The New CIA Director Nominee and the Massacre at My Lai

Protecting those who commit heinous crimes in the name of the U.S. government provides a dangerous precedent and could lead to the conclusion by many in the military and CIA that they can “get away with murder,” Ann Wright observes.

By Ann Wright

On March 16, 2018, the same day I was with a delegation from Veterans for Peace at the 50th annual ceremonies commemorating the deaths of 504 civilians who were murdered by U.S. Army soldiers over a period of four hours on March 16, 1968, in the hamlet of My Lai, Viet Nam and surrounding villages, President Donald Trump nominated Gina Haspel to be the new CIA Director.

Photo of Mourning Woman at My Lai Village, Viet Nam (photo by Ann Wright)

That day therefore became a day of remembering murder and torture committed by members of the U.S. government a half-century ago—and much more recently in 2002.

We know what the U.S. Army soldiers did 50 years ago. In what is now called the My Lai massacre, U.S. soldiers executed 182 women including 17 pregnant women and raped many of them before they were killed. They murdered 173 children, 68 of whom were five years old or younger and they executed 89 middle aged persons and 60 persons over the age of 60, some of whom were burned alive, tortured, gang-raped, scalped and had their tongues cut out during the rampage of the U.S. Army soldiers.

And we now know that Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee for CIA director was the CIA senior officer in charge of a secret CIA prison in Thailand in 2002 in which prisoners were tortured – waterboarded (one person 82 times), kept in dog cages for weeks at a time, put into coffin boxes with things they were afraid of.  To cover up her crimes, she ordered the destruction of the videotapes of the torture that happened in her prison.

Fifty years ago, the U.S. Army chain of command covered up the My Lai massacre and attempted to malign those who made the massacre public. Army veteran Ron Ridenhour described what had happened in letters to the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and others.

Helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson testified before Congress that he saw U.S. Army personnel killing Vietnamese civilians and landed his helicopter near the killing fields to end the rampage.  He was told by the platoon leader Lieutenant William Calley to butt out, but instead Thompson picked up civilians running from the carnage and flew them to safety.

After several years of investigation, out of 26 men initially charged, Calley was the only person court-martialed and found guilty – of killing 22 villagers, and given a life sentence, but served only three and a half years under house arrest at Fort Bragg, NC and never spent one day in jail. President Nixon ultimately pardoned Calley.

Forty years later, in 2007, CIA whistleblower Jon Kiriakou revealed to the world that the CIA was waterboarding prisoners in secret and not-so-secret prisons in many parts of the world.

Kiriakou was imprisoned for almost two years for revealing that the CIA was torturing persons but none of those – including CIA director nominee Gina Haspel – who made torture a policy of the CIA or actually committed the acts of torture, including waterboarding, were ever charged with a crime.

The protection of those who commit heinous crimes in the name of the U.S. government (by the government in whose name the crimes are committed) provides a dangerous precedent and could lead to the conclusion by many in the military and CIA that they can “get away with murder.”

The sad history of our country is that murders and executions (remember the extrajudicial drone assassinations ordered by Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump) are acts that continue to be the policy of our country.  These acts are known throughout the world, but seldom spoken about in the United States. That President Trump would nominate a known torturer to be the director of the CIA is horrific. Her confirmation by the U.S. Congress would be a tragedy.

For what little credibility the U.S. left in the world, the Congress must refuse to confirm a known torturer as director of the CIA.

Ann Wright was in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves for 29 years and retired as a Colonel.  She was also a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and served in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia.  She resigned from the U.S. government in March 2003 in opposition to Bush’s war on Iraq and since then has been very active in anti-war and social justice issues.  She is the co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”

41 comments for “The New CIA Director Nominee and the Massacre at My Lai

  1. March 29, 2018 at 16:05

    The CIA does “get away with murder”. The NSC 10/2 legislation, Truman put in place, provides for this immunity: It has ,” deniability as the cover.”

  2. robert e williamson jr
    March 27, 2018 at 22:38

    Until Americans stop deferring their responsibility to monitor the actions of their government on their behalf the country will continue on the course plotted by the “Deep State” which leads down the road to perdition.

    I cannot think of another individual who in the last 38 years who represents the sinister side of our secret government better than Ole’ “Let’s Kill Them All and Let God Sort Them Out “, bombs away Bolton. You cannot make this stuff up. He should be under Fort Leavenworth Prison for lying us into war. His “cellie” should be the “Village Idiot from Crawford Texas”, the Alfred E. Neuman look alike “43”.

    The State Department starts with hiring and training “Foreign Service Officers”, who along with Green Berets are often called on to work CIA missions. Some times they become CIA then are dropped from employee roles only to turn up again at State or back with the military. In what can only be described as Incestuous relationship between the two, DOJ covers for CIA by facilitating CIA’s counterfeit plea for relief by claiming they will reveal sources and methods if certain (ANY) of them are released. This has led to wholesale corruption of CIA and the DOJ. CIA uses it’s unfettered classification of files (everything) to hide unfettered lawless behavior, unfettered irresponsibility and unfettered escape from responsibility for wrong doing.

    Jefferson Morely and Grant Smith both have presented a preponderance of evidence to the courts in their efforts to get DOJ to do it’s job. DOJ’s defense of the CIA criminals provide this response to their pleas for records. “Of what public benefit would releasing the files be.” This is the Classical CIA response to inquiries is to change the subject of the conversation. And DOJ willingly goes right along with the ruse. They ignore the evidence and change the topic of the discourse with no explanation or legal reason.

    If you were to study about any major investigation involving CIA, say the NUMEC AFFAIR of the 1960’s, the investigations into the Bill Hamiton, Inslaw PROMIS scandal or John Kerry’s 1988 Senate subcommittee investigation into drug trafficking you will soon learn CIA’s refusal to release information germane to those investigations was aided by DOJ’s interference in the investigations. They simply refuse to hold CIA accountable. It happened again in 2003 when the village idiot from Crawford Texas lied us into war. So get ready because those protesting high school student may very well become cannon fodder if Ole “BAWYB” bombs away bolton gets hes way. Sooner or later the military will run out of volunteers and badda boom badda bing the draft will be resurrected.

    And it is about to happen. Again. We now have the Village Idiot from New York City and war criminals leading the country and high school students wanting the second amendment repealed. Funny who all those student seem clueless or O K with schools getting bombed by the U.S. everywhere else in the world. Go figure.

  3. RoreyRock
    March 27, 2018 at 20:00

    ~ OP; your opinions / historical (biased) recollections are disturbing at best ~ you are probably great friends with John Brennan ~ I am thankful that the swamp (you represent) is being drained ~

  4. Nemo Dat
    March 27, 2018 at 09:33

    Informed people know that Ann Wright is correct. Without offense to her indictment of Mr. Trump’s appointment of the current CIA nominee, arguably she could have gone further and offered that Mr. Trump is a devotee of “torture”, surely excepting his own for cavalier war crimes, and Mr. Pompeo perhaps endeared himself to Trump as a torture bedfellow. Neither is fit for office in any “democratic society.

    We are said, by some, to be a Christian nation. Really? If so, if so where are the Christians on the topic of torture in general and the inherent amorality of the CIA’s clandestine expertise? Where were they when Bush, who once cited Jesus Christ as his favorite philosopher, perpetrated “Shock and Awe” against Iraq, and Hillary played Ceasar and mocked the murder of Gaddafi.

    Information Clearing House currently has a rerun of a George Carlin rant on capitalism. His vocabulary has become trite, his insights remain apt.

    If there is a national ethos that trumps all else, in practice we are a nation of consumers. The economy is our closest thing to our national religion: it’s official.

  5. Robert Emmett
    March 24, 2018 at 15:16

    Bush-Cheney functioned as a sort of evil genie that had everybody fooled because they wanted to believe…in this case, that torture works and saves lives. There even was a whole TV series about the ticking time-bomb scenario that the people ate up every week like spoon bread. And didn’t the lawyers go to work?! They invented a new term & everything, “enhanced interrogation”. Remember NPR wouldn’t breach Bush-Cheney’s “new reality” and refused to use the word torture. Remember Congress (both parties involved) indemnified U.S. personnel, after the fact, against allegations of torture & violations of International law. Remember Cheney’s heinous 1% policy that if there is even the slightest chance that a country or regime supports terror or harbors terrorists then the U.S. is justified in unilateral military action against that country & its people. An outlaw nation became a law unto itself. And all they had to do to keep the bulk of the people distracted enough not to dare to question them was put a funny hat on a little circus mutt and keep him spinning around & around chasing his own tail, with a new tale for every occasion. Maybe that had something to do with why constitutional lawyer Obama passed, instead of jumping into a legal coffin that had been nailed shut & buried in an unmarked grave, already emptied of its most incriminating documents. Thanks Gena, is that the female form of Genie? Has spell, will travel. Oh, and Obama got to assassinate bin Laden. I wonder if that was his reward?

  6. March 23, 2018 at 13:07

    Vietnam a disaster same with Iraq, Afganistan…next with John Crazy Bolton, add Iran, North Korea and others. The man is batshit crazy, working with a fake news group hating muslims…get your kids ready for perpetual war, or impeach this morally bankrupt, corrupt, traitor.

  7. dale
    March 22, 2018 at 21:53

    What drone assasinations has Trump authorized?

  8. March 22, 2018 at 12:39

    Here is a correction on the discussion above . .

    Trump actually ran openly as a pro-torture candidate, and mentioned it in dozens of campaign rallies.

    To the MSM it was just a yawner.

    Obama made a huge mistake in

  9. Leo Smith
    March 22, 2018 at 10:28

    “She” Was investigated and Cleared af any charges. “She” is more qualified than anybody this writer can name. “She” Is probably smarter than Former CIA Bozo Brennan. She has my support any most of Americas also.

  10. Larry Maxwell
    March 22, 2018 at 07:34

    Thank you Ann for your reporting on your recent visits to Korea and Vietnam. What you do has to be difficult and endlessly frustrating; it would be so easy to just sit back and try to enjoy what’s left of your life. Instead, you do the courageous things that you do.

  11. Bob Van Noy
    March 21, 2018 at 21:43

    “As the late Ron Ridenhour, who first exposed the massacre, said years later to one of the present authors, “Above My Lai were helicopters filled with the entire command staff of the brigade, division and task force. All three tiers in the chain of command were literally flying overhead while it was going on. It takes a long time to kill 600 people. It’s a dirty job, you might say. These guys were flying overhead from 7:30 in the morning, when the unit first landed and began to move into those hamlets. They were there at least two hours, at 500 feet, 1000 feet and 1500 feet.”
    The cover-up of this operation began almost from the start. The problem wasn’t the massacre itself: polls right after the event showed 65 percent of Americans approved of the US action. The cover-up was instead to disguise the fact that My Lai was part of the CIA killing program called Operation Phoenix. As Douglas Valentine writes in his brilliant book, The Phoenix Program,”. From an article by Jeffrey St. Clair – Alexander Cockburn at

    Thank you Ann Wright, this has gone on too long…

    • Bob Van Noy
      March 21, 2018 at 21:53

      Thank you too for mentioning Hugh Thompson Jr. Of all the people who participated, he and his crew were the ones who did not go along… Their story here.

  12. Gregory Herr
    March 21, 2018 at 21:18

    Thank you Ann for including your photo of Mourning Woman at My Lai Village. What a remarkable and touching sculpture.

  13. Realist
    March 21, 2018 at 15:52

    So, what was this person Haspel trained and officially retained as? America’s Lord High Executioner? Or, Torturer in Chief? Why has there been openings for her to ply her craft for so many years? Why has she not been rotting in a jail cell, or employed as an advisor by Daesh rather than on the payroll of the federal government? I’ll bet she vacations in Guantanamo or Abu Graib every year. Yet another entry for Ripley’s daily feature.

  14. michael crockett
    March 21, 2018 at 15:14

    Thank you Ann Wright for sounding the alarm with respect to the elevation of Gina Haspel to be the next Director of the CIA. I hope the Congress will not be a rubber stamp in the confirmation process. But unfortunately for many decades Congress has not done its due diligence to push back on a Presidents nominees. There were credible allegations that Colin Powell may have been involved in attempting to cover up the My Lai massacre when he was a colonel in the Army serving in Vietnam. Nonetheless he was approved by Congress to be the Secretary of State under Bush. We all remember the lie he told the UN Security Council about Iraq possessing massive quantities of deadly chemical weapons. Before Mad Dog Mattis became Trumps Secretary of Defense it was well known that he was responsible for brutal attack on Fallujah in Iraq that resulted in the death of many civilians some of whom were burned to death when white phosphorus was dropped during air raids over the city. By failing to perform their duties under the Constitution, Congress has failed the the American people by giving US Presidents everything they want.

    • mike k
      March 21, 2018 at 15:52

      Congress is not a brake on anybody’s bad behavior. We need a brake on congress, they are among the worst actors themselves.

    • geeyp
      March 21, 2018 at 19:45

      I wish to add to an earlier post that a good poster reminded me of: Ann Wright was also one who wrote a good piece on her recent trip to Russia. Collected here on Consortium News are a plethora of them, now.

  15. Skip Scott
    March 21, 2018 at 14:37

    Let us not forget that the wars themselves are in violation of international law, the Nuremberg principles, and were started under false pretenses. I would love to see us elect a third party candidate in 2020 and have that person sign the USA onto the International Criminal Court and have all our war criminals prosecuted there. It would show the world that we acknowledge our sins and wish to atone for them and become a respectable member of the international community.

    • mike k
      March 21, 2018 at 15:49

      That’ll be the day Scott!

  16. mike k
    March 21, 2018 at 13:35

    That those in our government and media and ‘justice” system do not act to stop these criminal atrocities tells us what kind of country we actually live in. How can we pretend that we in the US have not become the most evil society on the planet? How can we continue to accept the lies that we Americans are the finest humans in the world? Did we bring freedom and democracy to Iraq, or death and torture? You all know the answer. A pox on those who sleep soundly in spite of our outrageous, genocidal crimes!

  17. Dan Kuhn
    March 21, 2018 at 13:20

    It is not so much what the US does in the world that sickens everyone it is the hypocrisy, thats what gets all of us.

  18. Jose
    March 21, 2018 at 13:13

    The author’s premise that “protecting those who commit heinous crimes in the name of the U.S. government provides a dangerous precedent and could lead to the conclusion by many in the military and CIA that they can “get away with murder,” Is 100 % correct. It is a travesty of justice but that is the way things work in US.

    • Abby
      March 21, 2018 at 21:22

      This is why the police feel the same way. When jurors don’t hold them accountable for their actions and let them get away with murder, other cops will think that they can do the same. A few Sacramento cops just shot an unarmed man in his backyard 20 because they thought that the cell phone he had in his hand was a gun.

      There is no excuse for this to happen and yet it happens again and again and it’s usually a black person who is shot. Cops also get away with perjury time after time, but maybe that is going to change.

  19. Rene
    March 21, 2018 at 13:11

    I used to think that the proverbial pen was mightier than the sword, but those days are gone. Still, I think it’s very worthwhile to laud those few, including Col. Wright, who clearly and concisely write and call out the truth. Their numbers are declining which makes their words all the braver and necessary. And too few are listening/reading…and even fewer heeding (to our collective detriment).

    • mike k
      March 21, 2018 at 13:26

      The silence of the public makes them complicit in the crimes done in their name. It is important for all of us who have awakened our conscience to speak out about these crimes, whether most people listen or not. Some will hear us, and our witness is a necessary part of any effort to create a world free of these atrocities.

      • Al Pinto
        March 21, 2018 at 14:43

        I disagree…

        The public has no forum to express their views about this and other war crimes. The very few voices that do try are drowned out by the MSM at best, or labeled as conspiracy theorists at worth.

        From MSM to Hollywood, the message is clear that our brave military people protect your freedom and against terrorists all over the world. You cannot even go to a sport event in the US, where there’s no celebrating the military people in one way or another. The people in power learned their lesson from Vietnam and they won’t let the general public hate the military again. Nowadays, go ahead and com[plain about the military people, you might even be stoned to death on the spot…

        And no, I have nothing against people serving in the military. I am against subverting our military for ongoing war effort by the oligarchs…

        • Realist
          March 21, 2018 at 16:01

          Well said. Most Americans are thoroughly propagandized and those who might not be aren’t looking for trouble. They find it hard enough to make ends meet in this modern kleptocratic police state.

          I think it was Voltaire who said, upon being entreated to renounce the Devil on his deathbed: “Now is not the time to be making new enemies.”

          • Gregory Herr
            March 21, 2018 at 20:30

            Clever to the end. What a quote!

          • Dave P.
            March 22, 2018 at 01:58

            “Most Americans are thoroughly propagandized . . .” . Yes, and I would add that they have been completely brainwashed and thus have lost their analytic ability to put two and two together.

            I do not know why but still in some articles about Russia in the newspapers, they would state that Putin’s approval rating stands at about 80% – which is true. Further down in the same article or in the article about Russia next day they would state that Putin has won in the fraudulent election. People accept both the statements as facts. It is not only about Russia; the same is true of many people on other issues as well. For the ruling Power Structure, it is dream come true.

            It is hard to imagine how this can be fixed – How the population can be deprogrammed? How can people develop their analytical abilities, which they have not developed due to bad education system or have lost it due to the propaganda.

          • Realist
            March 22, 2018 at 16:12

            Yes, Dave P, it really irked me to read the quote by Stephen Colbert the other day in which he accused Putin winning re-election in a massive fraudulent vote. I suggest that Mr. Colbert is either totally out to lunch or he is a dedicated propagandist for the Hillary faction to take over the world. Yet he is popular on the boob tube and people believe the drivel he dispenses.

      • Annie
        March 21, 2018 at 21:43

        Also, lets not forget to mention, Bay on Tonkin/Johnson, or Nixon/Kissinger who prolonged the war, and Saddam has weapons of mass destruction/ Bush/Cheney for their criminal acts which cost the lives of millions, or the CIA that implemented the black sites. They are the ultimate criminals.

  20. Jeff
    March 21, 2018 at 12:39

    The really sad thing is that the rest of the world hasn’t chosen to kick the US out of their councils and ignore our demands. We should be a global pariah.

    • Al Pinto
      March 21, 2018 at 14:29

      Why would the rest of the world “kick the US out of their councils and ignore our demands”? When your country’s financial status depends on U.S. support, be that direct money transfers and/or military basis in the country, why would the country demand the U.S. to change?

      Especially, when the U.S. ambassador to the UN openly trying to influence UN votes, be that GA or SC:

      ““It is the opinion of the US mission to the UN that all US foreign assistance should be reevaluated to ensure that taxpayers dollars are spent to advance US interests, not to fund foreign legacy programs that provide little or no return on investment,”

      I didn’t see much of a protest against the “open bribery”…


      • Jeff
        March 21, 2018 at 17:14

        True statement of fact. However comma that said, most of the rest of the world doesn’t actually depend on US support weather or not they protest our blatant extortion. Nikki’s arrogance is OK as long as there is a confluence between country A’s interests and US interests. Increasingly, that confluence doesn’t exist.

  21. Tom Welsh
    March 21, 2018 at 12:27
    • Sam F
      March 21, 2018 at 18:47

      This is the saddest part of the torture issue: that people take the side that it works and is often necessary, only because that is true is very rare cases. Or they take the side that it is never supportable, which is usually true, only to lose the confidence of those who see that it is necessary in rare cases.

      Unless we acknowledge that it is necessary in rare cases, but that there is a “slippery slope” down from such cases, to the regular abuse of prisoners with or without any justification, we cannot engage those who have over-generalized the necessity. Mr. Trump probably has been shown by people who care for the lives of tens of thousands or people, that when those lives are at serious risk in rare and morally painful cases, torture could be justifiable. So he probably now needs guidance away from that slippery slope. If we deny that torture could ever be justifiable, we lose the ability to communicate with such leaders about the much greater dangers of that slippery slope. Leaders are forced to make vexing moral decisions, and can lose sight of the long term effects of specialized moral decisions, or assume that everything is under control when it is not, and must be brought back.

      It was incorrect to nominate Gina Haspel to head the CIA despite her coverup of torture. Perhaps she really believed that both the torture and the coverup were necessary and proper, and perhaps she does not believe that she was far down that slippery slope. But those who do such things must be monitored to ensure that torture does not become more than the rarest necessity, and should never be allowed to be the monitors. A torturer should not in general be confirmed to head a secret agency, nor one who destroys evidence to protect insiders.

      • Gregory Herr
        March 21, 2018 at 21:07

        “If we deny that torture could ever be justifiable, we lose the ability to communicate with such leaders about the much greater dangers of that slippery slope.”

        I think I follow you Sam. But wouldn’t it be preferable to acknowledge the “possibility” that torture “could work” in the “rarest of cases”…but such “cases” could never be clear? Can’t we just say that torture is too unreliable and counterproductive to be countenanced at all? Isn’t using a word like “justifiable” what allows for the “slippery slope” in the first place?

        The complication sets in when taken down to a personal level–I imagined that I would feel “justified” in enacting some kind of tortuous revenge for a heinous act committed against a loved one. I once was in a position where in which I was eaten up with such longings against someone for what I considered a grievous
        act against a loved one. But I realized that no good could come of it.

        Torture, like war and revenge, has to be stopped dead in its tracks…no good can ever come of it.

        • Sam F
          March 21, 2018 at 22:10

          You are right for nearly all cases. It is a tough and unsavory question; a hard line to draw. I did not wish to seem contentious in bringing it up. Countenancing torture in any case is also an invitation to those who would abuse it in general.

          I think of certain cases where I would be morally challenged not to use torture:

          1. The allies are about to invade Normandy. The Nazis know that something is up but do not know where the invasion will occur. They have been deceived to concentrate defenses further northeast. if we have just captured a higher officer who knows where they think the invasion will occur, we want to know whether our invasion plans should be changed to save tens of thousands. The officer won’t say or is thought to be lying, and a few drinks and deceptions, maybe even drugs, has not worked.

          2. A group is known to be planning to detonate a nuclear weapon in a major US city in the next few days but we do not know which one. If we have just captured one of its members who knows where this will will occur, we want to know which city, because emergency evacuation of other cities will cost thousands of lives in accidents and billions in property loss. The terrorist won’t say which city or is thought to be lying, and a few drinks and deceptions, maybe even drugs, has not worked.

          In both cases, leaders must decide how much risk to so many lives should overcome the principle of avoiding torture.

          Some say that such extreme and rare cases should be just hushed up because no one would object to torture in such an extreme case, and if it yields nothing the leaders should not be blamed; but then the People will never know what the decision was, or how extensive torture is. If the cases are individually decided by the President, they are less likely to be numerous, but similar drone assassination lists have apparently been numerous.

          If we were not involved in foreign wars, making numerous enemies for no good reason, the chance of agencies generalizing torture cases would be small, the President would seldom or never be called upon to decide an extreme case, and we might be satisfied to let such a case be kept secret unless it prevents such a disaster.

          But with our present corrupt foreign policy and degraded constitutional rights, I would agree to an outright ban on torture.

          • Gregory Herr
            March 21, 2018 at 23:49

            A shame that the policies of our government can’t generally be a force for good in the world, with a view to uphold certain rights and principles–at home and abroad. Without all the corruption and degradation Cheney’s professed need to work the “dark side” would have little following.

            I don’t think you contentious nor do I wish to appear so. You evidently have given the matter a good deal of thought and I appreciate what you brought forth, helping me to cover more angles.

        • March 22, 2018 at 04:45

          @ “But wouldn’t it be preferable to acknowledge the “possibility” that torture “could work” in the “rarest of cases”…but such “cases” could never be clear? Can’t we just say that torture is too unreliable and counterproductive to be countenanced at all?”

          I think that if the conversation has reached such a point, already too much has been given up. The conversation should have stopped once the never-asked question is faced: Is there any lawful power or moral right to coerce information from anyone under any circumstance?

          Under the Geneva Conventions, a prisoner of war is entitled to withhold all information other than name, rank, service number, and contact information so that they can receive mail. The Conventions also require that anyone captured in a war zone is to be presumed to be a proper prisoner of war until such time that a due process determines otherwise. (Yet we have prisoners at Guantanamo who have been denied that due process for over a decade.) Likewise, the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment grants all persons, without exception, the right to remain silent when questioned.

          Under both branches of law discussed above, there is no “ticking time bomb” exception. Indeed the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (to which the U.S. is a party and under the Constitution’s Treaty Clause has thesame force as the U.S. Code) provides in its Article 1: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

          Likewise, it is no defense that Gina Haspel was told that waterboarding or other physically coercive measures were legal. It is axiomatic under our law that ignorance of the law is no defense, whether or not that ignorance is inspired by unsound legal advice. Waterboarding has been recognized as criminal by the U.S. since shortly after World War II when Japanese soldiers were convicted of having tortured U.S. soldiers by waterboarding, with 15 years in prison the lowest resulting punishment. Moreover, when has assault by government officials ever been regarded as legal in this nation? The circumstances when government officials may use force is narrowly circumscribed, mostly to occasions such as preventing harm to others or incident to a suspect’s resistance to arrest.

          Finally, there is the issue of morality. Anyone smart enough to have comprehended the Golden Rule knows that torture is morally wrong. And in my view, that is precisely why Ms. Haspel should never be considered for any government position: She is an immoral person. Perhaps in the years since she has seen the light about torture. But that does not cure the character defect of someone willing to advance careerism over morality: as DCI she may be called to pass on other moral questions. We cannot risk that.

          In my view, we should never debate whether torture can be effective under any circumstance; torture is forbidden under any circumstance. To debate whether it can be effective is to debate the wrong question. The right question is whether either law or morality ever permits torture. They do not and anyone who says otherwise is either immoral or hopelessly ignorant.

          • Sam F
            March 22, 2018 at 07:57

            I agree that international law and moral principles completely prohibit torture, although reference to the original debates and circumstances for laws and moral analysis should not prohibit a new debate. I offer the debate because laws and moral precepts are themselves summaries or generalizations of debate, and should not be presumed to cover all of the cases where circumstances put those good principles in conflict, where a new analysis and full understanding are required. That is the function of courts, whose decisions of such cases should establish a more detailed analysis to be consulted where the principles or laws are in conflict.

            This is the engineer’s perspective of giving special attention to the rare difficult cases, because they always bite eventually (often immediately at computer speeds), and can cause grievous harm when neglected. I apply that also to government policy, which must seek justice in covering situations where many interests and principles are in conflict, where many must suffer regardless of which compromise is reached. Those are tougher moral problems than the acceptance of the general principles which are in conflict.

            Our mutual revulsion at the violation of law and moral principle is good, and shows why these laws and principles should be upheld, nearly always, and why any rare exception should be fully explained and obviously justifiable. It also shows that situations that lead us to consider exceptions, like our selfish and interventionist foreign policy, should be avoided like the plague.

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