SCARBOROUGH — President Trump has touted his selection of Gina Haspel to be the first female director of the CIA as a “historic milestone,” but humanitarians and civil libertarians around the world vociferously disagree.

A career employee of the CIA with over 30 years’ service in domestic and overseas posts, Haspel was appointed by Trump to her present position as deputy director of the CIA in 2017. She has been described as “a torturer” and “a war criminal” for her participation, as the CIA’s chief of base in Thailand, in the extraordinary rendition program. Under extraordinary rendition, so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” were applied to captured al-Qaida suspects after the 9/11 attacks, when we believed another attack was imminent. The George W. Bush administration’s Department of Justice authorized this program, which was later rejected as seriously flawed because it misrepresented applicable legal standards. The practice of extraordinary rendition is no longer officially authorized.

Haspel didn’t arrive at the secret Thai prison until after Abu Zubaydah, a high-level terrorism detainee, was waterboarded 83 times, but she had a prominent role in the torture program. She also played a part in destroying tapes that showed the torture of detainees at both the Thai site and other CIA secret locations. Her defense has been that she was carrying out the lawful orders of policymakers.

In 2009, two days after taking office, President Obama signed an executive order revoking President Bush’s directives authorizing enhanced interrogation of captured suspects. The next day, according to a 2016 New York Times op-ed by the Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko, Obama approved two drone strikes in Pakistan, which, together, killed one militant and 10 civilians, including four or five children.

Obama authorized 563 drone strikes during his two terms in office, as compared to 57 by Bush, during whose first term the program was launched. Between 384 and 807 civilians were killed by Obama-authorized strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, coincidentally all Muslim countries, according to the media organization. The Obama administration did not acknowledge the existence of this program until 2013, and it wasn’t disclosed until 2015 that these strikes had killed eight Americans, including Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, age 16.

Hillary Clinton campaigned on continuing the drone-strike program, as did Trump, who has increased the number of drone strikes. The program has now been in operation for some 16 years under three presidents and is supported by the vast majority of Americans – but not the world. Have any members of the Maine congressional delegation – Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Angus King or Rep. Chellie Pingree – objected to drone killings?

The drone-strike preference for fighting terrorism is justified as an alternative to a boots-on-the-ground strategy because it saves American lives. But killing rather than capturing militants eliminates potentially valuable intelligence information available through interrogation. Former CIA Director Leon Panetta said in his 2014 memoir that controversial “unsavory techniques” (read: waterboarding) yielded some of the information that ultimately led to the capture and death of Osama bin Laden.

Although it is U.S. policy not to assassinate foreign leaders, drone strikes kill innocent civilians – “collateral damage.” And although enhanced interrogation will cause humiliation, pain or fear of imminent death, military psychologists have found that it rarely causes death or lasting physical or psychological harm.

I do not condone such treatment to human beings except in extreme, last-resort circumstances as in this “moment of truth” hypothetical scenario:

We have captured a known terrorist whose accomplice has hidden a nuclear weapon in a nearby city. The bomb is set to detonate in 24 hours if not located and defused prior to that time. But the captured terrorist has refused to divulge the location of the bomb despite prolonged and patient questioning by experienced negotiators. Do we let the bomb explode, killing tens of thousands of people and reducing the city to rubble, or do we waterboard him?

We do not have a suicide pact with those who want to kill us.

As a component of our efforts to defeat the Islamic State group and its barbarous affiliates, which anti-terrorist strategy is more humane (or inhumane, if you prefer): enhanced interrogation or sudden, unannounced death by drone? And which is less effective as a recruiting tool for future terrorists?

Although Haspel “knows the CIA inside out,” in the words of Panetta, the former CIA director, anyone connected with enhanced interrogation is politically radioactive, but the public is comfortable with drone strikes. Haspel is about to learn that undergoing the confirmation obstacle course is an enhanced interrogation that few survive unscathed.

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