today I have to believe he would say America IS spiritually dead.

    Called America ” the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today…”

    Sadly, Dr. King hadn’t seen anything; his comments were about the Vietnam War.

    Wanted America to declare “eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”

    Dr. King, please meet two men named Bush, two Clintons, Reagan, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Because you couldn’t imagine the evil of these people.

    And finally called America ” We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world…”

    This was 50 years ago. What would he say today?

  3. I have no idea where to put my lack of hope. If it had not already been dashed to bits, Trump would have done it in. Maybe this country deserves what it is getting. Or maybe the little people have no power at all and never did.

    I am too old to understand what to do next.

  4. Herman


    I am glad that you mentioned that Americans support war and torture and not just the American ruling class. Too many people on the Left have an unrealistic idea of ordinary Americans, thinking that they are really nice liberals who are ruled by a bad elite. No, most Americans support torture and war and generally like the system they live under but are just angry that they are not at the top of that system. Anyone who has had to live in this country for any significant amount of time can tell you that the American people are just as nasty, aggressive and proudly ignorant as their leaders.

    Also, this is not going to change when all of the “old racist white people” die off. Younger Americans have absorbed many of the same cultural ideas that older Americans did with the exception of certain cultural issues like support for diversity and multiculturalism. Gina Haspel is a good example of how this obsession with diversity plays out in the real world. Technically Haspel’s confirmation is a big feminist victory since she is now in a position of power and authority. But is she really any different from the men who run the American military and intelligence machine?

  5. Hugh

    Obama tacitly backed torture when he refused to prosecute the torturers. So just before his Inauguration in January 2009:

    OBAMA: We’re still evaluating how we’re going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions, and so forth. And obviously we’re going to look at past practices. And I don’t believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. And part of my job is to make sure that for example at the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering up.

    STEPHANOPOULOS: So no 9/11 Commission with independent seeking of power?

    OBAMA: Well we have not made any final decisions but my instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward, we are doing the right thing. That doesn’t mean that if somebody has blatantly broken the law, that they are above the law. But my orientation’s going to be to move forward.

    And in April 2009 in his statement accompanying the release of the OLC torture memos,

    In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution. The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world. Their accomplishments are unsung and their names unknown, but because of their sacrifices, every single American is safer. We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs.

    This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.

    Shortly after this, Obama did a star turn at CIA headquarters:

    I’ve been eager to come out here to Langley for some time so I can deliver a simple message to you in person on behalf of the American people: Thank you. Thank you for all the work that you do to protect the American people and the freedom that we all cherish.

    So you should be proud of what you do… you need to know that you’ve got my full support.

    At this gathering DCI Panetta echoed Obama’s reflection/not retribution line, just as AG Holder repeated the forward/not backward one when he punted on the last two possible torture prosecutions. And there was the the formerly pro-torture Brennan who was Obama’s National Security Adviser.

    Anyway, this is all a long way round to say Gina Haspel is part of the Establishment, a member of the club. And seriously, what is a little torture, wink, wink, between friends, amirite? Bush, Cheney, and the Republicans had no problem with torture. Nor except for a few pro forma sniffs did Obama and the Democrats. So why would any of them have a problem with Haspel? She is one of them. Besides Gina has said she isn’t going to torture anymore, and although it is part of the job description for CIA chiefs to lie, we should all believe her, right?

  6. Hugh

    I should have added that, as noted at the time, some of those “forces that divide us” in the second quote were those who were advocating prosecution of torturers.

  7. Dean Rao

    Wish I had grounds on which I could disagree…

  8. Max

    I am deeply ashamed to be an American. The confirmation of this torturer is so repulsive to me, that I really have no words. The U.S. bombs, kills, assassinates and regime changes with impunity. This country is indeed the biggest threat to world peace, and one day it will all come home to roost.
    The rest of the world needs to sanction us.

  9. atcooper

    Far too many USians spoiled rotten and unable to empathize with any other life but their own. A solipsistic elite.

    The rest are atomized and too easily set one against the other.

  10. Steeleweed

    Email to Joe Bageant, discussing Iraq:


    Jim Wright (Stonekettle Station) on Haspel’s appointment:

    “If you promote known torturers to public office, you accept that you are a nation of torturers, a nation of criminals, a nation no better than the worst of history.”

  11. Oaktown Girl

    As a country, we’re so far gone that we don’t even care how strategically counter-productive torture is. We just love doing it too much to give it up.

  12. Hugh

    Haspel was confirmed 54-45 in the Senate. While two Republicans voted against the confirmation Flake (R-AZ) and Paul (R-KY), these were cosmetic votes in that they did not affect the outcome. The following 6 Democratic votes put the torturer and destroyer of the evidence of her crimes over the top:

    Donnelly (D-IN)
    Heitkamp (D-ND)
    Manchin (D-WV)
    Nelson (D-FL)
    Shaheen (D-NH)
    Warner (D-VA)

    If Haspel had not destroyed those torture tapes, their existence would have presented the public and many Senators with an unpleasant reality that they could not easily ignore, and this would have sunk her nomination. It is not that we didn’t know about the torture. It is that the tapes would have given official validation to the existence of torture by putting it before our eyes. So not only do we have a hands on torturer as head of the CIA. Haspel’s confirmation demonstrates the utility of destroying evidence to advance one’s career. This is a lesson that others in government are likely to learn. It is yet another of Gina’s legacies.

  13. Hugh

    Haspel was confirmed 54-45 in the Senate. While two Republicans voted against the confirmation Flake (R-AZ) and Paul (R-KY), these were cosmetic votes in that they did not affect the outcome. The following 6 Democratic votes put the torturer and destroyer of the evidence of her crimes over the top:

    Donnelly (D-IN)
    Heitkamp (D-ND)
    Manchin (D-WV)
    Nelson (D-FL)
    Shaheen (D-NH)
    Warner (D-VA)

    If Haspel had not destroyed those torture tapes, their existence would have presented the public and many Senators with an unpleasant reality that they could not easily ignore, and this would have sunk her nomination. It is not that we didn\’t know about the torture. It is that the tapes would have given official validation to the existence of torture by putting it before our eyes. So not only do we have a hands on torturer as head of the CIA. Haspel\’s confirmation demonstrates the utility of destroying evidence to advance one\’s career. This is a lesson that others in government are likely to learn. It is yet another of Gina\’s legacies.

  14. realitychecker

    Just another piece of data supporting the argument that we tolerate a whole lot (too much?) of dissonance between the ideals we piously claim to be devoted to, and the actual pragmatic practices of any nation (or person) when it feels threatened by physical violence.

    I submit that, when you parse it all out, it becomes clear that our wildly differential valuations of the importance of a human life lie at the root of many (most?) of our problems.

    But I understand the joy of standing tall and shouting, “I am the pure one!” As well as the joy of knowing one’s fellows will reliably excuse any transgression of the purported ideals, so long as we commit that transgression against a recognizable Outgrouper.

    Historians will not hold this decade to be notable for self-awareness.

  15. marku52

    Hugh. Thanks for that cogent reminder of just how evil Obama really was.

  16. Sid Finster

    I have been helpfully posting articles such as this, or Snowden’s tweet detailing a few of Bloody Gina’s activities, on various Senators’ FB pages.

    I suggest that you do the same. Make them own it.

  17. It’s difficult not to become enraged when comparing an Obama reaction while in power, “I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” and “I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering up,” and “my orientation’s going to be to move forward.”

    And then after managing to lose an election, digging up sexual escapades which occurred years before the winning opponent even began campaigning for office.

    You “look forward” after you win, but you sing a very different tune after you lose.

  18. Steeleweed

    Jim Wright also noted (in a post I can no longer find) that the argument as to whether or not torture is effective or is count-productive is beside the point.
    Torture is wrong. Period.
    People who do it, excuse it, condone it or allow it are bad people. Period.

  19. EGrise

    Warner, of course, supported Haspel, because Warner is scum. Competent scum, according to people I trust who know him, but scum.

    Much like Reinhard Heydrich. But we can’t compare an elected official to a Nazi, can we?

    Though Gina Haspel looks an awful lot like Klaus Barbie. Not literally, but in terms of the things that matter like actions and lack of conscience.

    This is my country. Fantastic.

  20. GrimJim

    The US has always been about murder, torture, regime change, theft, and slavery. Nothing has ever changed, merely been sublimated. Murder, torture, regime change started even before the Revolution, with calls to take all the Indian lands east of the Mississippi and “remove” the indigines, by whatever means necessary. The methods changed in our dealings with Central and South America, as we wanted those peasants to do all their labors for our benefit. Outright slavery never ended, it merely morphed into the Southern chain gang which evolved to modern for profit industrial incarceration. Our conquests continued under the false name of liberation from Communism right into wage slavery and sweatshops for Capitalism (a word never mentioned once in the Declaration or Constitution, yet today the one true name of God). All else is propaganda and lies, only now thst we have no one else to steal from, no one else to slaughter on the altar of Profit, now we finally have turned fully on our own, and thus the crushing rush to the top, to be the last to go on the altar for our master’s profit and amusement..

  21. ponderer

    The US happily tortures and represses is citizens and has for decades if not more. Of course a body of people who have been acclimatized to and propagandized on violence will condone the same sort of behavior to some “other, fearful” group. I can hardly blame my fellow countrymen for falling for the trillions of dollars of cognitive and behavioral conditioning they have been bombarded with.

    I wouldn’t be so quick to fault a huge group of people. Even if they are evil to their very cores, have they have never had a chance to be otherwise? Can some poor bum barely scrapping by, addicted to opiates and well on their way to becoming a “Death of Despair” statistic be blamed for not parsing the lines of the MSM about who’s the bad guy 2000 miles away..

    Thinking that way leads to emotional exhaustion. I have a tendency to go down that same road, but it is a dead end. Instead, remember that there were Americans (or whatever group you are close to giving up on) walking with MLK. There were Americans protesting wall street, pretty much every war we’ve been in and some were tried for it. Even WWI. My uncle a WWII vet was completely disillusioned about “the great war” or “the greatest war” and a pacifist for the rest of his life. Hiding that kind of truth from the people (what war is, what suffering is), is the only way the empire goes on. As soon as we forget that there were Germans who died standing up to the Nazis or that some signed up because they knew the consequences for their family if they didn’t, we lose our moral compass our compassion and our capability for change (positive change takes consensus IMHO). We have allowed the propagandists to put their twisted view of the world that they want us to have onto us.
    If you put enough stress on them any good person is capable of horrendous evil. We would probably all agree with that. I think if you take the stress off of them, they are also capable of incredible good.

  22. southern appalachian

    I don’t know what happened to Warner. Whatever it was, happened shortly after being elected to the Senate. He was an interesting Governor. Watching Kaine go through the same sort of transformation. Competent people, did the right things. They go to D.C. and something happens. Maybe coming up for 2nd term is about when it sets.

    Particularly disappointing considering Virginia history. It’s anachronistic, but should not quite be, to say this is supposedly a federation of states and commonwealths. Too long for a comment, but that he’s a Virginian is a hard thing, disgraceful.

  23. Ian Welsh

    The insistence that others would torture or mass murder under “equivalent circumstances” says far more about those who insist than those they think it applies to.

    Far, far more.

  24. EverythingsJake

    Hooray. Another example of how advance in equality mostly work in our country. When a woman, a black man, etc. can be as evil (or in many cases, simply as incompetent) as a powerful white man, then something has been achieved?

  25. nihil obstet

    I’m not as sure about the ability of individuals to hold out against the social pressures to perform against one’s own beliefs as I would like to be. How accurate and relevant are the reported results of the Milgram experiment, in which test participants were instructed to give serious, even lethal, electric shocks to others? And did so. The data may have been goosed for a more sensational result, but the Stanford prison experiment showed a similar distressing consent to immoral orders. Like susceptibility to propaganda, it’s the downside of belonging to a species that evolved depending on mutual cooperation within a group. Group consensus rules.

    That’s why it’s so incredibly important to establish a moral social framework. The failure to stand for right, to prosecute those who violate it, and to maintain its importance simply means that the evil social framework is the one that applies. Will we torture again? Absolutely. The individuals who will be in a position to torture will have as their moral framework the belief that it’s socially acceptable and personally advantageous.

  26. …meanwhile, the private citizen stands to receive a life sentence or even the death penalty should he/she ever dare to deal with those they feel animosity toward in the same manner as does the leaders of their country toward those it feels animosity toward—or even finds “inconvenient” or “in the way”.

  27. Willy

    Ten Bears often says things along the lines of: ‘if something doesn’t work, then why keep on doing it?’

    The answer to that question should be obvious. That behavior will be profiting somebody powerful, and also quite possibly evil, who is good at finding and conning the largest segment of the common mob to fight for whatever it is the powerful person really wants.

    Getting the common mob to see the bigger picture is the hard part.

  28. Ian Welsh

    What is interesting about Millgram is that there are some people who, no matter what, will not shock the experimentee.

    No, everyone does not do it.

  29. Gaianne

    Ian, your essay raises a real wave of melancholy with me–saying openly what we have always known.

    So many old, idealistic illusions–delusions, really, that we have to give up.

    America is what it is.

    And now, like a James Bond villain, we don’t even try to hide it.

    Personal integrity will count more than ever, and be more dangerous than ever, even as its visible impact declines.


  30. Hugh

    As nihil obstet notes a social framework is important, we need to understand our duties as citizens and our connections to each other. Put We do not torture in that framework and it holds. It is known, accepted, understood. It becomes part of who we are. Keep us isolated from each other, promote inequality among us, act like anyone’s truth is as good as anyone else’s, that is there are no bedrock principles, and you can sell a lot of sick ideas, like torture, to a lot of people, not to everyone, not even a majority, but a lot of people. It is our connections to each other that keep us from the abyss.

  31. V

    All the abuse we do to ourselves at home, is then done abroad; and comes back to us in spades.
    The kharmic wheel fully illustrated in our actions…

  32. wendy davis

    obama’s ‘the US does not torture’ was belied publicly on the front page of the CIA Times in May, 2018: ‘Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will’’

    “The day before the executive orders were issued, the C.I.A.’s top lawyer, John A. Rizzo, had called the White House in a panic. The order prohibited the agency from operating detention facilities, closing once and for all the secret overseas “black sites” where interrogators had brutalized terrorist suspects.

    “The way this is written, you are going to take us out of the rendition business,” Mr. Rizzo told Gregory B. Craig, Mr. Obama’s White House counsel, referring to the much-criticized practice of grabbing a terrorist suspect abroad and delivering him to another country for interrogation or trial. The problem, Mr. Rizzo explained, was that the C.I.A. sometimes held such suspects for a day or two while awaiting a flight. The order appeared to outlaw that.

    Mr. Craig assured him that the new president had no intention of ending rendition — only its abuse, which could lead to American complicity in torture abroad. So a new definition of “detention facility” was inserted, excluding places used to hold people “on a short-term, transitory basis.” Problem solved — and no messy public explanation damped Mr. Obama’s celebration.

    “Pragmatism over ideology,” his campaign national security team had advised in a memo in March 2008. It was counsel that only reinforced the president’s instincts.”

    but at least in this case…he was looking forward.

  33. Hugh

    One aspect of the Gina Haspel vote that passed completely under the radar was Lindsey Graham’s vote for. He and McCain were thick as thieves for years, the superhawks of the Senate. With McCain passing his last days in Arizona, a victim of torture in Vietnam and utterly opposed to Haspel and her torture past, Lindsey Graham voted for Haspel anyway.

  34. different clue

    This post deserves a longer comment than I have time right now to compose and post. For now, I will just make a bitter little conditional prediction.

    IF! . . . Gina Haspel decides to run for President, she will run as a Democrat. In which case, she will get all the Pink Pussy Hat Clintonite voters. As well as all the senior Clintobamacrat leadership endorsements.

    I can hear them now . . . “She’s a strong woman and a feminist icon for our times. She left about 18 million cigarette burns on that Glass Ceiling. She waterboarded the HELL out of it.”

  35. Ché Pasa

    The senate, as currently constituted, could hardly do other than confirm Haspel-the-torturer. Had they consistently objected to her because of her history of torture and destruction of evidence, they would find themselves in the same boiling kettle for their past complicity in what she and so many others were doing.

    The basic problem with the ruling clique — including Trump and his cronies — is that they are all complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity. They cannot openly judge Haspel or anyone of her ilk without risking their own exposure for complicity.

    There are other risks, too.

    The dilemma that confronted Obama when he tried to deal with the situation was that if he did anything to any of the torturers, the consequences to the institutions he was part of and supported would be grave indeed. His response was to “forbid” torture going forward (does anybody really believe that?) while holding harmless those who engaged in it in the past. Imperfect, yes, but the point was to preserve and protect the institutions, including the senate in which he served, institutions which were/are complicit in torture and much, much worse.

    In other words, the institutions of our government as currently constituted are incapable of dealing with torture/war crimes/crimes against humanity when they are perpetrated by those very institutions — which they are and long have been.

    Haspel, once nominated, was all but inevitable.

    Meanwhile, it is wrong to confuse the government and its institutions with the American people as a whole. Some support the status quo, and the preservation of institutions at all costs. Many, however, do not. Their ability to change the situation, however, is limited by design.

  36. highrpm

    as larry flynt said when asked about the killing of the shooter who paralyzed him, something to the effect, “i’m against capital punishment. governments shouldn’t be killing when they make it unlawful for their citizens.” and he added that he felt life in 3 x 6 cell was worse punishment than death. (of course the state uses capital punishment to control the cost of incarceration.)

    same with torture.

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