Thugs, criminals, and enablers. These are the people being promoted during Trump’s shake-up of his administration. After the “tough guy” president fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson via twitter, he indicated that his choice to replace Tillerson is Mike Pompeo, currently the director of the C.I.A. His nominee to replace Pompeo is the deputy director of the C.I.A., Gina Haspel.
These are two deeply troubling nominations on several fronts.
Tillerson was widely perceived as being an independent voice in the administration. It is true that his independence stemmed from and reinforced his utter marginalization. International policy, whether the proposed meeting with North Korea’s leadership or statements about NATO, was conducted based on Trump’s whims and what little information he could process that was fed to him by advisors who read and appeased his mood.
Tillerson was not any force for good in the administration, but his was a voice that at least appeared to respect the (broadly) liberal, norm-based international order that has served the American public and the world at large inadequately but far better than anything that has come before. He criticized Russia’s extrajudicial killings when the administration would not. He seemed to recognize that dangerous words can have dangerous consequences.
Pompeo is a different creature. While Tillerson provided some check, or the threat of a check should he have threatened to resign at an inopportune moment, Pompeo will be an enabler of Trump’s basest, most ignorant, and authoritarian instincts.
Pompeo was a key proponent of the endless and partisan investigations into the non-scandal that was Benghazi. There were serious flaws with the international policy of the Obama administration in particular and the U.S. more systematically, but Pompeo’s cynical hijacking of the tools of oversight for nakedly partisan purposes ensured that those flaws received no attention. Then, as since, he did the bidding of his party, evincing no sense for or interest in the public good.
Pompeo has a history as an Islamophobe, characterizing terrorism as a feature of Islam, and seeking to hold “moderate Muslims” responsible for violent members of their faith. His congressional campaigns drew on bigoted websites that characterized an Asian American rival for his seat as a “turban topper,” and he supported torture and the secret torture facilities designed by the Bush administration during its war of terror.
He is a defender of the offshore prison at Guantanamo, and therefore a critic of constitutional safeguards and the U.S. justice system more broadly, which he does not view as capable of handling accusations of terrorism.
He defended the illegal and unaccountable surveillance of the NSA, attempted to normalize and legalize its activities, and castigated whistleblowers with a vengeance that demonstrated extraordinary contempt for democratic norms and the right of the public to know what elected and and appointed officials do in their name.
In other words, Pompeo has been a defender of the overmighty and abusive security state about which Trump whinged endlessly during his campaign. That security state and its employees have abused the rights of Americans, sought to curb the ability of our legislators to offer oversight, pursued both deeply immoral and clearly self-destructive methods that have debased our national culture, diminished the standing of our national security institutions, made our public less safe, and claimed the lives and dignity of our fellow global citizens, all while dispensing with the norms of justice and decency that we like to pretend is our national signature.
There are few better embodiments of the rogue security state emboldened by Pompeo than his deputy and would-be replacement, Gina Haspel. Haspel is a long-time C.I.A. employee who helped to engineer what Dick Cheney called America’s shift to the “dark side.” Even as the Bush administration pledged to wage a war in defense of our freedoms and their global dissemination, it embraced the use of torture, aggressive war, secret prisons, and the shredding of safeguards both for those captured by our country and by extension American soldiers or civilians held prisoner abroad.
The deputy director of the C.I.A., an institution profoundly culpable in our country’s descent into terror and criminality, was a central player in this tragedy. The New York Times documented how Haspel “oversaw the torture” of suspects, and then worked to cover up evidence of her team’s brutality. She did so from one of the “black sites” in southeast Asia designed to outsource the methods of barbarism embraced by a cancerous agency which has long bridled at the notion of democratic accountability, and which has metastasized at the expense of our legislature’s power.
The C.I.A. entered into what amounted to a cold war with senators who sought to shed light on its criminal behavior. The cover-up, as much as the crime, was directed not just at the victims of waterboarding and other abuses, but also at the heart of American democracy. We now rely on spies and their shadowy maneuvers to investigate the president’s ties to global authoritarians and obstruction of justice, but the current of public mistrust and cynicism which led to Trump’s election was created in part by the abuse by the rogue security agencies of the public trust.
Some of the people tortured by Haspel remain in Guantanamo, denied their day in court. The American public has still not learned the full extent of the routinized savagery that Haspel and others unleashed, unknown, in our names, precisely because of directives like the one she signed to facilitate the destruction of records associated with torture sites.
Likely criminals in our security state like Haspel, aided by accomplices in government like Pompeo, have sought to simultaneously erase the details of our long and sinister flirtation with the “dark side,” and to draw on Americans’ fears and prejudices to prepare us for a return to those methods.
Haspel should be on trial for her brutality, and Pompeo should never have been re-elected to office once he lent his Congressional power in support of an abusive security state. Instead, Trump is proposing the promotion of a criminal and her thuggish enabler to still greater positions of power in our government, demonstrating that impunity is alive and well for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and abuses of our constitution.
Citizens should express their forceful outrage over this appointment, and our senators should refuse to confirm people who are a disgrace not just to their country, but to the notions of a shared humanity, democracy, and rule of law.