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Human Rights Advocates to Biden: No Torture Defenders Allowed

"Their appointment would undermine the rule of law and U.S. credibility around the world. It would be a callous rebuke to... all those who care about human rights and the protection of basic dignity."

Mike Morell, under consideration for CIA director, is also under fire for defending torture. (Photo: Witness Against Torture/Flickr/cc)

Anti-torture activists and advocates are urging President-elect Joe Biden to avoid nominating torture apologist Michael Morell for CIA director. (Photo: Justin Norman/Flickr/cc) 

Survivors of torture by U.S. or proxy forces and their advocates on Monday issued an open letter urging President-elect Joe Biden not to nominate torture apologist Michael Morell for CIA director, and calling on the Senate to reject the nomination of Avril Haines for director of national intelligence. 

"The new administration must show the American people and the world that it acknowledges past disturbing U.S. conduct and will ensure that such abuses never recur." 
—Anti-torture advocates' letter

The letter—which was also sent to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee as well as to Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris—was organized by Marcy Winograd of Progressive Democrats of America, Medea Benjamin of CodePink, and Jeremy Varon of Witness Against Torture. 

In addition to those three activists, signatories to the letter include:

  • Mansoor Adayafi, a Yemeni author imprisoned without charge or trial for 14 years in the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
  • Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian refugee and artist who was jailed without charge in Guantánamo for 11 years.
  • Moazzam Begg, a British Pakistani imprisoned at the U.S. airbase at Bagram, Afghanistan—where he says he witnessed Americans murder two detainees—and then, for three years at Guantánamo Bay before being released without charge. 
  • Sister Dianna Ortiz, a missionary from New Mexico serving during the Guatemalan Civil War who in 1989 was kidnapped, raped, and tortured—she says under the supervision of an American operative—by agents of the genocidal U.S.-backed regime. 
  • Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, a U.S. Army whistleblower who a decade ago revealed that former President George W. Bush and senior members of his Cabinet knew that most of the men and boys imprisoned at Guantánamo were innocent but kept them locked up anyway. 
  • John Kiriakou, a CIA whistleblower who was prosecuted and jailed for nearly two years by the Obama administration for exposing U.S. torture.

"We believe that the record of Morell and Haines disqualifies them from directing intelligence agencies," assert the letter's signers, who in addition to those mentioned above include some two dozen other activists and advocates. "Their appointment would undermine the rule of law and U.S. credibility around the world. It would be a callous rebuke to people like ourselves and all those who care about human rights and the protection of basic dignity." 

"Morell, a CIA analyst under Bush and both deputy and acting CIA director under Obama, has defended the agency's 'enhanced interrogation' (pdf) practices," the letter notes. "These included waterboarding, physical beatings, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and sexual humiliation."

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The letter also opposes the confirmation of Biden DNI nominee Haines, who "overruled the CIA inspector general by choosing not to punish agency personnel accused of hacking into the Senate Intelligence Committee's computers during their investigation into the CIA's use of torture."

"In addition, Haines was part of the team that redacted the Senate Intelligence Committee's landmark 6,000-page report on torture, reducing the public portion to a 500-page summary," the authors write. They add: 

Haines also supported Trump's nomination of Gina Haspel for CIA director. Supervising a CIA black site in Thailand in 2002, Haspel was directly implicated in CIA torture. She later drafted the memo authorizing the destruction of the CIA videotapes. Like Morell, Haines has worked both to defend torture and surpress evidence of it. She too, is incompatible with the stated aim of the Biden-Harris administration to restore integrity and respect for the rule of law to government.

"The new administration must show the American people and the world that it acknowledges past disturbing U.S. conduct and will ensure that such abuses never recur," the letter states. "To do that, it needs intelligence leaders who have neither condoned torture nor whitewashed the CIA's ugly record of using torture."

"That is why we urge President-elect Biden not to nominate Mike Morell for director of the CIA and the Senate to reject the nomination of Avril Haines for director of national intelligence," it concludes. "The people of the United States and the world deserve better."

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