YARMOUTH — Torture is illegal both under U.S. domestic law and under the treaties that the U.S. has signed. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Convention Against Torture, calling torture an “abhorrent practice.”

Torture violates the beliefs of most U.S. religious denominations and religious organizations. Many believe that torture violates the God-given dignity that is inherent in all human beings.

In 2013, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, both members of the Intelligence Committee, voted for the release of the committee’s report documenting CIA torture, in order to hold the government accountable for U.S.-sponsored torture. They also helped pass legislation permanently strengthening the laws against torture. Now they are yet again being tested on the strength of their opposition to torture

On March 13, President Trump announced that he had dismissed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and was replacing him with Mike Pompeo, the current CIA director. The president also appointed CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel to replace Pompeo as CIA director.

As an undercover CIA officer, Haspel played a direct role in the agency’s extraordinary rendition program, under which suspected militants were sent to foreign nations and held at secret facilities, where they were tortured by CIA personnel.

Multiple news outlets have reported that Haspel ran a secret detention site in Thailand and oversaw the brutal interrogation of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who was accused of bombing the USS Cole and was waterboarded three times.


“The sessions were videotaped and the recordings stored in a safe at the CIA station in Thailand until they were ordered destroyed in 2005. And who did that? By then, Ms. Haspel was at CIA headquarters, and while the agency said the decision to destroy evidence was made by her boss at the time, Jose Rodriguez, Ms. Haspel’s name was on the cable with the destruction orders,” according to The New York Times. Other reports indicate that both Haspel and Rodriguez lobbied hard to have the tapes destroyed, and eventually ordered them destroyed despite having been told to preserve them by then-CIA Acting General Counsel John Rizzo.

In this political climate, I guess I am not surprised that the nominee to be the next CIA director is someone who not only personally supervised torture (including waterboarding) but also signed off on the destruction of evidence (videotapes) of those very acts of torture. I am disappointed, however, that the lack of personal accountability for CIA torture has led to a situation where a known torturer may be promoted to run a major government agency.

The CIA director takes orders from the president – in this case, one who has publicly said that, whatever the law, he would like to torture detainees – admitting, in his own words, that he believes they “deserve it” whether or not it “works.” Someone who cannot stand up and refuse illegal or immoral orders, or someone who can be cowed into using torture by confronting a difficult situation, is exactly the worst person to confirm as CIA director at any time – and especially now.

Sen. Collins and Sen. King say that they have not yet decided how they will vote on Haspel’s nomination. I hope that before they vote, they consider the effect of approving a known torturer for a high-level, high-profile government position will have on the ability of the United States to advance and defend human rights around the world. I also hope they will consider the message that confirming her nomination will send to our own government and to the people of Maine – who will now know for a fact that neither the most egregious violations of human rights nor even covering up those violations are a bar to advancement in the U.S. government.

These are difficult times in the politics of our nation, and I understand how our senators might struggle with many of the decisions that they make. At the same time, though, some things are a simple matter of right and wrong. Torture is both morally wrong and illegal.

To confirm as CIA director a nominee who is known to have waterboarded at least one detainee – and who destroyed the videotapes documenting that act of torture – is wrong. I hope that our Maine senators will do the right thing.

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