I know. Gina Haspel, the nominee to run the CIA, ran a black-site prison in Thailand in late 2002, when the detainee accused of orchestrating al-Qaida’s attack on the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000 was subjected to torture, including waterboarding. At the time it took place, the activity that occurred on Haspel’s watch had the stamp of approval of the U.S. Department of Justice and the president.

I know. She wrote the cable issued by her boss, Jose Rodriguez, in 2005 that ordered the destruction of 92 videotapes showing the “enhanced interrogation techniques” feverishly “authorized” by the Bush administration in the months following the 9/11 attacks. Rodriguez made the decision, and I’m glad the tapes were destroyed. I see no good in them circling the globe via the internet at the speed of light, prompting all kinds of craziness from disillusioned, angry young men already fueled by constant violence around them to commit more violence. Broadcasters of news and fake news would be compelled to show clip after horrendous clip, day after day. We would get more numb, not more informed. A written record of human depravity with a vivid imagination is enough. If these videotapes existed, we would be pelted by them. Crude films of cruelty are not art that deserves preservation.

CIA nominee Gina Haspel speaks with Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., before being sworn in during a confirmation hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill on May 9. She speaks Russian and Turkish, has been a spy and has been at the CIA for 33 years. Associated Press/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

As for the seemingly “simple question” asked of Haspel by California Sen. Kamala Harris: “Do you believe that the previous interrogation techniques were immoral?” Haspel’s refusal to answer “yes” or “no” on command to a question from a senator was not evasive. And Haspel did not “refuse to acknowledge” that torture was immoral, as stated by Sen. John McCain – what she refused to do was publicly cast moral judgment on the CIA officers who carried out the EIT “program” at the direction of the Justice Department. Haspel did not appear in the tapes.

Haspel’s behind-the-scenes work brought her in the orbit of behind-the-scenes violence because that’s often where violence lurks – in the dark. Measuring violence is not a precise science. Haspel knows why waterboarding and enhanced interrogation techniques are now acknowledged as torture and outlawed based on personal experience and she commits to never implementing any such program in the CIA again. She admits it was a failure and she learned from it, according to confirmation hearing testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. Learning from failure is a powerful way to learn. The alternative to having somebody lead the CIA who knows what torture is and does is somebody who doesn’t.

Gina Haspel speaks Russian and Turkish and is tough as nails. Haspel’s been a spy and spent two of her 33 years at the CIA as deputy chief of a Russian operations group and held various Russian-related posts in her years at the agency, according to news reports. Russia! You know – the country that wants to rule the universe and undermine democracy by interfering in worldwide elections? I want a CIA director who appreciates the threat of Vladimir Putin in his native tongue.

Is she perfect? Hell, no, but Haspel was on the front lines and in the trenches after Sept. 11 while most of us were sobbing in front of the television. Haspel has made mistakes, but there’s no evidence she lied or abused power for personal gain or pleasure, and the Justice Department’s investigation of the matter cleared her of legal wrongdoing.

Whether Haspel acted morally under the circumstances will be judged by her God and posterity. What Haspel does as CIA director with the experience she’s had in the field is what’s most important. In dialogue with Sen. Susan Collins at the confirmation hearing, Haspel made a compelling case that she has “evolved” in her views, and evolution of thought based on experience is what I want in a CIA director.

And I like what Haspel said about getting ahead as a woman in the male-dominated world of spying – with a little muscle and without drawing attention to herself. She helped shape the agency and is a fitting first woman director of the CIA. Her remarks describe action, and action is what is needed for removing obstacles to equal opportunity. “I did my part, quietly and through hard work, to break down some of those barriers” she said. Haspel is an insider and the ultimate outsider. She knows about intelligence, makes the hard decisions and follows the law. Haspel is an extremely accomplished nominee who is perfectly suited to lead the CIA – and she should.

Cynthia Dill is a civil rights lawyer and former state senator. She may be contacted at her website:


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